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Why Southern California Fears Too Much Water Conservation

As Gov. Gavin Newsom weighs new mandatory drought restrictions, Southern California leaders fear cuts in urban water use could force already sky-high water bills ever higher.

Unlike much of Northern and Central California, the region isn’t hurting for water, yet. Top water officials insist they have enough supplies for at least one more hot summer, perhaps two.

San Diego’s Water Recyclers and High Bill Payers Draw Pool Noodles

The cost of getting water from the drought-stressed Colorado River is spiraling and parts of San Diego County with some of the highest bills and big water recycling projects on the horizon seem to be drawing pool noodles together.

That is, in any case, the rough sense that stuck out to me as I re-shuffled through my notes from last week’s story about huge, forecasted increases in the price of Colorado River water, which is controlled by San Diego County Water Authority.

City of Oceanside Wins WateReuse Award of Excellence

The City of Oceanside received an Award of Excellence during the WateReuse conference in September 2021. Oceanside received the Recycled Water Outreach/Education Program Award for Pure Water Oceanside, which pays tribute to an agency that demonstrates a significant and wide-reaching community outreach and/or public education program that informs the community about the presence and benefits of water reuse.

Pure Water San Diego-EPA loan-August 2021-water recycling-Phase 1-potable reuse

Mayor, EPA Chief Celebrate First Phase of San Diego’s Drought-Resistant Water Recycling Project

Mayor Todd Gloria, along with state and federal leaders, formally kicked off construction of Phase 1 of the city’s Pure Water program August 20. The project is intended to provide nearly 50% of the city’s drinking water by 2035 and reduce the need for imported water.

Helping the mayor celebrate the historic occasion in University City were Rep. Scott Peters, California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel.

Water recycling project

“Today, we celebrated the launch of the largest, most ambitious infrastructure project in San Diego’s history,” said Gloria. “The Pure Water program will guarantee us a local water resource that allows San Diego to be drought-resilient and environmentally sustainable. This is a key part of how we will provide clean drinking water to our residents for generations to come.”

Two Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans from the EPA are providing funding for up to $733.5 million toward the program’s Phase I projects. Additional funding for the construction of the project will come from Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loans in the amount of $665.1 million, and more than $80 million in federal and state grants, which do not need to be repaid.

The city will also receive a $340 credit from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for every acre-foot — enough water to supply up to four households for a year — produced for 25 years. This corresponds to a credit of $285.6 million over the life of the agreement, project leaders said.

Read the complete story from Times of San Diego here: https://bit.ly/3zgns1q

Pure Water San Diego is one of three potable water reuse or recycling projects under development in the San Diego region. The City of Oceanside is working toward creating 50% of its water supply locally, including Pure Water Oceanside, by 2030.

The East County Advanced Water Purification project would recycle 15 million gallons of annual wastewater discharge into drinking water, meeting 30% of the demand for potable water in East San Diego County.

(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.)

Pure Water Oceanside Project to Receive $1.7 Million Federal Grant

The Secretary of the Interior will be recommending a $1.7 million grant award for construction of the Pure Water Oceanside project, it was announced Friday.

The funding will be awarded via the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART: Title XVI WIIN Water Reclamation and Reuse Projects funding opportunity. Oceanside is one of 11 applicants named in the federal appropriations process for this funding.

“We are excited to continue working with the Bureau of Reclamation on Pure Water Oceanside,” said Cari Dale, Oceanside’s water utilities director. “Their continued support along with multiple grant, loan and incentive programs through the EPA, the Department of Water Resources as well as Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority continue to make local water supply development affordable for the city of Oceanside customers.”

Pure Water Oceanside-Drought-Water Shortage-Water Supply-Drought

Water Conservation Helps San Diego Regional Supply During Drought

Water conservation is a way of life in the San Diego region, whether during drought periods or wet years. While the region is in drought like much of the Southwest U.S., San Diego County is not experiencing a water shortage. That’s because the Helix Water District, and the other water utilities serving the region, have worked together for 25 years to conserve water and invest in new water resources.

The San Diego County Water Authority, its 24 member agencies, and the water ratepayers of San Diego County, have made investments to increase water supply reliability.

June 2021 was the hottest June on record in the U.S.

High temperatures make drought conditions worse. The hotter it is, the faster water evaporates from soil and transpires from plants. This is why urban landscapes, crops and forests dry out and the risk of wildfires increases. The map below shows all of the wildfires currently burning throughout the West.

Map from InciWeb

InciWeb map shows current fires burning across the U.S. West.

On July 8, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency everywhere except Southern California

The Governor called for all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, but only declared a drought emergency in the counties in red in the map below. That’s because communities in central and northern California are more likely to rely on a single river, creek or well for their water and are more vulnerable to drought. It’s drier in Southern California and water agencies have been developing multiple water resources to meet water supply needs for more than 100 years. Today, this approach helps protect the region against drought and water shortage.

Map from Cal Matters

On July 8, 2021, Governor Newsom extended his drought emergency declaration to include all 50 counties in central and northern California.

In the San Diego region, water utilities work together to develop water supply

Helix and other water utilities in San Diego depend on the San Diego County Water Authority to import water from the Colorado River and Northern California.  When residents and businesses pay their water bills, their water utility pays the Water Authority for the imported water they use. Then, all the water utilities meet at the Water Authority and decide how to invest that money in water resources. By pooling our money over the last 25 years, we invested $3 billion and developed projects no single utility could afford on its own.

San Diego County Water Authority board meeting photo from Water News Network

Board members from member agencies work together as the board of the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego residents use half the water they used in the 1990s

Residents and businesses in the region have reduced their water bills by installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances, landscapes and irrigation, and have taken advantage of rebates to save money. Today, San Diego County residents use half the water they used in the 1990s. As a result, water utilities have been able to reduce the size and cost of new water projects. Conservation eases demand when there is a water shortage due to drought or emergencies.

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden.

Water supply from the Colorado River

In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to sell up to 200,000 acre feet of water annually to the San Diego County Water Authority. Water used to irrigate crops was now available to San Diego homes and businesses, and just one acre foot of water can sustain up to four homes for a year. And, the Imperial Irrigation District has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River. If the Colorado River Basin states renegotiate how the river’s water is divided up, those senior water rights will help protect San Diego.

Colorado River photo from KUER Public Radio

Muddy Colorado River flowing through Utah.

Drought-proof water resources

In 2014, the Water Authority completed the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water. It’s the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere. Now, we’re focused on turning recycled water into drinking water by using reverse osmosis, just like at the Carlsbad plant, and other advanced water treatment technology.

New water supply projects underway

Helix is working with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and the county of San Diego on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside are developing “Pure Water” programs.

Reverse osmosis cannisters at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo from Poseidon Water

Reverse osmosis canister arrays at the Carlsbad Desalination

More space to store water

The more water we can store during a wet year, when a lot of rain and snow falls on California and the Colorado River Basin, the more water we have available in a dry year. Diamond Valley Lake, which Metropolitan Water District of Southern California filled in 2002, stores enough water for Southern California for six months. With the construction of Olivenhain Dam and the raising of San Vicente Dam, we have an additional six month water supply just for the San Diego region.

San Vicente Dam photo from the San Diego County Water Authority

San Vicente Dam.

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

Oceanside Introduces 360 Tour of Water Recycling Project

Oceanside released an immersive 360-degree video and tour of the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility, and new home of Pure Water Oceanside which is set to go online in 2022.

The video was released as part of “Water Awareness Month” and is a step-by-step tour of the water purification process, with a unique 360-view of the facility.

By turning your phone, you can see a view of the plant from all directions while hearing a narration of the process.

Pure Water Oceanside’s New Virtual Reality Video

To celebrate Water Awareness Month in May and highlight the value of water, the City of Oceanside has unveiled its new virtual reality video tour. The 360-degree video shows the water recycling process that prepares water for Pure Water Oceanside. The advanced water purification project will create a new local source of high-quality drinking water that is clean, safe, drought-proof and environmentally sound.

Pure Water Oceanside-New Virtual Video-Oceanside

Pure Water Oceanside’s New Virtual Reality Video

To celebrate Water Awareness Month in May and highlight the value of water, the City of Oceanside has unveiled its new virtual reality video tour. The 360-degree video shows the water recycling process that prepares water for Pure Water Oceanside. The advanced water purification project will create a new local source of high-quality drinking water that is clean, safe, drought-proof and environmentally sound.

The video provides an immersive 360-degree look at Oceanside’s San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility in anticipation of opening the first advanced purified water project in San Diego County. The water for the project will be sourced from the reclamation facility. The virtual 360-degree video allows viewers to engage and look all around by simply using a computer mouse or touch screen or moving their phones in order to see all around.

Virtual reality video is “educational resource”

Viewers who have a virtual headset for cell phones can take it one step further by “stepping into” the video much like a simulation. In June, the City of Oceanside will begin scheduling opportunities for schools and scouts to view the video using city-provided virtual reality goggles.

“As we enter into another dry summer, Water Awareness Month provides a reason to reflect on how valuable Oceanside’s investments in water supply reliability and water use efficiency are,” said Cari Dale, City of Oceanside water utilities director. “The 360-degree video is an educational video resource for the community to have a better understanding of the City’s efforts to create local sources of water including recycled and advanced purified water, which will provide up to 50% of the City’s water supply.

“Pure Water Oceanside and recycled water expansion projects are examples of how the City works efficiently to provide safe, local and sustainable water resources while keeping water rates among the lowest in the county for our residents and businesses,” she added.

Water recycling and reuse projects

Pure Water Oceanside is one of several potable water reuse or recycling projects under development in the San Diego region.

The East County Advanced Water Purification project is a collaborative partnership between the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, County of San Diego, City of El Cajon and the Helix Water District. Once operational, the East County AWP will provide up to 30% of East San Diego County’s drinking water demands, or almost 13,000 acre-feet of water per year, while eliminating the discharge of 15 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

Pure Water San Diego is a $5 billion project designed to generate 83 million gallons of water per day by 2035, nearly 50% of the City of San Diego’s water demand based on the new 2021 urban water management plan.

Drought safe and sustainable supply

The combination of Pure Water Oceanside with the City’s recycled water expansion project exemplifies the value the City of Oceanside places on water. The project will safeguard against drought, provide a local and sustainable source of water, and reduce the city’s dependence on increasingly expensive imported water from the Sacramento Bay Delta and the Colorado River.

Scheduled to be completed in 2022, Pure Water Oceanside will be the first operating advanced water purification facility in San Diego County. The $71 million project will use advanced technology to replicate and accelerate the natural recycling process to provide 3 to 5 million gallons per day to the City of Oceanside.

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

Water Reuse Projects Highlight Sustainable Building Week

Three potable water reuse or recycling projects under development in the San Diego region were highlighted this week during the San Diego Green Building Council’s inaugural “Sustainable Building Week San Diego.”

The Sustainable Building Week programs focused on sustainable practices and creating collaboration and networks among San Diego professionals involved with environmental stewardship and green building.