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WaterSmart: Weathering Dry Times in San Diego County

Recent news stories highlighted the investments by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to create a plentiful water supply for the region, helping to weather dry times like the current drought.

The New York Times, Spectrum News 1, The Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine are among several news organizations that have reported on the region’s water supply projects, current and future, that ensure the 3.3 million residents of the county won’t be left high and dry during times of drought.

Why San Diego Has Plenty Of Water Despite California’s Devastating Drought

In many parts of the state, reservoirs are hitting some of their lowest recorded levels.

However, San Diego County’s water supply has stayed mostly the same.

According to a new report from the New York Times, the San Diego County Water Authority estimates that it would have sustainable water supplies through 2045 even if these dry conditions persist for years.

The county’s key water storage site San Vicente Reservoir is about as full as usual, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the state’s reservoirs.

Drinking water-desalination plant-water supply-drought

WaterSmart: Weathering Dry Times in San Diego County

News stories by national and regional media outlets highlighted the investments by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to create a plentiful water supply for the region, helping to weather dry times like the current drought.

The New York Times, Spectrum News 1, The Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine are among several news organizations that have reported on the region’s water supply projects, current and future, that ensure the 3.3 million residents of San Diego County won’t be left high and dry during times of drought. The news stories also recognize the successful efforts by the region’s residents to significantly reduce water-wasting practices by embracing a “conservation ethic.”

Water supply in dry times

California-based reporter Jill Cowan visited the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the San Vicente Reservoir, among other locations, for her article in The New York Times. The story covers regional water supply projects and investments made by the Water Authority and its member agencies to ensure San Diego County would not be stuck “at the end of the pipe” during periods of drought.

 “There are no silver bullets anywhere,” said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, who noted San Diego’s strides. “They’re definitely in the upper echelon of these creative approaches.”

Chula Vista resident and Sweetwater Authority customer Paul Rodriquez was highlighed in the story as one of many county homeowners who are WaterSmart: Conserving water by yanking out turf for drought-tolerant landscaping and using water-efficient fixtures indoors.

Desalination plant-New York Times-Jill Cowan-Jeremy Cructchfield

San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeremy Crutchfield (L) explains the reverse osmosis process to The New York Times Reporter Jill Cowan (R) at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Let’s Diversify”

Spectrum News 1 Reporter Sarah Pilla wrote about the region’s water supply history and how an historic drought led to investments that created a diverse water supply portfolio:

Back in the drought of the ’90s, 95% of San Diego’s water came from one source, and they faced 30% cuts for 13 months.

“Of course being at the end of a pipeline, when there’s little water available, you are at high risk. So, our community came together and said let’s diversify,” Kerl said.

Fast-forward 30 years later, and the San Diego County Water Authority has multiple streams of water sources in its portfolio, including the groundbreaking Carlsbad Desalination Plant that utilizes ocean water to provide the region with about 10% of its drinking water.

Video and story: https://bit.ly/3DWFM1F

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San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl (L) talks with Spectrum News 1 (LA) Reporter Sarah Pilla, at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Diverse portfolio of resources

Wired Magazine writer Matt Simon focused on the science of water recycling and the Pure Water San Diego project.

If that all sounds like a rather convoluted way to get drinking water, that’s because the American West is facing a rather convoluted climate crisis. San Diego—and the rest of Southern California—have historically relied on water from Northern California and the Colorado River. But they’ve always been at the end of the line. The river hydrates 40 million other people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, and it is withering under a historic drought, a harbinger of even worse water scarcity to come as the climate warms.

So San Diego has to figure out how to do more with less water. The Pure Water program aims to provide more than 40 percent of the city’s water from local sources by the year 2035 by reusing water recycled from homes and businesses. (That means water that has flowed through sinks, showers, toilets, and washing machines.) “We’re diversifying the portfolio,” says Todd Gloria, San Diego’s mayor. “We’re heavily dependent upon water that comes from very far away, and that’s a problem that we have to address.”

Read more: https://bit.ly/30xU8qF

Pure Water San Diego-Wired-Water Supply Portfolio

Pure Water San Diego Associate Engineer Anthony Van guides a virtual tour of the demonstration facility. Photo: City of San Diego

Dry Times and Cutbacks

Reporter Jim Carlton, with The Wall Street Journal, visited San Diego County In June 2021, reporting on the differences in water supply and drought conditions in California: “California’s Drought Leads to Cutbacks in Marin County but Not in San Diego

The pain of a two-year drought drying up the American West isn’t being felt evenly across the country’s most populous state.

That is because Southern California water agencies have for decades invested in new ways to diversify their supplies and recycle what they get, say people who study and work with water in the West. In Northern California, meanwhile, a history of more plentiful rain and snow meant many communities were less prepared for the latest drought and now more homes and businesses must cut back.

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Jim Carlton, reporter with The Wall Street Journal (L) listens as San Diego County Water Authority Principal Engineer Jeff Shoaf describes the San Vicente Dam raise during Carlton’s visit to the San Vicente Reservoir in June 2021. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Plenty of water”

The Southern California News Group published an editorial, “SoCal’s water planning offers lesson for state” on October 19:

It’s beyond ironic that the driest, most-populated parts of California are in reasonably good shape whereas the less-populated rainiest parts of the state are in dire straits. San Diego, for instance, had so much water during the last drought that it had to release some of it from its reservoirs. It has plenty of water during this current drought.

Statewide Drought Emergency Declared

Water Shortage Contingency Plan Level 1

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Oct. 19 extension of the statewide drought emergency to all counties in California, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously to activate the agency’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. That plan includes a call for increased voluntary conservation by San Diego residents. CBS 8 Reporter Heather Hope reported on the Board action and tips for how people can reduce water use.

In support of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water conservation efforts following California’s two record-dry years, the San Diego County Water Authority activated its “Level 1,” or Voluntary Conservation of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan.

“We’re trying to achieve 15% to be consistent with the governor’s request of 15% voluntary conservation. It’s using what you have efficiently and not wasting,” said San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeff Stephenson.

How San Diego Gets Its Drinking Water

Reporter Jill Cowan with The New York Times, provided a tour of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, in a story published October 29, 2021.

Whenever California is pummeled by drought — as is still very much the case despite recent rain — a lot of people find themselves asking, “What if we got water from the ocean?”

In San Diego County, it’s already happening at a $1 billion facility by the beach.

Recently, as I reported on San Diego’s decades-long quest for water stability, I visited the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest such facility in the country, to see how it works.

Pure Water Oceanside

Reporter Leah Pezzetti, with ABC 10 News San Diego, visited the City of Oceanside’s Pure Water Oceanside project on Oct. 29 for a look at the process to purify wastewater into drinking water.

San Diego County has been planning ways to increase its sustainable water supply and one of the planned methods is through turning wastewater into potable water. There are three sites planned in the county and the first one, Pure Water Oceanside, is set to open before the end of 2021. 

(Editor’s note: This story was updated on October 30. The Sweetwater Authority the City of San Diego, and the City of Oceanside are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Despite a Punishing Drought, San Diego Has Water. It Wasn’t Easy

In many parts of California, reminders abound that the American West is running out of water. “Bathtub rings” mark the shrinking of the state’s biggest reservoirs to some of their lowest recorded levels. Fields lie fallow, as farmers grapple with an uncertain future. A bed-and-breakfast owner spends $5 whenever a tourist showers. But not in San Diego County. In this coastal desert metropolis, life has stayed mostly the same for residents already accustomed to conserving what they have long treated as a precious resource.

As California Declares Water Crisis, San Diego County Water Authority Declares Water Surplus Until 2045

With all of the extreme heat and lack of rain here in California, some have said that we’re currently in the state’s worst drought in modern history. The drought is so bad that the state of California has now cut off water supplies to farmers in the Central Valley.

So how is the water supply here in San Diego? KUSI’s Dan Plante joined viewers live from Miramar Lake with the local situation.

Opinion: San Vicente Hydroelectric Project a Smart Way to Make Power Grid More Resilient

The state government’s decision to provide $18 million to fund preliminary work on state and federal approvals for the long-anticipated San Vicente Energy Storage Facility — advocated by the San Diego County Water Authority and the city of San Diego — makes the $1.5 billion project significantly more likely to come to pass. The great news is that the “pumped hydro” facility at the San Vicente Reservoir near Lakeside will strongly shore up available energy supplies at night after solar power is no longer directly available.

First Steps Taken to Make Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Project at San Vicente Reservoir a Reality

With an $18 million boost from the state, a major energy storage project using hydroelectric power is taking shape at the San Vicente Reservoir, nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains near Lakeside.

The long talked about San Vicente Energy Storage Facility — proposed by the city of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority — received the funding earlier this month when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state budget. The $18 million will be spent to tackle some of the preliminary work needed to make the “pumped hydro” project a reality, such as initial design, environmental reviews and federal licensing.

“We believe the project is a critical component to meeting the state’s needs for integrating renewables” into the power grid, said Gary Bousquet, deputy director of engineering at the County Water Authority.

Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Local Renewable Energy Project Gets Big Boost

I’m so pleased to report that a large-scale renewable energy project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the state budget signed this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom. That money will advance the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process – a huge boost for a project with a huge upside for the region.

This is one of the most promising pumped energy storage solutions in California, and it would be a major asset to help avoid rolling blackouts through on-demand energy production while helping to meet state climate goals. It also could mitigate costs for water ratepayers across the San Diego region by generating additional revenue to help offset the cost of water purchases, storage, and treatment. The City and the Water Authority are developing the project together, just like they did to raise the height of the city-owned San Vicente Dam 117 feet in the 2010s.

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility project

Upon completion, the San Vicente energy project would provide up to 500 megawatts of long-duration stored energy, which will assist in meeting peak electrical demand periods throughout Southern California and help meet the goals of Senate Bill 100, which requires 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero-carbon energy resources statewide by 2045. The project will provide enough energy for about 135,000 households when operating.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins for ensuring funding for this critical infrastructure project, which will create more than 1,000 construction-related jobs in addition to its other benefits.

With state funding in place, the Water Authority and the City are preparing to launch federal and state environmental reviews, seek a project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and issue a Request for Proposals for a full-service private partner to help develop the project. Those complex components are expected to take at least four years, with construction completion forecast for 2030.

Pumped energy storage projects are designed to store excess renewable energy from solar and wind during the day, and then discharge that energy when energy use increases in the evening and renewable energy is not available.

The San Vicente project would create a small upper reservoir above the existing San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside, along with a tunnel system and an underground powerhouse to connect the two reservoirs. The powerhouse would contain four reversible pump turbines.

During off-peak periods – when power is inexpensive and renewable supplies from wind and solar facilities exceed demand – turbines would pump water to the upper reservoir where it would act as a battery of stored potential energy. During high energy use, the system would discharge water from the upper reservoir downhill through the turbines, producing energy. The exchange between the two reservoirs would not consume water.

For more details about the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility go to: www.sdcwa.org/projects/san-vicente-pumping-facilities/

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility Powers Ahead with $18M Boost

July 16, 2021 – A large-scale renewable energy project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the state budget signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, enough to advance the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process.

Reservoir Keeper Viviana Castellon shared her expertise with citizens as part of the City’s #AskAnExpert series on Instagram. Photo: City of San Diego/Instagram

San Diegans #AskAnExpert Reservoir Recreation Questions

Reservoir Keeper Viviana Castellon shared her expertise with citizens during the City of San Diego’s #AskAnExpert series on Instagram as part of the City’s community outreach to citizens. The City regularly offers the opportunity for the public to ask employees about its services including parks, libraries, streets, and water.

“We find that it’s a great way to get general information about City services to the public,” said Arian Collins, public information officer with the San Diego Public Utilities Department.

Castellon answered several questions about the recreation offered at the City’s lakes and reservoirs.

Can you rent boats at City of San Diego reservoirs?

Yes, the reservoirs do have boat rentals through the concessionaires. You can view the hours of operation and rentals fees online.

Social media outreach gives City of San Diego residents access to experts like Reservoir Keeper Viviana Castellano. Photo: City of San Diego/Instagram

Social media outreach gives City of San Diego residents access to experts like Reservoir Keeper Viviana Castellano. Photo: City of San Diego/Instagram

Is stand-up paddleboarding allowed at any City of San Diego reservoir?

Yes, Hodges Reservoir offers stand-up paddleboarding on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from the beginning of February through the end of October.

Can you swim at City of San Diego reservoirs?

No. What are commonly referred to as the San Diego City lakes are actually impounding reservoirs that are part of the City’s municipal water-supply system. The State Water Resources Control Board approves the different recreational activities that can occur on our reservoirs and swimming is not included in our current domestic water supply recreational permit.

Can you water ski at the City of San Diego reservoirs?

Yes, San Vicente Reservoir offers water-skiing and wakeboarding from May through October Thursday through Sunday.

Residents who would like to keep up with the latest information about the City’s reservoirs and lakes as well as other City of San Diego services can learn more at the City of San Diego website, as well as follow the City’s Instagram account for more #AskAnExpert opportunities.