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Water Affordability Focus of Water Authority Roundtable

Water affordability for ratepayers was the topic of discussion during a legislative roundtable Thursday at the San Diego County Water Authority. The Water Authority convened state, regional and local officials in search of winning strategies for enhancing water affordability for ratepayers across the county and the state.

Affordability-San Diego County Water Authority-Esquivel

Water Affordability Focus of Water Authority Roundtable

Water affordability for ratepayers was the topic of discussion during a legislative roundtable Thursday at the San Diego County Water Authority.

The Water Authority convened state, regional and local officials in search of winning strategies for enhancing water affordability for ratepayers across the county and the state.

Water agency managers, board members, elected officials and their representatives from throughout the county joined E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, to assess and address water affordability issues.

Esquivel was appointed to the Water Resources Control Board by Governor Jerry Brown in March 2017. In February 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom named Esquivel chair of that five-member board, to which he was reappointed in 2021.

During the roundtable, Esquivel said maintaining water affordability and access to safe water for Californians is challenged by pressures that include aging infrastructure and climate change.

“How to sustain our systems in the next 10, 20, 50 years is a complex issue, but we need to collectively expand access, while maintaining affordability and supply,” he said.

Water affordability and infrastructure projects

Esquivel said state loans to water projects statewide help water affordability and access to a safe, clean supply.

“Water has created the wealth of this state, and water supply investments made here are examples of what needs to be done,” said Esquivel, referring to successful supply diversification investments by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.

He also discussed the need for additional water infrastructure projects – including desalination, groundwater recharge, and potable reuse, and an increase in funding sources for those projects – and the importance of federal funding to help ensure access to safe and affordable water for all communities.

Water Affordability-Joaquin Esquivel-San Diego County Water Authority

State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel and San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl discussed water affordability Sept. 29 in San Diego. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Water Authority commitment to affordability

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl detailed some of the agency’s affordability efforts in recent years.

“The Water Authority is committed to maintaining an affordable water supply and finding solutions to inherently complex challenges related to water costs, rates and investments,” said Kerl. “Significant advances in affordability can only be achieved through the combined efforts of all four sectors that affect the cost of water for our region. Those sectors are the federal government, state government, wholesale water agencies and local water retailers.”

Reliable supply

Kerl said the Water Authority’s commitment to affordability includes securing $25 million from the State of California to pay water bills for San Diego County residents impacted by COVID-19; securing $90 million over the past two years through successful litigation efforts and distributing that money directly to its 24 member agencies; avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in future costs on water deliveries; and maintaining strong credit ratings that reduce the cost of infrastructure.

“Everything at the Water Authority is designed to deliver a safe and reliable water supply at an affordable cost, and the agency has taken numerous steps over the past three years to enhance affordability,” Kerl said. “Water affordability is imperative to equitable water access. This resource should be available to all regardless of race, ethnicity, or income level. Nobody should have to choose between safe, clean water and affordable water.”

Collaboration on solutions

Kerl said that the federal and state government, wholesale water agencies, and local water retailers can work together in finding solutions to the complex challenges related to water costs, rates and investments.

A recent poll by the Water Authority found that more than half of the residents of San Diego County would support a hypothetical program that provided water discounts or an assistance program for low-income ratepayers – even if they had to pay a few dollars more a month to fund it.

The Water Authority holds periodic legislative roundtables to promote collaboration with the water industry, civic and business leaders, on critical water issues in the San Diego region.

Faces of the Water Industry: Work for Water

Water and wastewater professionals across San Diego County are highlighted in October during the San Diego County Water Authority’s “Faces of the Water Industry” campaign. Each year, the Water Authority collaborates with its member agencies to showcase regional water industry employees and career opportunities through a series of social media posts and videos.

Since 2017, the Water Authority’s annual campaigns have highlighted nearly 200 employees in San Diego County across multiple water agencies and job types. The 2022 campaign started October 1, coinciding with California’s Water Professionals Appreciation Week (October 1-9).

Faces of the Water Industry

The 2022 Faces of the Water Industry campaign features stories from 18 San Diego County water industry professionals in a series of social media posts and videos. Follow the Water Authority on Instagram (@sdcwa) to read more inspiring stories from the region’s water and wastewater pros – the Faces of the Water Industry.

California Virtual Water Career Fairs

The water and wastewater industry offers vast opportunities in engineering, operations, finance, public affairs, human resources, administration and information technology. New and current water professionals can learn more about the industry in an upcoming series of free virtual career fairs hosted by various agencies in October.

For more job openings, internships and education opportunities across the San Diego region’s water and wastewater industry, go to sandiegowaterworks.org.

Chula Vista Elementary School students participate in learning activities at the Hydro Station. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

Hydro Station Lets Students Explore WaterSmart Landscape Design

As its fourth year begins, the Chula Vista Hydro Station offers new activities in 2022, helping Chula Vista Elementary School District students learn about using water wisely through hands-on activities.

A unique joint educational partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, the Otay Water District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the Hydro Station, opened in 2019 at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility.

More than 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn more about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through various learning experiences.

“Sweetwater Authority’s Board is proud to continue to support the Hydro Station for another school year,” said Board Chair Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. “We’re excited that more students will have the opportunity to visit our Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility to learn about how water agencies deliver safe, reliable water to our communities and discover the vast career opportunities in the water industry.”

Landscape design and engineering projects 

Students get the opportunity to practice landscape design with a watersmart focus. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School Districtv Hydro Station

Students get the opportunity to practice landscape design with a watersmart focus. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

This year, students can step into the role of a civil engineer and learn about the ways water is transported across long distances. They take what they learn and try their hand at designing a model of an aqueduct.

Students are also invited to explore the artistic aspects of water management by taking on the role of a landscape architect. They work in teams to design beautiful, WaterSmart landscapes using various design elements.

“The Otay Water District believes this Hydro Station effort is critical to educating the younger generation about water industry jobs as they prepare for their futures,” said Otay Board President Tim Smith. “We continue to promote and recruit for water industry jobs, and this program is another resource to help us to increase the talent pool in the industry as our youth learn about what is available to them early on.”

Hands-on experience in an interactive space

Projects in progress by Halecrest Elementary School students at the Hydro Station. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

Projects in progress by Halecrest Elementary School students at the Hydro Station. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

The Hydro Station is an interactive educational space with learning exhibits and hands-on activities dedicated to introducing fifth-grade students to the ecological cycle of water, water conservation, water quality, and careers in the water industry.

Educating the next-generation water industry workforce

Locally, more than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. One-third of these industry professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years. The Hydro Station helps develop interest among a new generation of potential water professionals to participate in the mission to deliver safe and reliable water to hundreds and thousands of people in communities who rely on this essential workforce.

Students participate in activities focused on career opportunities, learning how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options through hands-on activities connecting to specific careers. It also educates children, their families, and the community on the thoughtful use of water resources.

(Editor’s note: The Otay Water District and the Sweetwater Authority are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Civic Leader Mel Katz to Begin 2-Year Term as Water Authority Board Chair

New officers for the San Diego County Water Authority board of directors were elected Thursday, with Mel Katz set to start a two-year term as chair on Oct. 1.

Katz, vice chair of the board for the past six months as a representative for Del Mar, will serve with incoming vice chair Nick Serrano, a board representative from the city of San Diego, and incoming secretary Frank Hilliker.

Mel Katz Elected Board Chair of San Diego County Water Authority

New officers for the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors were elected today, with Mel Katz starting his two-year term as Board chair on Oct. 1. Katz, vice chair of the Board for the past six months as a representative for the City of Del Mar, will serve with incoming Vice Chair Nick Serrano, a Board representative from the City of San Diego, and incoming Secretary Frank Hilliker. Katz will serve as the 27th board chair since the Water Authority’s founding in 1944.

Gary Croucher, who represents the Otay Water District on the Water Authority’s Board, served as chair the past two years. His term ends on Sept. 30. Croucher has served on the Board since 2001.

IID to Pay Off QSA JPA Agreement 13 Years Early

The Imperial Irrigation District board voted 3-0 Tuesday, Sept. 20 to save $24 million dollars by paying off the balance of the 2003 QSA JPA balance.

When the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) was signed in 2003, creating the largest rural to urban water transfer, another agreement came from that, the Joint Powers Authority Creation and Funding Agreement. The funds contributed to this second agreement would come from the three water districts involved in the QSA – the IID, the Coachella Valley Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority – along with the State of California.

Third generation Oceanside strawberry grower Neil Nagata of Nagata Brothers Farms is the 2021 San Diego County Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

Neil Nagata is 2021 San Diego County Farmer of the Year

The San Diego County Farm Bureau named third-generation Oceanside farmer Neil Nagata its 2021 Farmer of the Year. The Farmer of the Year award is presented to an active or retired farmer who has had a positive impact on the agriculture industry, is active in the community beyond agriculture, and has represented the agricultural industry publicly on behalf of farming interests.

Nagata is the President of Nagata Brothers Farms. In 1902, Nagata’s grandfather immigrated to California from Japan and began farming strawberries in 1920. Nagata’s father George and his brothers formed Nagata Brothers Farms, and his son Neil took on the business 34 years ago. “From that point on, I’ve been farming strawberries ­– so three generations of California strawberry growers.”

Nagata joined the California Strawberry Commission in 1991 and served as a board member and past chairman of their organization. In a video produced by the California Strawberry Commission, Nagata talked about his life as a farmer alongside his 98-year-old father George, who retired just a few years ago and who still lives on the farm in Oceanside.

Facing the challenges of farming in a drought

Throughout his three decades in farming, Nagata says water management has always been a significant challenge.

“We’ve had to become very efficient and very conservative with our water. When I first started, (irrigation) technology was more rudimentary,” said Nagata.

Now, advances are helping California’s family farms survive.

“Electronic controls and electronic monitoring offer efficiency,” he said. “There is greater ease of application for field use. Costs have come down. The quality of materials has improved with advances in technology and materials. Things have become more efficient. We’re still here.”

In addition to his growing experience, Nagata is an expert in many aspects of agriculture and biological science, including field and commercial research and production. He says it takes a scientific mind and a lot of passion to be a good strawberry grower. Nagata says his father made a strong impression with his care of the land.

Neil Nagata says he still loves strawberries, especially when they are fresh from the fields. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

Neil Nagata says he still loves strawberries, especially when they are fresh from the fields. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

“All the strawberry farmers that I know including myself, really care about the land, the fruit that we produce, and the people that work for us,” said Nagata. “It’s really all-encompassing. We try to do what’s right for everybody.

“At the end of the day, we want to present something that is beneficial to our consumers and healthy and good for you, and tastes good. I still eat strawberries, and my favorite way is right out of the field,” he said. “My favorite thing about strawberry growing is being able to have people enjoy what I produce. It’s really rewarding when people just say, “You have the best strawberries.”’

Advocate, mentor, and philanthropist supporting farming

Neil Nagata served as San Diego County Farm Bureau President from 2017 – 2019, and has been a board member since 2008. He works with regulators and legislators to support fruit and vegetable production in the U.S. and Internationally. Nagata has also been involved with many other agricultural associations.

Nagata is the founding president of the non-profit California Strawberry Growers Scholarship Fund, providing scholarships for children of California strawberry farmworkers. During the past 26 years, over $2 million has been raised and gifted to farmworkers’ children.

Nagata will be the guest of honor at the County Farm Bureau’s annual Farmer of the Year event in October and celebrate his recognition among the agriculture community with family and friends.

(Editor’s note: The San Diego County Farm Bureau is a non-profit organization supporting the more than 5,700 farms within the county. The mission of the Farm Bureau is to foster San Diego agriculture through education, public relations, and public policy advocacy in order to promote the economic viability, sustainability, and community building of agriculture. For more information: www.sdfarmbureau.org.)

City Finds More Issues at 104-Year-Old Hodges Dam, Repair Timeline Pushed Back to 2023

While repairing parts of Hodges Reservoir Dam, city workers found additional defects that need to be addressed, likely delaying the completion of repairs by several months, the city announced Monday.

During a prior inspection, city workers identified areas in the dam wall that required repair and needed to be sealed. To access areas on the dam for repair, the water level of the reservoir was lowered 18 feet to an elevation of 275 feet by transferring water to other reservoirs and treatment plants, officials said.

Southern California Wastes a Lot of Water Despite Historic Drought. But it Can Teach the Bay Area One Big Lesson

When it comes to wasting water amid historic drought, Californians are good at pointing fingers.  Last month, criticism was showered on Hollywood’s elite, including Sylvester Stallone, Kim Kardashian and Kevin Hart, who were accused of using water excessively. Some celebrity households consumed thousands of gallons of water per day during particularly dry times, bolstering Southern California’s reputation for recklessly indulging in big lawns, pools and shiny, clean cars. But given the bad rap that Southern California gets, is the Bay Area really that much better at stewarding its water?