Posts

Opinion: Blackouts Expose Need for Expanding Energy Storage

The sad reality is that the blackouts rolling across California this week were both predictable and avoidable. The silver lining is that future blackouts across California are avoidable – if we invest in large-scale energy storage projects to provide on-demand power.

CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: NOAA

Water Authority Joins Scripps Institution of Oceanography to Optimize Water Management

The San Diego County Water Authority is partnering with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms.

This month, Scripps’ Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) launched the Water Affiliates Group, which brings together cutting-edge science and hands-on water industry experience to enhance reservoir operations in light of the changing climate. The Water Authority has a long-running alliance with Scripps and is among six founding water agencies statewide.

CW3E and its partners will share and support best practices in forecast-informed reservoir operations, increase research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.

“This partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography underscores our commitment to strategic, science-based decision-making and long-term planning,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “By supporting advances in forecasting, we can more efficiently and effectively manage water resources both locally and statewide. This ultimately will benefit everyone in California by helping sustain our economy and quality of life.”

Addressing major climate challenges in the arid West

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Graphic: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Graphic: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl said the collaboration aligns closely with Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio, which prioritizes voluntary agreements, smart water storage strategies and coordination of data collection.

“This is a great example of how water agencies are stronger together by addressing major climate challenges that affect everyone across the arid West,” Kerl said. “By combining forces with some of the leading scientists in the world, we will enhance our planning capacity and be ready to adapt to whatever the future brings.”

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Managing reservoirs for both flood control and drinking water supply retention is challenging because 20th-century practices and regulations are decreasingly relevant due to changing patterns for snowmelt and rainfall.

SIO data will help manage water supplies

CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: Water Authority

CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

CW3E is a leader in Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, which uses data from watershed monitoring and modern weather and water forecasting to help water managers determine the best strategies for retaining or releasing water from reservoirs. CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. The group’s research covers water supply reliability, flood management, greenhouse gas mitigation, groundwater recharge, public safety, observations, forecasting, decision support, climate outlooks, and hazard assessment.

The Water Authority is working with CW3E to assess how better near-term and long-term precipitation forecasts can improve reservoir planning and operational management in the San Diego region by maximizing local water supplies and the reliability of water resources through a mix of planning processes and real-time decisions.

Joining the Water Authority as founding partners are Sonoma Water, Orange County Water District, Yuba Water Agency, Turlock Irrigation District, and Irvine Ranch Water District.

San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Major Water Rate Case Victory; San Diego County is Stronger Together

As you know, the Water Authority has been working for years to conclude lawsuits over rates set by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – and this week, we have taken a big step forward with the entry of final judgment in two major cases.

Yesterday, a Superior Court judge has awarded the San Diego County Water Authority $44,373,872.29 for two cases covering rates paid by San Diego County ratepayers during 2011-2014. The award included $28,678.190.90 in damages for MWD’s breach of contract for the four years at issue, plus pre-and post-judgment interest. As these first two cases are finally concluded, the Water Authority is also working to narrow the scope of the remaining 2014, 2016 and 2018 cases (a 2017 case has already been dismissed).

Entry of final judgment caps a 10-year effort by the Water Authority Board of Directors on behalf of San Diego County ratepayers, proving once again our region is stronger together in charting our water future. While the damages and interest award is important, the entry of judgment will also help avoid future overcharges and thereby minimize future disputes based on rulings by the Court of Appeal. MWD’s improper charges – if they had continued – would have cost San Diego County residents more than $500 million over the life of the Water Authority’s water delivery contract with MWD.

The lawsuits generated other substantial benefits, such as requiring an increase in the Water Authority’s preferential rights to MWD water by approximately 100,000 acre-feet a year, equivalent to about twice the annual production of the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project.

In February, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted to dismiss certain issues from the litigation after securing more than $350 million in local project subsidy benefits for the San Diego region, beginning late last year. In doing so, the Water Authority acknowledged the MWD Board action to stop imposing the district’s Water Stewardship Rate as a charge for transporting the Water Authority’s independent water supplies through MWD facilities, thus resolving for now that issue in future rate years. Consistent with the Water Authority Board’s direction, its attorneys are taking the steps necessary to narrow the litigation and have recently dismissed one case in its entirety.

As the lawsuits continue to wind down – which remains my personal goal – the Water Authority is working collaboratively with MWD member agencies across the district’s six-county service area to update MWD’s long-term water resource and financial planning. MWD’s Integrated Resources Plan, or IRP as it is called, will be its roadmap for the future, factoring in updated data and plans by many MWD member agencies who are working to develop their own local water supplies like the Water Authority and its member agencies have done over the past two decades and we will continue to do in the future.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Good News: Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Approved for Local Water Projects

I’m pleased to share some good news for our region. You will recall the Water Authority was recently awarded $15 million in state grants for several water supply projects throughout the county. Earlier this week, we also secured approval of more than $115 million for local water supply projects in San Diego County through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. That brings the total to nearly $500 million since we successfully challenged in court MWD’s imposition of an illegal contract clause barring our region’s participation in MWD’s funding program. Unlike state grants, MWD’s program is funded by its member agencies, including the Water Authority, in the water rates and charges we pay to MWD.

Kudos to our member agencies for their strong applications and to MWD’s Board of Directors for approving them. It is an affirmation of our ongoing efforts to collaborate with MWD and to address shared challenges.

Local water projects, along with the Water Authority regional supplies, are key components of our region’s long-term supply reliability strategy. A few months ago, we worked with Fallbrook Public Utility District, the City of San Diego and the City of Oceanside to secure MWD program funding for their projects.

The two most recent successes are:

  • Up to $91.8 million was awarded to the East County Advanced Water Treatment Plant. It will meet up to 30% of East County’s drinking water demands (approx. 13,000 acre-feet of water per year) and eliminate the discharge of 15 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Up to $23.4 million was awarded to the Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis Facility in the City of Escondido, which will provide up to 3,280 acre-feet per year of advanced treated recycled water to irrigate farmland.

Now that San Diego County agencies can compete for – and win – Local Resources Program funding, the Water Authority is taking actions in court to voluntarily dismiss certain related legal claims against MWD. We hope to soon have prompt resolution of our remaining litigation issues, and to work with the other MWD member agencies to create a strategic plan, a financing plan and a rate structure that are fair to ratepayers across Southern California.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Supporting Protections for Ratepayers and Property Owners

I hope this finds you safe and healthy despite the challenging circumstances that we face as a region, state and nation.

While our hearts are heavy, we continue working on several critical issues at the Water Authority this month, and I would like to share three of them with you briefly.

  1. The Water Authority’s Board of Directors on May 28 voted to support a comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of detachment proposals by the Rainbow and Fallbrook water districts to ensure that ratepayers and property owners in those districts and the rest of the county are protected from potential impacts and given a meaningful opportunity to engage in the process. That evaluation – under development by the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO – should cover financial, water supply reliability, governmental, and environmental impacts, and it should ensure that the public and all affected agencies across the region can weigh in, according to the Water Authority Board resolution. I encourage you to read the entire resolution at www.sdcwa.org/lafco-detachment.
  2. Our Board has set a public hearing on 2021 rates and charges on June 25. As you know, this has been a very rough stretch financially for almost every business and agency – and water utilities are no exception. Staff has proposed a strategy that would raise the rates we charge our member agencies by about 6 percent next year. That recommendation is the result of cost-cutting, using our Rate Stabilization Fund and other measures. It’s a thoughtful and careful proposal, and I’m expecting our Board will have robust discussion before voting on this issue that affects us all.
  3. On the financial front, we are also doing our part to attract more state and federal economic stimulus funds for a long list of shovel-ready water projects. The Water Authority has coordinated a letter from several water agencies asking Congress for COVID-19 financial relief for public water utilities and ratepayers. At the same time, I am pleased to announce that several regional water supply projects in San Diego County are on track to receive a total of more than $15 million in state grant funds, pending a final decision this summer. The money would help local agencies advance conservation, environmental enhancements, water purification and other initiatives.

As always, I will continue to update you on these critical issues and others in the weeks ahead.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: We’re Here For You

Today, I have a special project to share with you that we have been working on with our member agencies across San Diego County.

Since the pandemic started, the region’s water and wastewater agencies have collaborated closely to ensure that these vital services remain fully functional. After all, they are the foundation of both emergency response and recovery.

The utility heroes on the front lines are meter readers, plant operators, accountants, engineers and many others in every corner of our county who help to ensure the continued delivery of safe, clean drinking water for our homes and businesses. For the most part, these public servants work behind the scenes – but a short new video shows several of them at their posts, where they perform essential work from their homes and in the field.

Click here to watch this 60-second message from our colleagues that ends with one key phrase: We’re here for you. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me. And a special thank you to all our water professionals for continuing to do what you do day-in and day-out!

On a related note, as California starts to move toward re-opening its economy, the Water Authority is making responsible, careful and flexible plans to return to more “normal” operating conditions. However, we are in no rush; our teams quickly adapted to remote work and it is paramount that we avoid creating more complications by moving too quickly in these uncertain times. At least for May, our Board meeting will again be held remotely. You can watch it here on Thursday, May 28.

I also want to share my appreciation for efforts by state Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego to advance immediate action on economic recovery and creative solutions to jump-start California’s economy without exacerbating already challenging fiscal conditions. The Water Authority looks forward to partnering with the state to move forward on shovel-ready water and energy infrastructure projects that can help California’s economic recovery gain traction.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Strategic Steps to Address Emerging Fiscal Realities

Across the country, public agencies are scrambling to fill holes created by the pandemic – financial holes and, worse yet, holes in the workforce. It is safe to assume, until a vaccine is developed or an antibody treatment is found, we are living the new normal.

As we hope and pray that the worst days of the coronavirus are behind us, I am so thankful that the Water Authority took aggressive early action to protect employees and that we have had no COVID-related illnesses. I’m also grateful to report that our region’s water treatment and delivery systems are in good shape, and that they continue to provide clean, safe drinking water 24/7 due to the efforts of a few thousand employees of the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. These dedicated public servants are doing their jobs day and night, despite numerous personal and logistical challenges.

That said, our region’s water agencies are collectively facing serious declines in revenues; businesses are not using water as expected, which means water sales have plummeted. Unlike some other industries, most of our costs are fixed. In fact, the Water Authority’s operating departments only account for about 6 percent of the budget.

This means that even when water sales drop, we still must pay the “mortgage” on the system – from pumps to pipes to filtration and whatever other costs we cannot control, such as increases from our water suppliers or higher costs for energy and treatment chemicals. For instance, we expect the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to raise rates in San Diego County by more than 7 percent in 2021 despite our pleas for relief on your behalf.

Details about the financial impact of coronavirus will take weeks or months to emerge, but the Water Authority is already taking proactive steps to address anticipated challenges, from instituting a hiring freeze to assessing which non-essential projects and expenses can be deferred. I assure you that we are working every day to sustain our core mission to maintain the many values that we provide our region and make smart choices to ensure our long-term viability.

It is not an easy task, but we have 75 years of history that say we can do this together – and I know we will.

On a hopeful note, the region’s water agencies have joined forces to raise thousands of dollars for the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank through voluntary donations by board members and employees. We’re always looking for opportunities to raise more money given the ongoing significance of the need. Click here to donate – and do not forget to share the link with family, friends and others who may want to participate. Every dollar helps feed those in need.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.

San Diego Regional Water Agencies Boost Efforts to Fight Hunger

An effort to bolster food bank supplies and fight hunger in San Diego County is getting a helping hand from the region’s public water agencies.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are supporting a virtual food drive in partnership with the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. The campaign allows donors to select and purchase items such as canned meats, vegetables, fruits, peanut butter and oatmeal for distribution to needy residents. To donate, go to www.bit.ly/SDWaterAgencyFoodDrive.

 

San Diego County Food Bank-Coronavirus-Story2-primary

San Diego Regional Water Agencies Boost Efforts to Fight Hunger

An effort to bolster food bank supplies and fight hunger in San Diego County is getting a helping hand from the region’s public water agencies.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are supporting a virtual food drive in partnership with the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. The campaign allows donors to select and purchase items such as canned meats, vegetables, fruits, peanut butter and oatmeal for distribution to needy residents. To donate, go to www.bit.ly/SDWaterAgencyFoodDrive.

The Water Authority Board leadership launched the effort for staff and Board members about two weeks ago, then expanded it by inviting 24 retail member agencies countywide to join the effort to fight hunger. So far, nearly $6,000 has been contributed through that portal, and some member agencies are setting up their own portals for their service areas.

Help fight hunger

In addition, water agencies have partnered with the Food Bank to inform its clients that it is unnecessary to purchase bottled water when convenient, clean drinking water is available 24/7 at the tap for about a penny a gallon.

“The region’s water industry is committed to sustaining our community in this time of acute need,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “The San Diego region has come together time and again to meet challenges such as wildfires, and we’re doing the same to provide hunger relief during this crisis.”

Demands for food increase during pandemic

The San Diego Food Bank typically helps feed 350,000 people each month at 200 distribution sites — and demands have skyrocketed as the economic impacts of coronavirus closures ripple across the region.

Donations to the San Diego Food Bank are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. The San Diego Food Bank is a 501(c)(3) organization.

Essential workers on the job

In response to the pandemic, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have increased regional coordination and communication to ensure continued delivery of safe and reliable water service for San Diego County. Public water supplies in the region remain safe to drink due to numerous robust treatment processes used by local and regional water providers.

As essential workers, the region’s water and wastewater system employees will continue to work to ensure safe and reliable water services.

San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Jim Madaffer: Adjusting to the New Normal

As we adjust to the new – and hopefully temporary – realities of this pandemic, it’s worth reflecting on the good that is happening in our community, our state and our nation.

  • Doctors and nurses are bravely treating the sick by the thousands.
  • Grocery store employees are working long hours to stock shelves and serve customers.
  • Restaurants are evolving to offer takeout, and customers are showing up to support them.
  • Houses of worship are meeting remotely.
  • Companies are transitioning to make ventilators, sanitizers and other products that are so necessary.

Of course, food banks are also doing tremendous work to support residents who are suddenly without a paycheck. That’s why the Board leadership of the San Diego County Water Authority is joining regional efforts to fight the economic impacts of the pandemic by setting up a virtual food drive in partnership with the San Diego Food Bank.

The San Diego Food Bank helps feed hundreds of thousands of hungry people each year – and the numbers are growing rapidly. The Water Authority’s virtual food drive allows donors to select and purchase items such as canned meats, fruits, peanut butter and oatmeal for distribution to needy residents. Click here to donate – and don’t forget to share the link with family, friends and others who may want to participate.

I’ve heard it said that true colors come through during a crisis, which is why I’m proud to report that our regional efforts to safeguard our water supplies have generated substantial regional and even national attention in recent days. Click here for a great story by 10News San Diego.

We’re going to keep it up as long as needed to beat this thing.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.