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Opinion: Can California Make Do With the Water It Has?

With the city’s sewage water recycling system moving forward and the desalination plant in Carlsbad already pumping out drinkable water, the San Diego region has some of the most ambitious water projects in the state.

Those are part of a long-term strategy that San Diego water managers say will provide the region sufficient supplies through 2045.

Nevertheless, the San Diego County Water Authority earlier this month urged customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent following a similar statewide request by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It was more an act of solidarity than one of actual need.

Drought, Water Supply and Climate Change in the San Diego Region

An update on San Diego’s water supply during the current drought, and how climate change affects regional weather, was the main focus of a recent event sponsored by several organizations.

The Citizens Water Academy, Leaders 20/20 and San Diego Green Drinks hosted a lunch and learn session August 17 that also provided details on how weather and climate impacts water supplies, and how prepared the San Diego region is for drought impacts.

Climate Change-drought-San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego County

Drought, Water Supply and Climate Change in the San Diego Region

An update on San Diego’s water supply during the current drought, and how climate change affects regional weather, was the main focus of a recent event sponsored by several organizations.

The Citizens Water Academy, Leaders 20/20 and San Diego Green Drinks hosted a lunch and learn session August 17 that also provided details on how weather and climate impacts water supplies, and how prepared the San Diego region is for drought impacts.

San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Warning Coordination Meteorologist Alex Tardy spoke to nearly 90 participants via Zoom.

Climate change impacts and drought

Tardy kicked off the event with an overview of how climate change and drought impact regional weather conditions, and what this means for the region’s water supplies.

“Just here in Southern California, we have extreme heat, extreme precipitation and extreme drought,” said Tardy. “In talking about climate and climate extremes, we are not just talking about the obvious ones like temperature, we are also talking about other impacts like more intense storms, more frequent return of droughts and less normalcy.”

His presentation included highlights of how the past several years have included multiple weather extremes, ranging from wettest single days on record to the hottest and driest years. These included precipitation extremes of varying types and impacts, many of which were fueled by El Niño and La Niña weather patterns. Lack of precipitation and increased evaporation have led to record low water supplies in many reservoirs.

Regional drought preparedness

Kerl spoke about drought concerns throughout the Southwest, which include reduced local water supplies, reduced state supplies and Colorado River supply concerns. Governor Gavin Newsom has asked for voluntary 15% reductions in water use and commonsense conservation measures, which are habits already hard-wired in most San Diego County residents.

“The really good news here in our community is that we are prepared for multiple-year droughts – we have sufficient supplies for 2021, and that’s what water bills go to pay for: safe and reliable supplies,” said Kerl. “It’s also important to note that residents and businesses are hard-wired to conserve – the practices are ingrained in the community. Today we use 50% less per capita per day than we did 30 years ago.”

Kerl also highlighted that our region’s diverse water supplies include drought-resistant sources such as desalinated water, and that the San Diego region is prepared and has enough supplies for multiple dry years.

weather extremes in Southern California

Throughout recent years, Southern California has experienced different types of weather extremes that have impacts on water supplies. Photo: Alex Tardy, NOAA/NWS.

Citizens Water Academy

The Citizens Water Academy provides an opportunity for emerging leaders and professionals in the San Diego region to learn about critical projects and programs related to water. Through the academy, the Water Authority seeks to expand and sustain a diverse network of influencers who are willing to serve as ambassadors on water issues and expand knowledge about the region’s water industry. To learn more, go to sdcwa.org/in-the-community/citizens-water-academy.

Leaders 20/20 is a young professionals network that aims to drive civic engagement to ensure a high quality of life in the San Diego region. Leaders 20/20 provides education on important issues affecting the environment and economy and helps professionals build connections to industry leaders: sandiego.edu/soles/hub-nonprofit/initiatives/leaders-2020.php.

San Diego Green Drinks is a social networking group of professionals in the environmental field who attend events to meet industry professionals, find employment or employees, develop new ideas, discuss issues and solve problems.

Watch a recording of the event, starting with Alex Tardy: https://bit.ly/385EGCP

How the San Diego Region is Preparing for the West’s Water Extremes

Sandra Kerl talks about how the San Diego County Water Authority is adapting and innovating for this year’s drought and beyond, while continuing to provide reliable service to customers and reshaping the Water Authority’s internal processes, values and structure.

Gov. Newsom asks Californians to Voluntarily Cut Water Use Amid Deepening Drought Conditions

California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked people and businesses Thursday to voluntarily cut how much water they use by 15% amid a drought. Newsom’s request is not an order. But it demonstrates the growing challenges of a drought that will only worsen throughout the summer and fall and is tied to recent heat waves.

Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, issued the following statement following the governor’s announcement:

“While the San Diego region is thankfully drought-safe this summer due to sound planning and decades-long ratepayer investments in new water supplies and storage and adoption of water conservation as a way of life, we must also be part of the statewide movement now underway to address water supply challenges created by drought and climate change in other parts of California.

“The Water Authority strongly supports the governor’s call for the public to voluntarily cutback water use by 15% in order to allow local, regional and state water agencies to plan and take the steps necessary under these changed conditions to maximize the availability of limited water supplies going forward, through the investment of state funding and implementation of other provisions of the Governor’s Proclamation of a State Emergency and Executive Order N-10-21 calling for water conservation. 

The Water Authority will be working closely with our member agencies and with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over the next several days, weeks and months, to design and implement strategies to maximize water supply development in collaboration with Governor Newsom and state agencies, in order to protect California.”

Positioned for the Future: San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl

There have been many surprises and unanticipated outcomes in the long wake of the pandemic. Like most workplaces, the San Diego County Water Authority had to quickly adapt a year ago, and that process continues to evolve under the leadership of General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. In a conversation with California Water & Power, Kerl discusses how her organization has embraced change and continues to prepare for the future.

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Celebrates 5th Anniversary

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is celebrating its fifth year of operation this month. More than 65 billion gallons of water from the plant have provided a sustainable and reliable supply to businesses and residents of San Diego County since December 2015.

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant produces more than 50 million gallons of high-quality, locally controlled, water every day. It’s a foundational water supply for the San Diego region that minimizes the region’s vulnerability to drought or other water supply emergencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Partners with Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The San Diego County Water Authority announced today it is partnering with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during and after those seasonal storms.

CWA Sets June 25 Rate Hearing

The San Diego County Water Authority hearing to approve calendar year 2021 rates and charges will be June 25.

The May 28 motion to set the rate hearing date along with the proposed rates and charges passed with 78.139% of the SDCWA weighted vote. Twenty-one CWA board members supported the motion. Fallbrook Public Utility District general manager Jack Bebee, who is also FPUD’s representative on the CWA board, cast one of the eight votes against the action. Tom Kennedy, who is the Rainbow Municipal Water District general manager and Rainbow’s CWA representative, abstained as did Lois Fong-Sakai, who is one of the city of San Diego’s representatives on the CWA board.

A non-voting presentation earlier in the day addressed proposed changes to the CWA’s two-year budget which covers fiscal year 2019-2020 and fiscal year 2020-2021; the June 25 CWA board meeting will also include consideration of the budget adjustments. If the rates and charges are approved June 25, the action will also allocate the pro-rata shares of total fixed charges to each CWA member agency.

Water Authority Distributes Protective Masks to SoCal Water Agencies

The San Diego County Water Authority is distributing 25,000 cloth masks to water and wastewater agency employees in six Southern California counties as part of the national effort to ensure essential workers have enough protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The masks are available to public and private water and wastewater utilities in Mono, Inyo, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Imperial counties. Water Authority staff created a drive-through operation to maintain physical distancing while handing out the facemasks.

“It’s a tall order, but one that leverages our core values of collaboration and communication on behalf of our community,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “It’s part of our duty as water and wastewater professionals to continue ensuring a clean, safe, and reliable water supply for our region – and beyond.”