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$25 Million in State Funds Support Local Water Ratepayers

March 24, 2022 – After helping secure nearly $25 million to cover past-due water bills in 2021, the San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are seeking additional state money to help residents financially impacted by the pandemic.

Improving Personal Financial Literacy at San Diego County Water Authority

Enhancing the financial literacy of employees at the San Diego County Water Authority was a primary objective when staff submitted a grant application for a portion of $1.4 million in funds available to public employers by the Mission Square Research Institute.

The Water Authority was among 24 public sector employees selected for a grant and received $24,884 to implement its three-year strategic plan to help employees improve their financial wellness.

Financial Literacy-Financial Wellness-San Diego County Water Authority

Improving Personal Financial Literacy at San Diego County Water Authority

Enhancing the financial literacy of employees at the San Diego County Water Authority was a primary objective when staff submitted a grant application for a portion of $1.4 million in funds available to public employers by the Mission Square Research Institute.

The Water Authority was among 24 public sector employees selected for a grant and received $24,884 to implement its three-year strategic plan to help employees improve their financial wellness.

While the Water Authority had an existing lunch and learn program which occasionally touched on financial wellness topics, the water agency did not have a comprehensive financial wellness program or a way of extending educational resources to its member agencies.

Financial wellness

The grant funds enabled the agency to contract with a nonprofit and other organizations to offer specific financial courses, incentive prizes, and an online, interactive financial wellness platform to employees of all 24 member agencies. The majority of financial education sessions were provided during lunchtime and recorded, if possible, for those who couldn’t attend. Additional self-paced education was offered through an online platform available to employees 24/7.

On average, 60 individuals attended remote lunch and learns, which garnered an average 95% high satisfaction evaluation rate.

For the online self-service platform, 58 employees registered, 50 completed a financial checkup, and 16 courses were completed. The post-program financial literacy quiz was completed by 46 individuals, and the stress level of employees decreased from 3 of 10 at program start to 2 of 10 near the end of the measurement period. Most impressive, the average financial literacy test score rose from 66% (out of 100%) prior to the program, to 71% after the program.

Participant comments included:

“This is a great program. It’s great to learn about topics that I knew I needed to learn about.”

“I really appreciate this program. Learning about things like Long Term Care will help me protect me and my family in the future.”

Moving forward, the Water Authority plans to evaluate the attendance, engagement, and effectiveness of the entire financial wellness program on an annual basis to determine if any adjustments to program delivery are necessary.

Financial Literacy-Financial Wellness-San Diego County Water Authority

Financial Wellness Fact Sheets

The information collected from the Water Authority and other grant recipients resulted in a series of Financial Wellness Fact Sheets, providing key lessons learned and best practices for other state and local jurisdictions to adopt or customize to help employees reduce debt, save for retirement, or reach other financial goals.

Each fact sheet provides a summary of the jurisdiction’s approach, outcomes, lessons learned, and future plans. Additionally, the fact sheets provide ideas, advice, and networking opportunities for other public employers exploring financial wellness programs.

“It is encouraging to see the wide variety of innovative programs implemented under the grant program to improve the financial well-being of the public workforce,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, PhD, MissionSquare Research Institute Senior Research Manager and lead author of the fact sheet series. “Well-designed financial wellness programs are a win-win for employees and employers, especially at a time when governments are struggling to recruit and retain workers.”

“We know financial wellness can result in more productive and engaged employees, improve morale, lower absenteeism, alleviate burnout, and reduce health care costs. We hope the Financial Wellness Fact Sheets spark ideas for leaders exploring programs for their employees. Ultimately, these programs improve employees’ ability to deliver vital public services,” said Liss-Levinson.

MissionSquare Research Institute promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations to attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and education sector.

Financial Literacy-Financial wellness-San Diego County Water Authority

COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Shows San Diego’s Case Surge is Slowing

COVID-19 wastewater data now shows that the record spread of the virus in San Diego is beginning to fall.

“We’re coming off the surge for sure,” said UC San Diego Professor Rob Knight. “However, it’s possible that cases will continue to rise or maybe peak around now.”

Knight leads the project that has been analyzing San Diegans sewage from the Point Loma treatment plan over the last two years. He said wastewater is a leading indicator of the virus’ spread, with data typically three weeks ahead of confirmed cases.

Pivoting Operations For A Pandemic

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant (“CDP”), which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary, produces 50 million gallons of fresh water per day. It now accounts for one-third of all water generated in San Diego county.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, the facility needed to completely overhaul its workflow in a matter of weeks. CDP not only managed to cut its staffing, implement remote monitoring, and keep its operators fully sheltered onsite — it also did so without any drops in productivity.

The facility rapidly worked to make its staff as lean as possible — but also while maintaining steady production. Although changes needed to occur quickly, the CDP is subject to a wide range of regulations and compliance requirements: any modifications to operations needed to be collaborated and approved by the San Diego County Water Authority as well as state regulators.

Wastewater test samples are processed by City of San Diego lab professionals. Photo: City of San Diego

State Agencies Commend COVID-19 Wastewater Monitoring by City of San Diego

The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department’s wastewater monitoring of coronavirus has received recognition from two state agencies.

The City’s Public Utilities Department was one of five California utilities participating in the Center for Disease Control’s National Wastewater Surveillance System program in cooperation with the State Water Quality Control Board.

The California Water Monitoring Council cited the City’s wastewater monitoring efforts, including its participation in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pilot studies to investigate the logistics of implementing wastewater-based epidemiology nationally.

“The monitoring of wastewater can provide key information that is helpful in understanding and preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Shauna Lorance, Director of the Public Utilities Department. “We are very proud to continue providing assistance to state and federal agencies with these efforts.”

Pioneering effort assesses COVID-19 spread through wastewater testing

The California Water Monitoring Council cited the City’s wastewater monitoring efforts, including its participation in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pilot studies to investigate the logistics of implementing wastewater-based epidemiology nationally. wastewater monitoring

The California Water Monitoring Council cited the City’s wastewater monitoring efforts, including its participation in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pilot studies to investigate the logistics of implementing wastewater-based epidemiology nationally. Photo: City of San Diego

Multiple California agencies and institutions pioneered an approach to better assess the spread of COVID-19 through testing wastewater. This approach yields information about the prevalence of the disease in populations several days sooner than individual testing or hospitalization records, according to the California State Water Quality Control Board.

Both the Control Board and the California Water Monitoring Council expressed their appreciation for the City’s assistance in separate resolutions.

Critical role in understanding spread of the virus

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the City of San Diego has been voluntarily involved with multiple studies for COVID-19 monitoring of wastewater. City staff efforts began before the development of federal and state epidemiology programs. Data collected by City staff played a critical role in understanding the spread, movement, and control of the virus. The City will share information from the studies with the public when they are completed.

The City of San Diego processes wastewater at its Point Loma treatment plant. Photo: City of San Diego

The City of San Diego processes wastewater at its Point Loma treatment plant. Photo: City of San Diego

The City participated in additional wastewater studies related to COVID-19, including those by San Diego State University, the University of Arizona, and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.

San Diego’s collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater are carefully monitored and meet all regulations ensuring the health and safety of its employees, community members, and the environment. While the presence and viability of COVID -19 in wastewater is still being examined by the scientific community, the City’s wastewater treatment process has proven to be very effective in removing other commonly found viruses and bacteria.

(Editor’s note: The City of San Diego is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

UCSD Reports ‘Unprecedented’ Spike in COVID Virus in San Diego Wastewater

An “unprecedented” spike in COVID-19 viral load in wastewater collected from San Diego County’s primary wastewater treatment facility was reported Saturday by UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers.

The amount of COVID-19 virus detected in wastewater has predicted the region’s COVID-19 caseload up to three weeks ahead of clinical diagnostic reports, the researchers said. Since people with COVID-19 shed the virus in their stool even before they experience symptoms, wastewater screening acts as an early warning system.

“The wastewater screening results reported on Friday are unlike any the team has seen before,” said Jackie Carr of UC San Diego Health. Both Delta and Omicron variants of the virus were detected in the wastewater.

Pandemic Reigns as Top Concern for California Issuers

More than 18 months into the pandemic, COVID-19 still reigns as the most pressing concern for California issuers.

During a panel discussion Tuesday at The Bond Buyer’s California Public Finance virtual conference, every discussion involved the pandemic in some way.

Oceanside Launches Ratepayer Relief Program On August 2

The City of Oceanside announced the Oceanside Ratepayer Relief Program in response to financial hardships of the pandemic. The program will launch Monday, August 2, 2021, and will offer a one-time credit to eligible customers who are behind on their utility bill.

At the start of the global pandemic, Oceanside suspended late fees and water shutoffs; the Ratepayer Relief Program is going one step further to support customers. Funding for the program comes from a $2.3 million settlement received by the City as a result of litigation between the San Diego County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District that challenged rates charged for the delivery of water from 2011 to 2014.

Five Things to Know About Newsom’s budget Deal with Legislature

California lawmakers voted tonight to approve a record-busting state budget that reflects new agreements with Gov. Gavin Newsom to expand health care for undocumented immigrants, spend billions to alleviate homelessness and help Californians still struggling through the pandemic.

The $262.6 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was fueled by a $76 billion state surplus and $27 billion in federal aid. Democrats who control the Capitol wanted to use the windfall to help the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic and its uneven toll on Californians.