Local Water Providers Have Racked Up Dozens of Violations

In theory, because water is hard to come by in the arid West, it should be well taken care of.

But the West sometimes squanders its limited water. We have contaminated creeks, polluted rivers, broken bays, fouled beaches and, even today, hundreds of thousands of people across California who lack reliably safe drinking water.

GOES satellite image of the atmospheric river phenomena from March 20, 2018.

California Funds Atmospheric Rivers Research

A better understanding and forecasting of atmospheric rivers could improve flood control and water management in California.

The 2019-20 California state budget includes $9.25 million to pay for research into how the state Department of Water Resources can more accurately track the intensity and landfall locations of atmospheric rivers. About half of the state’s annual rainfall and 90 percent of its flooding come from such events.

“Improved forecasting and monitoring of atmospheric river storms would benefit not only California, but the Southwest, in managing our water supply,” said Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the San Diego County Water Authority. “With better forecasting, water managers could also prepare and plan for flooding events caused by the atmospheric rivers.”

The science behind atmospheric rivers

The science behind atmospheric rivers. Graphic: NOAA

Rivers in the sky

Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics, according to NOAA. When the atmospheric rivers make landfall, they release the water vapor in the form or rain or snow.

“The rivers can stretch from 250 to 370 miles wide and carry a water amount more than 7 times the volume of the Mississippi River,” said Alexi Schnell, water resources specialist with the Water Authority.

The research funds were allocated to the Department of Water Resources to “improve observations, forecasts and decisions in support of atmospheric river precipitation events” as part of the DWR’s Research, Mitigation, and Climate Forecasting Program.

Atmospheric Rivers

Atmospheric Rivers in Water Year 2019. Graphic: Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes

Volatile water resources

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego suggests that a new regime of wet and dry extremes is emerging in California. The study shows that the projected increase of extreme precipitation is likely to be caused by streams of moisture in the sky known as atmospheric rivers.

The study was published July 9 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

“California already has the most volatile water resources in the country,” according to a news release from Scripps. “Scripps scientists discovered that the state’s precipitation, as it becomes less frequent but preferentially stronger, will vacillate even more wildly between extremes of drought and flooding as a consequence of climate change.”

The federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and NASA funded the study, “Precipitation regime change in Western North America: The role of Atmospheric Rivers.”

California weather extremes

“As Mediterranean climate regions around the world are becoming more subtropical, the dry season is expanding. California is no exception,” said Alexander Gershunov, a climate scientist at Scripps. “What is exceptional about California is that the heavy precipitation is projected to become more extreme. We knew this from our past work. Now we have identified the mechanism responsible for this bolstering of extremes, and that gives us a more nuanced understanding of what to expect from future hydroclimate and a clearer interpretation of ongoing changes.”


Atmospheric Rivers helped California's snowpack in Winter 2018-19.

For the year-to-date 2019, the precipitation total was 19.05 inches, 3.74 inches above average, and the wettest such period in the 125-year record. Graphic: NOAA

Atmospheric Rivers boost snowpack

During the 2018-19 winter, atmospheric river events significantly increased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. Both areas are key sources of water supply for the Southwest, including California and San Diego County.

Precipitation in the contiguous U.S. was above average from January to June 2019, according to a NOAA climate report released this week. The report said the 19.05 inches during the six-month period was 3.74 inches above average and the wettest such period in the 125-year record.

The January-to-June 2019 precipitation map showed California’s statewide precipitation was “above average” and “much above average.”

Safe Drinking Water Fund Passes California Legislature

California Legislature Passes Safe Drinking Water Fund

The state Assembly and Senate passed legislation to provide $130 million to provide safe drinking water for Californians lacking access to healthy water.

The state Senate approved the bill 38-1 Monday. The Assembly passed the bill 68-0 on July 5.

The legislation now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature.

No water tax

Newsom and others in the Legislature had proposed a tax on residential water bills to pay for projects to provide safe drinking water for residents that don’t have access to it. Water industry groups, including the San Diego County Water Authority, were among the broad coalition of water, business and civic interests that opposed the tax.

“Thanks to the efforts of Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and her staff, Californians will not face a drinking water tax,” said Glenn Farrel, government relations manager for the Water Authority. “Her leadership was vital to securing the funding needed to provide safe drinking water for the communities in California where unhealthy water is a problem.”

Historic funding solution

Funding to clean up contaminated water will instead come from California’s cap-and-trade program.

SB 200, which creates the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, is the second part of an historic funding solution for disadvantaged communities in the state that do not have access to safe drinking water.

The first part is in the state’s 2019-’20 budget, which Governor Newsom signed on June 27. The budget allocates $100 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and $30 million from the General Fund for the current fiscal year. SB 200 provides $130 million per year from the GGRF for safe drinking water for future years until 2030.

Safe drinking water

The funding is intended to assist communities in paying for the costs of obtaining access to safe and affordable drinking water, including treated contaminated water.  Many of those residents live in the San Joaquin Valley and rural areas of the state.

Smaller water districts will also be able to tap the funds to help with their operating costs, and possibly merge with other small districts.

The California State Water Resources Control Board has identified 329 water systems statewide that serve contaminated drinking water or cannot provide reliable water service due to unsound infrastructure or lack of resources. Most of the systems are in rural areas and serve fewer than 10,000 people.

A proposed tax on California’s drinking water in 2018 was also scraped by then Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders.

State Cites Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant for Bad Valve

The San Diego County Water Authority announced Monday that the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant was cited by the state for a valve malfunction in April.

San Diego County Water Authority Logo Stacked Tagline

Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant Cited for Error

A malfunction at the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant resulted in a citation from the state Division of Drinking Water, though the water in regional pipelines continued to be safe for all uses due to additional treatment processes that are in place.

The malfunction lasted for about 15 hours on April 21-22, when ozone dosage levels in the plant fell below state-mandated levels because a valve failed to fully open.

All-American Canal in Imperial County

Study to Assess Regional Pipeline for Delivering Colorado River Water

A new study will explore the viability of a regional pipeline to transfer water from the Colorado River to benefit multiple users in San Diego County and across the Southwest.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved funds for the two-year study at its June 27 Board meeting. The pipeline system is one of a handful of ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.

Regional pipeline

The Water Authority’s upcoming study will look at a regional conveyance system that could move Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) transfer water directly between the Imperial Valley and San Diego. The Colorado River Aqueduct currently conveys the QSA water through Riverside County before it flows to San Diego.

“It may be an idea whose time has come,” said Erik Ortega, president of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors, referring to a proposed regional conveyance system.

Creating a pipeline to transfer Colorado River water to the San Diego region has been studied periodically over decades.

But the new study is focused on how a regional pipeline could provide multiple benefits as part of a long-term water management strategy for California and the Southwest.

Water storage

The expanded review will consider a system that could create much-needed storage opportunities for the IID that could support agriculture while addressing critical issues like the Salton Sea and the need for more renewable energy development.

Graphic shows three proposed regional pipeline routes to deliver Colorado River Water

Map shows three potential routes for a proposed regional pipeline system that would move Quantification Settlement Agreement water directly from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. Two of the routes (the light blue and purple lines) follow a southern route. The third proposed route, (shown in both a yellow and darker blue line) follows a northern path. Graphic: Water Authority

Three pipeline routes

The pipeline under study would be designed at a capacity to convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. The current Water Transfer Agreement between IID and the Water Authority continues to 2047. But both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077.

As the study gets under way, there are three routes under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley.

Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling underneath the mountains. Both routes would lead to the San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego.

The third and northernmost route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow past Borrego Springs, and through the mountains. It would eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.

San Diego County Water Authority logo SDCWA

Water Authority Board Adopts $1.7 Billion Two-Year Budget

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today adopted a $1.7 billion budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The new budget is up 5 percent from the current two-year budget, due largely to increasing costs for water supply, supply reliability and infrastructure improvements.

Following a public hearing, the Board also approved an increase in wholesale water rates for calendar year 2020. Although the Water Authority’s budget spans two fiscal years, the agency sets rates annually to more effectively manage changing conditions.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors celebrated the agency’s 75th anniversary.

Water Authority Celebrates 75 Years of Service to San Diego County

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors celebrated the agency’s 75th anniversary during today’s Board meeting, which included 20 proclamations honoring the agency for its service to the region dating back to 1944.

Cities across the region joined the state Assembly and Senate, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and other state and local leaders to formally mark the occasion. The San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors even proclaimed today “San Diego County Water Authority Day” in honor of the agency’s legacy of water supply reliability.

75 years of service

“Starting with the historic first water deliveries in the 1940s, the Water Authority has partnered with our member agencies to build, operate and maintain the vital infrastructure that supports our region’s $231 billion economy and unparalleled quality of life,” said Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “Our collective investments have created extraordinary advances in water supply reliability that are sustained by the daily vigilance necessary to operate and maintain such a complex system.

“While today we celebrate the past, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continue to focus on the future by fostering innovative solutions to ever-changing water resource challenges,” Madaffer said. “Together, we will supply the San Diego region with safe and reliable water supplies for generations to come.”

San Diego County Water Authority service sArea and 24 member agencies

Since 1991, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have deployed one of the most aggressive water supply diversification strategies in the nation to improve regional water supply reliability. In the years ahead, member agency projects will play an increasingly important role in continuing to ensure reliability for the San Diego region.

Forward thinking on water

The Water Authority’s current forward-thinking efforts include developing water storage capacity in Lake Mead to provide additional drought resilience for San Diego and the Southwest.

The agency also is working closely with the City of San Diego to assess a potential pumped storage project at San Vicente Reservoir that could help meet clean energy goals and benefit water ratepayers. In addition, the Water Authority is analyzing the costs and benefits of a regional water conveyance system that could help San Diego County and the entire Southwest to more effectively manage water resources.

Profound impact

During today’s ceremonies, water agency, civic and business leaders noted the Water Authority’s profound impact on the San Diego region and wider water issues over the past 75 years.

  • “A reliable water supply is critical for San Diego’s regional economy and for maintaining a competitive business climate. The business community applauds the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies for their leadership, and for increasing the county’s water supply reliability with investments that keep our economy growing.” — Mark Cafferty, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.
  • “It is a pleasure to celebrate the San Diego County Water Authority’s 75th anniversary. We share a common history and a common vision for water supply reliability that has been essential to the economic vitality and prosperity to all San Diegans. We look forward to strengthening our relationship to meet the future needs of San Diegans.” — Gloria D. Gray, chair, Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors
  • “Farming is a foundational piece of our regional economy and quality of life – but it doesn’t happen without a reliable water supply. Our farmers are constantly innovating to use water more efficiently by adopting new technology and planting more-efficient crops.” — Eric Larson, executive director, San Diego County Farm Bureau
  • “On behalf of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors, I salute the San Diego County Water Authority on its 75th anniversary. Our two agencies are partners in the nation’s largest agriculture to urban transfer and in the process, we have forged a durable alliance at the Salton Sea. It is a relationship that the IID highly values.” — Erik Ortega, president, Imperial County Irrigation District Board of Directors
  • “By combining a diversified set of water supply sources with greatly enhanced storage capacity, we are developing a more robust safety net for San Diego County.” — Jerry Sanders, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

On June 9, 1944, San Diego voters approved the Water Authority’s formation under the County Water Authority Act. Imported water arrived three years later to slake the thirst of a growing population just weeks before local supplies would have run out.

The modern era of the Water Authority started during deep, drought-induced water supply cuts in the early 1990s. Since then, Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have deployed one of the most aggressive water supply diversification strategies in the nation to improve regional water supply reliability.

At the same time, the agencies have aggressively helped to reduce per capita water use so that the total regional water use today is well below 1990 levels despite significant growth in the population and economy.

San Vicente Aqueduct

Officials commemorate installation of the first portion of pipe along the new Second Pipeline of the San Vicente Aqueduct in 1951. Photo: Water Authority

75th anniversary milestones

The Water Authority reached several major milestones over the past two decades. They include:

  • In 2003, Olivenhain Dam was the first major new dam built in San Diego in more than 50 years. At 318 feet, it was the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam at the time.
  • In 2008, the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant north of San Marcos began operations. It was the largest submerged membrane water treatment plant in the world when it was commissioned.
  • In 2011, the San Vicente Tunnel and Pipeline Project – an 11-mile long, 12-foot diameter tunnel with an 8-1/2-foot diameter pipeline – created a link from the City of San Diego’s San Vicente Reservoir to the Water Authority’s Second Aqueduct, greatly improving the Water Authority’s ability to distribute water and store water in the reservoir.

San Vicente Dam raise

  • In 2012, the Lake Hodges Hydropower Facility started serving the dual purposes of connecting the lake to the Water Authority’s aqueduct system and generating 40 megawatts of clean, on-demand electricity.
  • In 2014, the San Vicente Dam Raise Project, the tallest dam-raise project in U.S. history, expanded the reservoir’s capacity by more than 157,000 acre-feet.
  • In 2015, the $1 billion Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, distribution pipeline and related facilities started commercial operations as the largest seawater desalination project in North America.
  • The Water Authority’s Asset Management Program, which includes a multi-year project to reline 82 miles of large-diameter prestressed concrete cylinder pipelines with new steel liners, helps to prevent pipeline failure and extend their lifespans by 75 years or more at significantly less cost than traditional pipeline replacement programs.
San Diego regional water quality regulators issued a new permit for the development of permanent, stand-alone seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: Water Authority

San Diego regional water quality regulators issued a new permit in May 2019 for the development of permanent, stand-alone seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: Water Authority

Worldwide recognition

The Water Authority’s innovative efforts have been recognized nationally and internationally.

In 2017, for instance, the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the Water Authority’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Project for winning ASCE’s top international engineering award.

The same year, Water Authority was honored by the Association of California Water Agencies – the nation’s largest statewide coalition of water agencies – for innovation and excellence in water resources management with its addition of supplies from the Carlsbad Desalination Project. And in 2016, the Water Authority received a top national award from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for its commitment to improving the region’s water supply reliability in a manner that balances economic, social and environmental needs.

Top 10 Tips for Saving Water This Summer

Top 10 Tips for Saving Water This Summer

The start of summer brings the hottest, driest months of the year in San Diego County and a good time to remind residents of the Top 10 tips for using water more efficiently.

Top 10 tips to use water more efficiently

Check it out. Inspect irrigation equipment to eliminate overspray. Monitor soil moisture using a spade or soil probe, and only water if the top inch of soil is dry. Irrigate turf if it doesn’t spring back when stepped on. Better yet, upgrade to a “smart” irrigation controller that automatically adjusts water times based on weather conditions. Rebates for a variety of irrigation equipment are at

Let it sink in. Irrigate mature trees once or twice a month using a soaker hose or drip system toward the edge of the tree canopy – not at the base of the tree. Use a hose faucet timer (found at hardware stores) to prevent overwatering. Young trees need more frequent irrigation; consult an arborist or tree-care manual for details.

Maintain your mulch (and compost). Keeping a 3-inch layer of mulch around trees and plants reduces runoff, helps control weeds and protects soil from direct sunlight and evaporation. Keep mulch at least a foot away from tree trunks and several inches from the crowns of plants. Also, add compost to increase soil nutrients.

Use water efficiently

Drink responsibly. Keep drinking water cool in your refrigerator to avoid running the tap. Use refillable water bottles instead of buying disposable plastic bottles.

Put a lid on it. Pool and spa covers reduce evaporation, lower pool heating costs and keep dirt and other debris out of the pool.

Let your lawn grow

Take a break. New plants need more water to get established, so wait until fall and winter for planting to take advantage of cooler temperatures and rain.

Go to summer school. Get started planning your WaterSmart landscape by surfing WaterSmart Landscaping Videos On Demand from the comfort of your beach chair or sofa.

Let your lawn grow. Set your mower to leave grass at least 3 inches high because taller blades reduce evaporation up to 80 percent and protect roots from heat.

Keep it clean. Patronize car washes that recycle water and save at least 15 gallons each time. When washing at home, use a hose nozzle that shuts off when you release the handle.

Rinse right. Wash fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water instead of in running water. Afterward, pour the collected water on a plant.

More information on how residents and business can use water efficiently, along with rebates, classes and other water-saving resources, at

Agave attenuata is one of the plants available to qualified Fallbrook PUD customers in its new plant voucher program. Photo: Fallbrook PUD plant vouchers

Fallbrook PUD Offers Plant Vouchers For Sustainable Landscaping

The Fallbrook Public Utility District will offer residents in its service area free low-water or drought-tolerant plants beginning July 1. The district will give qualified residents vouchers redeemable for plants at Silverthorn Ranch Nursery in Fallbrook, which produces plants using recycled water.

“Customers will go through an application process and qualified applicants will receive free plants to install in their landscape,” said Mick Cothran, Fallbrook Public Utility District engineering technician. “We want to encourage and help our customers replace turf with plants that don’t require a lot of water, and show them drought tolerant plants can be beautiful additions to their landscaping.”

The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies have encouraged homeowners to implement sustainable landscaping through free ‘WaterSmart’ landscaping classes, and through a variety of rebate programs.

Online application for plant vouchers posted starting July 1

A list of the plants being offered through FPUD’s program is included on its website. Choices include plants like this Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrada). Photo: Fallbrook PUD

A list of the plants being offered through Fallbrook’s program is included on its website. Choices include plants like this Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata). Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

An online application will be posted on the FPUD website starting July 1, and submissions will be processed on a first-come, first served basis. Applicants will also be required to submit two photos of the area(s) to be planted, and a basic plan or sketch of the project.

Sustainable landscaping

A list of the plants being offered through FPUD’s program is included on its website. Choices range from five-gallon Dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Beaked Yucca (Yucca rostrata) to Mini Elephant’s Food (Portulacaria afra ‘Mini’), Silver Dollar Jade (Crassula arborescens), and small succulents including assorted aloe, aeonium, and echeveria.

San Diego County residents have embraced sustainable landscaping practices as a result of increased attention to water conservation, due in part to recurring periods of drought over the past thirty years.

The FPUD program is made possible with grant funding provided by two Metropolitan Water District of Southern California grants through the Water Authority.