View looking north of the First Aqueduct right of way in Valley Center. Photo: Water Authority

Historic Pipeline Project Boosts Long-Term Water Reliability

San Diego County Water Authority crews successfully completed the first of three coordinated shutdowns of the First Aqueduct in early March to launch a major renovation of dozens of structures on two pipelines, including the historic Pipeline 1 that first delivered imported water to the region in 1947.

The series of shutdowns was carefully planned for nearly four years to minimize impacts on the community and retail water agencies during retrofits of Pipelines 1 and 2, which comprise the First Aqueduct.

“The First Aqueduct has been a very reliable source of imported water for more than 70 years,” said Chris Castaing, operations and maintenance manager at the Water Authority. “These critical upgrades will make sure we can operate and maintain the pipelines for another several decades to transport water to the region for future generations.”

Started during the Water Authority’s 75th anniversary year, the $30 million First Aqueduct structure and lining renovation project is among the most complicated pipeline retrofits in agency history.

During the next two years, upgrades include replacing the lining on the steel pipe sections; removing 19 associated structures; and retrofitting 41 structures – all without jeopardizing water service to the region.

Project will enhance reliability and flexibility of regional water system

Crews complete work on and seal the top of a bifurcation structure. Photo: Water Authority

Crews complete work on and seal the top of a bifurcation structure. Photo: Water Authority

Pipeline structures that will be rehabilitated include valves, blowoffs, pump wells and access ways.

Approximately 4 miles of failing pipeline lining on the steel pipe sections will be carefully removed and replaced with new cement mortar lining. Cement mortar is the preferred material, because it protects the interior of the steel pipe from corrosion and premature failure, has a longer life, and is easier to maintain. The project also will add redundant connections to six flow control facilities between the two pipelines, greatly improving the aqueduct’s operational flexibility.

During the first shutdown between February 24 and March 5, crews isolated sections of the pipeline and took them out of service so work can be safely performed on those sections throughout the year. In late 2019, a second 10-day shutdown will allow crews to switch flows to the upgraded sections of pipe and isolate other sections for repairs.

In addition to completing the First Aqueduct structure and lining renovation project, the Water Authority also will perform assessments of 27 miles of the pipeline to determine if additional upgrades will be needed.

A bill in the California state Legislature aims to boost jobs for vets to help meet the needs of the aging water industry workforce. Photo; Water Authority

Water Authority Bill Aims to Boost Water Industry Jobs for Veterans

A new bill in the California Legislature would provide a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.

Assembly Bill 1588 was introduced February 22 by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Central Valley Assemblymember Adam Gray. The bill, which may be heard in committee this month, is co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District in hopes of helping the state’s industry replace a wave of retiring Baby Boomers.

Several states help veterans navigate the civilian water system operator certification process and allow veterans to apply equivalency standards to credit military experiences toward state or industry certifications in water and wastewater treatment and distribution. However, no similar pathway exists in California.

‘Silver tsunami’

“The goal is to help veterans transitioning into civilian occupations, especially in the water and wastewater industry,” said Glenn Farrel, government relations manager for the Water Authority. “At a time with the water industry is facing a ‘silver tsunami’ – with thousands of workers expected to retire in coming years – veterans are returning to the civilian workforce with skills to benefit the industry and fill those jobs.”

Water and wastewater treatment is an essential industry and with an aging infrastructure and workforce. There are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators in California.

Challenges for water industry

Replacement of critical infrastructure components, while maintaining service to customers, is one of the greatest challenges in the water-wastewater industry today. In addition, the high pace of retirements, new technologies and increased demand for safe drinking water contribute to the pressure on the industry to augment the workforce.

“If veterans could more quickly move through the civilian certification process, the California water industry would have a much larger pool of highly skilled, motivated, and talented people eager to continue their public service careers,” Farrel said.

It Can Be Hard To Tell Where The Water Authority Ends And A Powerful Law Firm Begins

Over the past two decades, the San Diego County Water Authority has paid $25 million to a single law firm. The firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, is known for its water law practice across the West. Locally, though, few people know of its influence.

Arbitrator Admonishes Water Authority After It Sued Five Tribes

The San Diego County Water Authority tried to interfere with the delivery of water to five local Indian tribes based on illegal actions and illogical arguments, a former federal judge has ruled. Last year, five San Diego Indian tribes got back the rights to water taken from them a century ago. In response, the San Diego County Water Authority this spring blamed the tribes for cutting into its bottom line and sued them for $2 million.


L to R: Water Authority Deputy General Manager Sandra Kerl, Poseidon Water CEO Carlos Riva, and former Senator Barbara Boxer share a toast at Thursday's third anniversary event at the Carlsbad desalination plant. Photo: Water Authority

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Celebrates 40 Billion Gallons Served

San Diego County marked a significant milestone in regional water supply reliability Thursday at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant – the delivery of 40 billion gallons of drinking water during its first three years of commercial operations.

This is enough water to fill 800 million bathtubs, or 1,820 Bellagio Las Vegas fountains.

The plant, which launched its commercial operations in December 2015, provides San Diego County with 50 million gallons of locally-controlled, climate-resilient and high-quality water a day, helping to minimize the region’s vulnerability to droughts.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant has delivered 40 billion gallons of fresh, clean drinking water during its three years of operation. Photo: Water Authority

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant has delivered 40 billion gallons of fresh, clean drinking water during its three years of operation. Photo: Water Authority

Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a long-time champion for water reliability projects like the Carlsbad facility, spoke at the third anniversary event on Dec. 13.

“This facility has helped protect public health and safety and the economy during the worst recorded drought in California history,” according to Boxer’s prepared remarks. “Here in California, we need to have a multifaceted water plan that includes conservation, recycling, recharging underground aquifers, and catching water as it falls.

“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is a model for how desalination should be done in California, and more facilities modeled after Carlsbad are certainly going to be needed,” said Boxer. Boxer said in arid regions like Southern California where most of the population lives along the coast, seawater desalination is the only way to ensure residents’ water needs are met under extreme conditions brought on by climate change.

Most advanced and efficient desalination plant worldwide

The Carlsbad desalination facility is the largest, most technologically advanced and energy-efficient desalination plant in the nation. It was made possible through an innovative public-private partnership between Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority. The plant enhances water supply reliability in the San Diego region by meeting nearly 10 percent of the region’s water demand – or about a quarter of all the water generated in the county.

“We’re just thrilled,” said Sandra Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. “It’s hard to believe it’s been three years and that we’re on the 40 billionth gallon. To have been a part of a project that provides a service that all of us can’t live without is really quite gratifying.”

Desalination is a cornerstone of the Water Authority’s strategies. Regardless of weather conditions, the Carlsbad plant produces a core supply of water day-in and day-out.

Visitors tour the Carlsbad desalination plant during Thursday's anniversary event. Photo: Water Authority

Visitors tour the Carlsbad desalination plant during Thursday’s anniversary event. Photo: Water Authority

Since the plant opened, it has also proved to be an educational and inspiring tool for water innovation across the country and throughout the world. Tour groups visit the plant monthly to learn about the plant’s operation and the partnership between Poseidon Water and the Water Authority.

At the Dec. 13 event, participants toasted the success of the plan with glasses filled with fresh, desalinated water from the plant. “A toast to Pacific on Tap and continued water reliability in San Diego County thanks to desalinated water!” said Carlos Riva, CEO of Poseidon Water.

For more information, go to the project website,, or the Water Authority’s website,


CBS 8: Carlsbad desalination plant celebrates 40 billionth gallon of water

Fox 5 San Diego: County desalination plant celebrates 40 billion gallons of drinking water

KGTV 10 News: Carlsbad desalination plant celebrates milestone

NBC 7 San Diego: Carlsbad Desalination Plant Purifies 40 Billionth Gallon of Ocean Water

Times of San Diego: County Desalination Plant Celebrates 40 Billionth Gallon of Water

Homeowners learn through the Water Authority's Landscape Transformation program that sustainable landscaping can be as lush as a lawn. Photo Water Authority turf

Tearing Out the Turf: 1 Million Square Feet Targeted for Removal

San Diego County residents have targeted more than 1 million square feet of turf grass for replacement with WaterSmart landscaping through free landscape makeover classes sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority over the past five years.

While not all the targeted turf has actually been removed, post-class surveys show that many participants end up taking out more turf than they initially planned after seeing the benefits of their work, said Joni German, who coordinates the Water Authority’s award-winning WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series.

“Because we give people the skills and the confidence to do this, they often go on to convert turf in another part of their yard,” she said.

Water savings potential tops 36 million gallons a year

The Water Authority's Landscape Transformation Program teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

In the past five years, 947 people have completed the WaterSmart class series, which includes identifying turf areas for replacement with low-water use landscaping. Participants work one-on-one with local landscape architects to complete design and irrigation plans.

The Water Authority then compares estimated total water use for each homeowner before attending the four-class series, and after implementing a sustainable landscaping plan. In total, participants have identified more than 1 million square feet for conversion.

“We have documented about a 33 percent water savings in those plans,” said German. “The total water savings realized from removing 1 million square feet of turf is equal to 36.5 million gallons per year, or 112 acre-feet annually.”

One acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons, roughly enough to serve 2.5 typical Southern California families of four for a year.

Education helps homeowners embrace change

Example of a Landscape Transformation Program participant's yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

Example of a WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series participant’s yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The National Resources Defense Council said California homeowners are leading the transition away from lawns, which is expected to continue for more than a decade nationwide. And there is a long way to go: Lawns currently cover up to 50 million acres of land in the United States, consuming three trillion gallons of water each year, according to NRDC.

German said WaterSmart landscape makeover courses help homeowners change their thinking, and embrace the sustainable landscaping approach.

The same residence after its makeover to a sustainable landscape design. Photo: Water Authority

“Homeowners don’t know where to start,” said German. “They think they have to create a rocks and cactus landscape. Our program reflects a WaterSmart landscape for the San Diego lifestyle.

“In the course, we explain that we live in one of the most desirable climates on earth. People come and vacation here for our climate. We deserve beautiful, lush, colorful, thriving landscapes – and we can have them. They can be water-efficient, too,” said German.

German said the combination of course lectures, hands-on assignments, and support from landscaping professionals makes the classes highly practical. “We get participants to think about their lifestyle and take them down the path that gives them the skills and knowledge to actually implement their own landscape plan.”

Each class series is limited to 25 participants. Experts visit each homeowner’s proposed project area prior to the first class. They take measurements, locate irrigation heads, and produce a CAD drawing for homeowners to use in the class.

“With the help of local landscape professionals, homeowners create planting plans and irrigation plans specific to their project areas. They are either ready to implement the plans themselves, or work with a contractor to tell them what they want done,” said German.

Applications now open for 2019 courses

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority has scheduled a full calendar of WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Classes for 2019, with the first series starting in February in Fallbrook. Limited enrollment ensures every participant receives hands-on support. Homeowners who want to attend a course in 2019 should complete an online application and get on the waiting list. Apply at

The Oberkamp home after its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The California Department of Water Resources funds the class series because it generates water savings. It also generates a lot of enthusiasm, according to participant reviews.  “Could not believe the amount of information and guidance. Worth every minute and highly recommended!” said one participant.

“Wonderful class!” said another. “The instructors, the workbook and resources are beyond belief. I still have a lot to learn, but I will definitely be implementing everything.”





The San Diego County Water Authority won two first place awards and a second place award for its communication efforts from the San Diego Press Club.

Water Authority’s Outreach Efforts Honored

The San Diego County Water Authority received two first place awards and a second place award for its public outreach and education at the 2018 San Diego Press Club’s 45th annual Excellence in Journalism Awards. The event took place at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Joe and Vi Jacobs Community Center on October 30.

San Diego’s finest reporters, photographers, writers, artists, and communicators were honored with the region’s top awards.

(L to R) Dennis Cushman, Assistant General Manager; Denise Vedder, Public Outreach and Conservation Director; and Mike Lee, Public Outreach and Conservation, accept their San Diego Press Club Journalism Awards. Photo: Water Authority

Left to right: Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dennis Cushman, Public Outreach and Conservation Director Denise Vedder, and Public Affairs Supervisor Mike Lee accepted the agency’s San Diego Press Club awards on Oct. 30. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority received the following Press Club awards:

Websites, Public Service or Consumer Advocacy Site: First Place, Water News Network

Websites, Blog by Corporation or Group: Second Place, Water News Network

Public Relations and Trade Publications, Annual Report: First Place for the 2017 Annual Report titled Pioneering. Visionary. Agile. Driven.

“The San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism awards shows that solid research, writing, reporting and photography matter more than ever,” said Kristen Castillo, 2018 Press Club president. “I’m proud our organization honors student and professional journalists and public relations professionals in San Diego.”

The San Diego Press Club’s journalism awards program is among the largest regional competitions of its kind in the nation. A total of 478 awards were presented in 188 categories, with a record number of entries. Press Club officials say entries continue to be robust from a diverse array of media and public relations professionals.

Judges included members of press clubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Rochester, Florida, Cleveland, Orange County, Milwaukee, Tulsa and Alaska.

Water News Network receives Award of Merit

Earlier this month, the Water Authority’s Water News Network received an Award of Merit for External Websites at the 26th annual Edward L. Bernays Mark of Excellence Awards ceremony on October 25, hosted by the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

“As communication pros, we spend most of our time highlighting our clients and executives. The Bernays Awards are a unique opportunity for our fellow professionals to be recognized for all of their contributions and tremendous efforts,” said Jenny Corsey, chapter president.

Named after Edward L. Bernays, the “father of public relations,” the awards were open to all agencies and organizations in San Diego and Imperial Counties. They recognize excellence in public relations campaigns and tactics in a range of categories including media relations, community relations and public affairs. Members of the West Michigan PRSA Chapter judged all award entries.




Los Angeles Water Officials Cancel Settlement Meeting with San Diego County Water Authority

An offer last week by the San Diego County Water Authority board chairman to settle a host of litigation with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was not well received by water officials to the north. MWD leaders accused their San Diego counterparts of violating an agreement to negotiate in private and abruptly canceled a meeting previously scheduled for Tuesday. “We were surprised by the unilateral decision by the San Diego County Water Authority to make the proposal letter public as our ongoing discussions … were confidential and our agencies have an executed confidentiality agreement governing those discussions,” the MWD chairman wrote Monday.

Kelsey Ceccarelli (center), the Citizens Water Academy's 500th graduate, with Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dennis A. Cushman (left) and Board Chair Jim Madaffer (right). Photo: Water Authority

500th Community Leader Graduates from Citizens Water Academy

The San Diego County Water Authority’s pioneering Citizens Water Academy celebrated the graduation of its 500th community leader Friday at the conclusion of the fall class series.

During the popular and award-winning academy program, civic leaders learn about visionary local efforts to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region. Participants get an in-depth look at how the Water Authority helps protect the region’s economy and quality of life through strategic planning, innovative programs, and cost-effective investments.

After the third and final class of each academy, graduates are given diplomas to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” and congratulations from Water Authority executives – a tradition that took on special significance in light of today’s milestone.

“The Citizens Water Academy has profoundly improved the understanding of water issues across our region and demystified the critical work we do to sustain San Diego County’s $220 billion economy and quality of life for 3.3 million people,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Reaching 500 graduates is an impressive accomplishment – but we are not done.

“Anyone who aspires to civic or business leadership should invest the time to learn about this fundamental resource,” Madaffer said. “I guarantee that the Citizens Water Academy will change the way they think about this amazing place we call home.”

Citizens Water Academy graduates remain engaged in regional water issues

Kelsey Ceccarelli, the Citizens Water Academy's 500th graduate, displays her Certificate of Completion. Photo: Water Authority

Kelsey Ceccarelli, the Citizens Water Academy’s 500th graduate, displays her Certificate of Completion. Photo: Water Authority

The Citizens Water Academy launched in fall 2014 and produced a diverse inaugural class of 49 graduates. Over the years, 99 percent of participants said they would recommend the Water Academy to a colleague, and nearly 50 percent of graduates stay engaged through the Water Authority’s alumni program.

Participants said the class series helped them understand the physical movement of water into and around the region; the importance of the region’s water supply diversification strategy; how large-scale water projects are built and maintained; and how water managers are preparing for future water supply needs.

The Water Authority typically hosts three academies of about 50 participants each year. Classes have been held in Kearny Mesa, the South Bay and North County to promote regional participation. Class series include presentations by agency executives, role-play activities, and tours of world-class water facilities such as the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

In addition, the Water Authority maintains an active network of Water Academy graduates who participate in specialized tours, lectures and other events. They also stay connected through an alumni newsletter – part of the Water Authority’s commitment to supporting engaged and knowledgeable regional leaders.

The Water Authority received the Silver Bernays Mark of Excellence Award for the Citizens Water Academy from the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2015. The program also won the Communications Initiative Award from the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association in 2016.

The next Citizens Water Academy is scheduled for Spring 2019, though dates have not been set. The selection process is competitive, and acceptance is not guaranteed. For more information, go to The site includes a link to sign up for notifications when future class dates are announced.



San Diego County Water Authority Seeks to Settle Legal Disputes with Metropolitan

The San Diego County Water Authority is offering an olive branch to the region’s largest water wholesaler in an effort to end years of public and legal feuding. Local water officials have fought for decades with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The dispute has often left the two agencies fighting expensive legal battles and publicly insulting each other. Jim Madaffer, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority, said it is time to end the fighting. In a letter sent Thursday, he offered the Metropolitan Water District an agreement to end pending legal actions.