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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.

Pure Water San Diego is anticipated to provide 50% of the City of San Diego's water supply by 2035. Photo: Courtesy City of San Diego Water Reuse Progress

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.

The panel discussion, “Potable Reuse: New Local Sources of High-Quality Drinking Water for San Diego County,” updated the development status and future benefits of three projects: Pure Water Oceanside, Pure Water San Diego, and the East County Advanced Water Purification program. Attendees learned how the technology works and how it reduces reliance on imported water, while increasing local supply.

Multiple benefits to the environment

Panelists provided the latest updates on Pure Water San Diego, Pure Water Oceanside, and the East County Advanced Water Project. Photo: Water Authority

Panelists provided the latest updates on Pure Water San Diego, Pure Water Oceanside, and the East County Advanced Water Purification program. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Potable reuse has multiple benefits, including sustainability and drought resilience,” said Lesley Dobalian, principal water resources specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority and the panel moderator.

Pure Water Oceanside

“Water supplies are subject to lots of vulnerabilities, including rising costs, energy consumption, natural disasters, and eco-system and environmental issues,” said Cari Dale, City of Oceanside water utilities director. “Pure Water Oceanside replicates and accelerates Nature’s natural recycling process.”

The City of Oceanside is working toward creating 50% of its water supply locally, including Pure Water Oceanside, by 2030.

Cari Dale, Water Utilities Director, City of Oceanside, explained to the viewers how the process works. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

East County AWP

Kyle Swanson, director of advanced water purification with the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, said the East County Advanced Water Purification project would recycle 15 million gallons of annual wastewater discharge into a resource. Currently, wastewater from East County travels 20 miles to be discharged into the San Diego metropolitan wastewater treatment system and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.

“Redistribution of this water would meet 30% of the demand for potable water in East County,” said Swanson. “It is sustainable, uninterruptable, and competitive in costs.”

The East County AWP will produce 30% of the region’s water supply. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Pure Water San Diego

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

“That’s pretty exciting, half our water supply is from this project,” said John Stufflebean, assistant director, City of San Diego Water Utilities Department.

Phase 1 will produce 30 million gallons of water per day by 2025; Phase 2 will deliver the remaining supply.

Potable reuse will provide a new source of safe, high quality drinking water in San Diego County. This local supply is sustainable, drought resilient, and benefits the environment. It will also help prepare the region for future droughts and a changing climate.

Drought-Water Supply Diversity-investments

Drought: Why Water Supply Diversity is Critical

Drought is back in California. Federal and state agencies are warning of potential water shortages in the months ahead. Because of investments made by the San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies and the region’s water ratepayers, San Diego County is safe from the threat of multiyear droughts.

“We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in early April. “The Department of Water Resources is working with our federal and state partners to plan for the impacts of limited water supplies this summer for agriculture as well as urban and rural water users. We encourage everyone to look for ways to use water efficiently in their everyday lives.”

The San Diego region relies far less on supplies from Northern California than in previous decades. A severe drought in the early 1990s forced the region to confront the fact that continuing to provide safe and reliable water demanded a diverse portfolio of supplies instead of near-total reliance on a single source.

“We have sufficient water supplies whether it’s a normal year, which means normal rainfall,” said Jeff Stephenson, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “A single dry year. Or a period of five straight dry years. Under those scenarios we have more than sufficient water supplies to meet the needs of the region.”

Investments and planning pay off

Stephenson credits three decades of efforts by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to diversify water sources, including contracts for water transfers with the Imperial Irrigation District and the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, as well as the development of additional water storage capacity in the region.

There are also several water reuse or recycling projects in development throughout San Diego County. The region’s dependence on imported water supply will decrease as these local supply sources are developed and become operational.

Pure Water Oceanside-Potable Reuse-Sustainability Sustainble Building Week

Construction is underway for Pure Water Oceanside, one of three potable reuse or recycling projects in San Diego County that will reduce the need for imported water while creating a sustainable, local supply. Photo: City of Oceanside/Jeremy Kemp

Approximately 43,000 acre-feet of recycled water is expected to be reused within the Water Authority’s service area annually by 2025. As the new and expanded potable reuse plants come online, they are projected to produce more than 112,000 acre-feet per year of new drinking water supplies by 2045, enough to meet nearly 18% of the region’s future water demand.

“Our member agencies throughout the region have developed more local supplies, such as recycled water,” Stephenson said. “In addition, the member agencies are developing potable reuse projects, including the city of San Diego’s pure water program which comes online in the future, and all of those supplies really make the region much more able to withstand drought periods.”

Revised drought contingency plan

As a result of the persistent drought conditions, and in accordance with its permit for the long-term operation of the State Water Project, DWR has submitted a revised Drought Contingency Plan to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan provides updated hydrologic conditions and outlines areas of concern for the joint operations of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, water quality, and environmental impacts.

In late-March, the State Water Resources Control Board mailed approximately 40,000 notices to water right holders, warning of persisting dry conditions and asking them to plan for potential shortages. Officials said the warnings, a result of two years of below average precipitation and below average state reservoir levels, will prompt early action to help minimize short term drought impacts.

“Planting crops and other decisions that are dictated by water supply are made early in the year, so early warnings are vital,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Water Board’s Division of Water Rights. “These letters give water users time to prepare and help minimize the impacts of reduced supplies on businesses, farms and homes.”

The agency suggested in the letter that agricultural water users can implement practical actions now to improve their drought resilience, including reducing irrigated acreage, managing herd size, using innovative irrigation and diversifying water supply portfolios. Urban water users can conserve by putting in drought-resistant landscape, reducing outdoor irrigation and replacing older house fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones.

Increasing local supply sources

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies continue to increase local supply sources and make investments to ensure a plentiful, safe, and reliable water supply for the region’s 3.3 million people and its $245 billion economy.

“Current conditions are a reminder of why the Water Authority and its member agencies have invested in locally controlled water sources and facilities such as dams and pipelines that can move water when and where it’s needed,” said the Water Authority’s Stephenson.

Desal Plant-5th anniversary-Carlsbad Desalination Plant-drinking watr

The Carlsbad plant uses reverse osmosis to produce approximately 10 percent of the region’s water supply; it is a core supply regardless of weather conditions, and it is blended with water from other sources for regional distribution. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Ever since the drought of the early 1990s, the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have been leading advocates for water-smart strategies such as low-flow toilets, low-water landscapes and other conservation tactics. One result is that per capita water use in the San Diego region is down by more than 50% over the past three decades.

Reservoirs-Drought-Water Supply Diversity-DWR

“We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in early April 2021. Graphic: California Department of Water Resources

Pure Water Oceanside-Potable Reuse-Sustainability Sustainble Building Week

SD Sustainable Building Week Features Water Reuse Projects

Representatives from three potable reuse projects under development in San Diego County will provide project updates during the inaugural “Sustainable Building Week San Diego” at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 13.

Hosted by the San Diego Green Building Council, Sustainable Building Week offers free virtual events from April 12 – 16 addressing sustainable practices and creating collaboration and networks among San Diego professionals involved with environmental stewardship and green building. All events are free and open to the public.

Sustainable Building Week and potable reuse

The San Diego County Water Authority hosts and moderates a panel titled “Potable Reuse: New Local Sources  of High-Quality Drinking Water for  San Diego County.” Potable reuse will provide a new source of safe, high-quality drinking water in San Diego County. Projects will create a local supply that is sustainable, drought-resilient, and benefits the environment. Additional sources of local water supply will also help prepare the region for future droughts and a changing climate.

Financially competitive and environmentally responsible

Helix Water District's R.M Levy Water Treatment Plant

Purified water from the East County Advanced Water Purification Project will undergo additional processing at Helix Water District’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant after being be piped into the district’s Lake Jennings reservoir. Photo: Helix Water District

Attendees to the free virtual presentation will hear the latest updates on three San Diego County potable reuse projects currently under development. The presenters will describe how the potable reuse process purifies recycled water; reduces reliance on imported water; and is financially competitive and environmentally responsible.

Panelists include:

Cari Dale, Water Utilities Director, City of Oceanside, has been working towards meeting the Oceanside City Council’s goal of 50% local water supply development by the year 2030, a goal which will be achieved in part by the implementation of Pure Water Oceanside.

John Stufflebean, Assistant Director, Water Utilities Department, City of San Diego, currently the Assistant Director for the Pure Water and Technical Services Branch. Pure Water San Diego is the $5 billion project designed to generate nearly one-half of San Diego’s water demand from purified wastewater.

Kyle Swanson, Director of Advanced Water Purification, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, provides leadership and guidance in the design and implementation of the East County Advanced Water Purification Project.  He has over 20 years of experience in water-related industries and is a licensed distribution and treatment operator and certified public manager.

Moderating the program is Lesley Dobalian, Principal Water Resources Specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority.

Registration to attend the program is free. Attendees can RSVP and receive a link for the presentation on the SDGBC Sustainable Building Week website.

Water Authority Board Supports Regional Potable Reuse Projects

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today unanimously approved a formal resolution reaffirming its longstanding support for potable reuse and water recycling projects developed by local member agencies across the region.

“Projects such as Pure Water San Diego, Pure Water Oceanside and the East County Advanced Water Purification Project are critical to the continued development of local water sources that help sustain the region’s 3.3 million residents and $245 billion economy,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher.

Pure Water Oceanside-Potable Reuse-Sustainability Sustainble Building Week

Water Authority Board Supports Regional Potable Reuse Projects

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today unanimously approved a formal resolution reaffirming its longstanding support for potable reuse and water recycling projects developed by local member agencies across the region.

“Projects such as Pure Water San Diego, Pure Water Oceanside and the East County Advanced Water Purification Project are critical to the continued development of local water sources that help sustain the region’s 3.3 million residents and $245 billion economy,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “The Water Authority has long supported water reuse and recycling projects, and we will continue to collaborate with member agencies in developing these vital local resources.”

Water supply diversification

For more than two decades, the Water Authority has promoted the advancement of water recycling and reuse in San Diego County as part of the region’s water supply diversification and reliability strategy.

The agency has sponsored and supported legislation to speed the development of potable reuse regulations in California, and has worked as an active member of the WateReuse Association to help shape the statutory and regulatory framework for potable reuse in the state. And Water Authority investments in high-priority, highly reliable water from the Colorado River support the development of local resources by delivering a low-cost baseload of water that can be recycled and repurified.

Potable reuse project funding

In addition, the Water Authority has advocated for robust funding in state bond measures, including seeking the inclusion of up to $500 million to expedite potable reuse and advanced water treatment projects in a legislative bond measure targeted for the November 2022 ballot. The Water Authority also helped secure nearly $500 million for local projects from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in 2019 and 2020, and most of that money was for potable reuse.

Potable reuse relies on advanced treatment technologies to produce a high-quality drinking water that is locally controlled, drought-resilient, and reduces wastewater ocean discharges. Every gallon of recycled or repurified water reduces the need to import or develop other supplies.

Recycled water, potable reuse projects under construction

Approximately 33,000 acre-feet of recycled water is expected to be reused within the Water Authority’s service area annually by 2025. The volume is expected to continue growing as new and expanded potable reuse plants come online. They are projected to produce more than 112,000 acre-feet per year of new drinking water supplies by 2045, enough to meet nearly 18% of the region’s future water demand.

Two of the first three potable reuse projects are now under construction in San Diego County:

A third project, the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, a combined effort by the City of El Cajon, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the County of San Diego, and the Helix Water District, is in the design/pre-construction phase.