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State Water Department Grants Over $15M to San Diego Projects

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The California Department of Water Resources awarded more than $15 million in grant funds for several water projects in San Diego County, officials announced Wednesday.

The seven projects range from water recycling and reuse to water conservation and from as far south as National City up to Oceanside and Fallbrook.

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State Awards $15 Million for San Diego Regional Water Projects

The California Department of Water Resources has awarded more than $15 million in grant funds to advance several regional water projects in San Diego County, ranging from water recycling and reuse to water conservation.

The San Diego County Water Authority submitted the funding request on behalf of the San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management Program, or IRWM. The San Diego IRWM Program began in 2005 as an effort by water agencies, wastewater agencies, stormwater and flood managers, watershed groups, business leaders, disadvantaged communities, tribes, agriculture, and nonprofit stakeholders to improve water resources planning in the region.

The statewide IRWM Program is supported by bond funding from the California Department of Water Resources to fund competitive grants for projects that improve water resources management.

Collaboration with county agencies, nonprofits improves water supply and conservation

“These grants will provide much-needed funding for important local water supply projects and water-use efficiency measures, along with a disadvantaged community project in National City,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “Regional collaboration by the Water Authority and a host of partners makes these projects possible. Once again, this shows how San Diego County is stronger together.”

Madaffer praised the San Diego IRWM Regional Water Management Group and the Regional Advisory Committee for their work over the past year to secure the $15,336,336 grant. Since 2008, the San Diego region has secured more than $111 million in funds for 74 high-priority water management projects through the IRWM process. The projects help to achieve goals established in the San Diego IRWM Program and the Water Authority’s Urban Water Management Plan.

The following regional water projects will receive funding in the current round:

  • Paradise Valley Creek Water Quality and Community Enhancement, City of National City, Flood Damage Reduction, $3,681,056
  • Pure Water Oceanside, City of Oceanside, Water Supply–Groundwater, $3,115,000
  • North County Recycled Water Project, San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, Water Supply–Recycled Water, $2,820,000
  • North City Pure Water Facility Influent Pump Station and Conveyance Pipeline, City of San Diego, Water Supply–Recycled Water, $1,477,600
  • 2020 Regional Water-Use Efficiency Programs, San Diego County Water Authority, Water Conservation, $1,440,000
  • San Elijo Stormwater Capture & Reuse, San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, Water Supply–Recycled Water, $1,195,000
  • Lower Santa Margarita River Indirect Potable Reuse Pilot Project, Fallbrook Public Utility District, Water Supply–Recycled Water, $687,500

In addition, the grant allocates $920,180 to the Water Authority to administer the grant.

Regional approach to create resilient and diverse water supply portfolio

“By working together for more than 12 years, the regional IRWM Program has created a legacy of collaboration by public agencies and nonprofit organizations in the region to increase the long-term reliability and resiliency of the San Diego region’s water supply and diversify our local supply,” said Mark Stadler, San Diego regional IRWM program administrator. “Investing in water reuse, water efficiency, and conservation projects are key parts of our success to ensure a regional approach to integrated watershed management.”

On November 4, 2014, California voters approved Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014. Proposition 1 authorized $510 million in IRWM funding. Funds are allocated to 12 hydrologic region-based funding areas.

The Proposition 1 IRWM Grant Program, administered by DWR, provides funding for projects that help meet the long-term water needs of the state, including:

  • Assisting water infrastructure systems adapt to climate change;
  • Providing incentives throughout each watershed to collaborate in managing the region’s water resources and setting regional priorities for water infrastructure; and
  • Improving regional water self-reliance, while reducing reliance on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Water is such a vital resource, that it is critical we continue to take action to ensure communities have access to clean water supplies, reliable flood protection and healthy ecosystems.” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth when announcing the San Diego regional grant on July 3. “These grants will support agencies and projects to continue local momentum in creating a more diverse water supply portfolio, strengthening partnerships and addressing climate change.”

Water Authority Trims Planned 2021 Rate Increase by 30% Because of Pandemic

The San Diego County Water Authority board has trimmed a proposed 2021 rate increase by 30% because of concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the regional economy.

The board also directed staff to look for further opportunities to reduce the 2021 rate increase and provide recommendations by October before the new rates take effect Jan. 1.

Strategic Steps Minimize Water Rates for 2021

Following a public hearing, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today adopted rate increases for 2021 that are 30% lower than proposed last month following a series of refinements by staff. In addition, the Board directed staff to return in September or October with any further opportunities to reduce the 2021 rate increases, such as a decrease in rates set by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California or the acquisition of federal or state economic stimulus funds.

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Strategic Steps Minimize Water Rates for 2021

Following a public hearing, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today adopted rate increases for 2021 that are 30% lower than proposed last month following a series of refinements by staff. In addition, the Board directed staff to return in September or October with any further opportunities to reduce the 2021 rate increases, such as a decrease in rates set by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California or the acquisition of federal or state economic stimulus funds.

As adopted June 25, the all-in rates charged to the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies will increase by 4.8% for untreated water and 4.9% for treated water in calendar year 2021. The new rates take effect January 1, 2021.

Rate increases are driven by reduced water sales, higher rates and charges from MWD and continued regional investments in supply reliability.

Secure water supply is foundation of economic recovery

Since the staff’s rate proposal was released in May, the Water Authority re-evaluated several assumptions driven by COVID-19 recessionary pressures based on new economic data and forecasts. The Water Authority also funded some costs related to the Carlsbad Desalination Plant this year instead of in 2021. The 2021 rates and charges may be further reduced if MWD makes material changes when revisiting its budget and rates this fall.

“We’ve taken a series of strategic steps to minimize rate impacts during this pandemic-induced recession, despite numerous factors putting upward pressure on rates,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “At the same time, the Water Authority is maintaining its long-term fiscal stability while ensuring a safe and reliable regional water supply for residents and businesses that will be the foundation of our economic recovery.”

In 2021, the Water Authority will charge its 24 member agencies an all-in municipal and industrial rate of $1,474 per acre-foot for untreated water, or $68 more per acre-foot than they currently pay. Charges would be $1,769 per acre-foot for treated water, or $83 more per acre-foot than in 2020.

Actual figures will vary by member agency, and each member agency will incorporate costs from the Water Authority into the retail rates it charges to residents, businesses and institutions. (Note: An acre-foot is about 325,900 gallons, enough to serve the annual needs of 2.5 typical four-person households in San Diego County.)

In addition, the rates package includes new Permanent Special Agriculture Water Rates, following the Board’s decision late last year to make the temporary program permanent. The program provides farmers with lower rates that correspond to a lower level of water supply reliability. In 2021, the untreated PSAWR will increase from its current level of $755 per acre-foot to $777 per acre-foot and the treated PSAWR will increase from $1,035 per acre-foot to $1,072 per acre-foot.

Rising costs from MWD affect rates

The fiscal pressures faced by the Water Authority include:

  • Reduced water sales, which are 14% below the current budget and expected to remain low in 2021 due to coronavirus-related business closures and other factors. Decreased water sales put upward pressure on rates because costs must be spread across fewer units sold.
  • Rising costs from MWD that reflect continued increases to its base supply rates and charges and the amount MWD charges to transport the Water Authority’s independent Colorado River supplies. For the Water Authority, MWD’s adopted 2021 rates increase supply costs by more than 9%, or $15.4 million.

The Water Authority’s 2021 rates were developed in conjunction with an independent cost-of-service study to ensure rates and charges comply with state law, legal requirements, cost-of-service standards and Board policies, and strategic tools such as the Long-Range Financing Plan.

In addition, the 2021 rates are designed to ensure Board-adopted debt coverage ratios that support the Water Authority’s strong credit ratings and minimize the cost of borrowing money for construction projects. The Water Authority has credit ratings of AAA with a stable outlook from S&P, AA+ from Fitch, and Aa2 with a stable outlook from Moody’s.

The rates adopted by the Board are the result of strategic measures that include:

  • Providing more than $80 million in rate relief from the Rate Stabilization Fund over the next 24 months.
  • Capitalizing on historically low interest rates and strong credit ratings by lowering annual debt expenditures by optimizing cash to restructure outstanding debt to provide significant savings.
  • Planning to withdraw stored water to reduce water purchases while maintaining water reserves for future years – the result of careful planning and investments over more than two decades.
  • Reducing budget expenditures with a hiring freeze reduced professional services contracts and reprioritizing more than $30 million in capital projects.

 

Rainbow MWD Adopts Resolution of Necessity for Moody Creek Farms Land

The Rainbow Municipal Water District needs a 15,000-square-foot area which is part of Moody Creek Farms, so the Rainbow board approved a resolution of necessity for the property May 26.

The 4-0 board vote, with Helene Brazier unable to participate in the meeting, does not approve eminent domain but allows for that possibility if the district and Ernest Moody are unable to come to terms on a sale agreement.

“This is just the resolution of necessity. We’re not agreeing to the price of the land,” district engineer Steve Strapac said.

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Cooper’s Hawk Chick Gets Special Handling near Pipeline 5 Project

A Cooper’s hawk chick and its nest received special attention after being discovered recently near a San Diego County Water Authority construction project.

Environmental surveyors spotted the nest on March 27 south of Gopher Canyon Road during the Pipeline 5 repair project in Moosa Canyon in North San Diego County.

Water Resources staff worked with construction and right-of-way staff to minimize and monitor work activities in the nest area.

Conservation strategy protects wildlife, environment

Limiting disturbance to the Cooper’s hawk chick and nest is part of the Water Authority’s commitments to its Natural Communities Conservation Plan and Habitat Conservation Plan, or NCCP/HCP.

The NCCP/HCP plan, approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game in December 2011, provides goals, guidelines, and specifications that comprise the Water Authority’s Conservation Strategy for biological resources within its San Diego County Service Area and a portion of southwestern Riverside County.

When the repair work was completed, Water Resource staff contacted the nonprofit group Bloom Research Inc. and biologists with Bio-Studies Inc., who are studying raptors in Southern California.

“I met with biologist Dustin Janeke May 25th at the nest location and the single chick was retrieved by climbing approximately 35 feet up the nest tree and carefully placing it in a travel bag and bringing the chick down,” said Summer Adleberg, Water Authority environmental biologist.

Cooper’s hawk chick data check

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Biologist Dustin Janeke, with Bio-Studies, Inc. of Escondido, is banding the Cooper’s hawk chick on May 25. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

 

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The timing of banding is important. The Cooper’s hawk chick’s band is big enough to allow its leg to grow to full adult size. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Adleberg said biologists collected data from the chick, including approximate age, size, sex and overall health, and they attached a USGS band to the bird’s right ankle. The band has a unique eight digit code that is entered into a federal bird banding database.

In general, bird banding allows scientists to study the Cooper’s hawk migration, behavior, survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.

If this bird is ever encountered again in the future, the band number will provide information as to exactly where and when this bird was banded. Pete Bloom, of Bloom Research Inc. is studying the natal dispersal behavior of raptors throughout Southern California. Biologist Janeke with Bio-Studies is a permit-authorized volunteer assisting Bloom’s research projects.

The ‘chick check-up’ showed the Cooper’s hawk was a male estimated to be 2-3 weeks old, weighed about two ounces, and it had started developing tail and wing feathers, with a wing about 2 inches long.

When the data collection was completed, the chick was returned to its nest. Adleberg said the chick was expected to stay in the nest for another 2 to 3 weeks before it fledged and moved out on its own.

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Following data collection, Water Authority Environmental Biologist Summer Adleberg takes the Cooper’s hawk chick back to its nest. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Draft Study Highlights Region’s Water Conveyance Options

A draft report released today by the San Diego County Water Authority shows that building a new conveyance system to transport regional water supplies from the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement is cost-competitive with other long-term options for meeting the region’s water needs.

The draft Phase A report is under review by water officials across the region. The Water Authority’s Board of Directors is expected to decide whether to move to Phase B at its July 23 meeting.

“By releasing this draft report – along with an independent review of key financial assumptions – we are trying to spark a thoughtful dialogue about our region’s water future,” said Dan Denham, deputy general manager for the Water Authority. “Given the long lead time for major water infrastructure projects, it’s important that San Diego County wrestle with these complex questions today so we can control our own destiny tomorrow.”

Escondido Discusses Rehabilitating Lake Wohlford Dam

The Escondido City Council met on June 3 to discuss options for rehabilitating Lake Wohlford Dam, instead of building a replacement dam, and to award contracts for the Lindley Reservoir Replacement Project.

The council heard a report on the possibility of rehabilitating the Lake Wohlford Dam, which was first constructed in 1895 as part of Escondido’s local water system, to address seismic deficiencies rather than replacing the dam altogether.

According to the report, replacing the dam would cost more than $46.4 million, an amount much greater than the 2012 preliminary cost estimate of $30 million. Furthermore, it would cost an estimated $3.5 million to offset known negative impacts to the environment.

LAFCO Approves Detachment Review Committee

San Diego’s County’s Local Agency Formation Commission approved a committee to review issues regarding the proposed detachment of the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District from the San Diego County Water Authority.

An 8-0 LAFCO board vote June 1 approved the composition of the committee, although LAFCO executive officer Keene Simonds will appoint the specific members and the list of tasks for the committee.

“We have agreement with the County Water Authority, Rainbow and Fallbrook,” said county supervisor Dianne Jacob, who is the chair of the LAFCO board.

“We have consensus on the tasks. I think we have a working agreement on the composition,” Simonds said.