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Santee Lakes is Park of the Year

The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds named the Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve its Park of the Year in the Large Park category for its guest experience and overall excellence.

The popular dining deck at award-winning Santee Lakes. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Santee Lakes is Park of the Year

The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds named the Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve its Park of the Year in the Large Park category for its guest experience and overall excellence.

The association, or ARVC, also recognized Santee Lakes as a “Plan-It Green Friendly Park of the Year” for its environmentally-friendly practices across all park operations and its commitment to sustainability. Judges make their decision based on several criteria: guest experiences, all-around excellence in operations, professionalism, marketing, customer service, and industry involvement.

Both awards were presented at the 2021 Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo. Park Director Laura Koval accepted the awards in person on behalf of Santee Lakes.

“Despite the numerous challenges we faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Santee Lakes still managed to embrace our family-friendly camping culture and create a much-needed respite from stressors in the world,” said Koval. “As one guest said, “First campground I’ve been to in a while that feels like home.”

Santee Lakes Park Director Laura Koval accepted the awards in person on behalf of Santee Lakes. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water DistrictSantee Lakes Park Director Laura Koval accepted the awards in person on behalf of Santee Lakes. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Santee Lakes Park Director Laura Koval accepted the awards in person on behalf of Santee Lakes. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Santee Lakes “a shining star”

“The ARVC Park of the Year Awards showcase excellence at so many levels, and Santee Lakes is a shining star reaching the highest level of recognition,” said ARVC President and CEO Paul Bambei. “To win both Park of the Year and Plan-It Green Park of the Year in 2021 is quite an accomplishment, and it shows the high level of excellence Santee Lakes provides its customers, employees, and community.”

In addition to its most recent honors, Santee Lakes was also named to The San Diego Union-Tribune’s “Best 2021” reader poll in the categories Staycation Location, Scenic Spot, San Diego Attraction, Entertainment Venue, Place to Get Married, and Hiking Trail. It also won “Favorite Place” from the Santee Chamber of Commerce and San Diego’s Reader’s Poll as one of its “Favorite Places to Get Married.”

Sixty years of community recreation

Fishing remains among the favorite activities. Santee Lakes was recenty stocked with rainbow trout for the winter season. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Fishing remains among the favorite activities. Santee Lakes was recently stocked with rainbow trout for the winter season. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Santee Lakes celebrates 60 years of operation in 2021. In 1959, the Santee County Water District, now the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, initiated a then-unique project of recycling wastewater for irrigation and commercial uses. As part of the treatment process, a chain of seven individual lakes was developed. Boating and fishing were authorized in 1961, and Santee Lakes opened to the public.

Today, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve hosts over 760,000 visitors annually. The 190-acre park’s lakes are stocked with fish year-round, most recently on December 17. Other amenities include camping, cabin rentals, fishing, boating, playgrounds, walking trails, facility rentals, special events, and approximately 230 bird species.

Santee Lakes is self-sustaining

The park is owned and operated by Padre Dam Municipal Water District. However, it is self-sustaining and receives no funds from water or wastewater ratepayers. The Park operates from guest user fees, grants and awards, collaborations with community groups, and sponsorships.

“We are humbled to receive these honors, especially during the year of our 60th anniversary,” said Koval. “The staff has worked tirelessly to maintain Santee Lakes as an environmentally sustainable and premier destination. These awards will be cherished for many years to come.”

(Editor’s note: The Padre Dam Municipal Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

2021 ARVC Large Park of the Year and Plan-It Green Park of the Year

Santee, Calif. – Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve has been named Plan-it Green and Large Park of the Year by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). This prominent recognition was awarded during the recent 2021 Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo (OHCE).

As Drought Looms, East County Agencies Get $388 Million Loan for Giant Water Recycling Project

The third large drinking water recycling facility planned for San Diego County received a low-interest $388 million federal loan on Friday to jump-start the project.

The East County Advanced Water Purification Program will recycle waste water to produce up to 11.5 million purified gallons a day — 30% of the region’s supply — beginning in 2025.

The project at the north end of the string of Santee Lakes is a joint effort by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon, Helix Water District and San Diego County.

Recreational activities such as fishing at Lower Otay Reservoir are continuing safely under new coronavirus safety protocols. Photo: City of San Diego reservoirs open

San Diego Reservoirs Open with Coronavirus Safety Guidelines

All City of San Diego reservoirs previously closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are now open to the public during regular business hours for walking, jogging, cycling, fishing and boating. Normal fishing and boating fees will apply.

“Overall everything is working well,” said Bryan Norris, the City’s reservoirs and recreation program manager.  “Several reservoirs are experiencing higher than normal visitation since the reopening.”

Available activities include walking, jogging, cycling, fishing and boating. Normal fishing and boating fees will apply. Photo: City of San Diego

Available activities include walking, jogging, cycling, fishing and boating. Normal fishing and boating fees will apply. Photo: City of San Diego

Reservoirs open, face masks, physical distancing required

The public is asked to observe COVID-19 preventative measures, including mandates requiring face coverings and physical distancing.  Bathrooms are scheduled to be cleaned regularly as part of San Diego County regulations. For more information go to: www.sandiego.gov/reservoirs-lakes.

Miramar, Murray, and Lower Otay Reservoirs reopened in mid-May. El Capitan Reservoir and Upper Otay Reservoir were next to reopen on June 6, followed by San Vicente Reservoir on June 13. Lake Hodges, Sutherland, and Barrett all opened in early July and remain open.

New safety and cleaning protocols first started with the May reopenings are continuing.

Lake Jennings offers its popular night fishing on August 7

Lake Jennings in Lakeside, operated by the Helix Water District, remains open for recreation, day use, and camping by family member groups only after reopening in June. Fishing and day use visitors must wear masks and adhere to physical distancing. The Bait and Tackle Shop is open with restrictions. See the complete list of current restrictions onsite at the Lake Jennings website.

The lake was stocked with 1,000 pounds of catfish in preparation for its popular Night Fishing event on Friday, August 7. Fishing enthusiasts of all ages may fish from the shoreline from 3 p.m. until midnight.  A valid California State Fishing License is required for anyone 16 years old and older.

The recreation side of the lake is open every Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., unless a night fishing event is taking place.

The campground is currently sold out this weekend, but campers can check for availability due to cancellations online at www.lakejennings.org. Only registered campers are permitted in the campground, no visitors or day use access is allowed.

Santee Lakes fishing report

Santee Lakes 2 and 4 were stocked on July 27 with 500 pounds of catfish each. The next scheduled fish stocking will take place Monday, August 10. Photo: Padre Dam MWD / Santee Lakes

Santee Lakes 2 and 4 were stocked on July 27 with 500 pounds of catfish each. The next scheduled fish stocking is August 10. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District / Santee Lakes

The popular Santee Lakes reports the bass continue to bite on fishing lines using soft plastics, topwater frogs, and swimbait. Popular spots include the west side of Lake 5 and the southwest corner of Lake 4. Catfish are also biting on a mix of bait including mackerel, chicken liver, and mealworms. Catfish are biting on the east shore of Lake 4 and the south shore of Lake 2.

Santee Lakes has opened the 2021 reservation schedule for its popular campsites.

Padre Dam Municipal Water District built Santee Lakes to demonstrate the promise of water recycling. The 190-acre Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is owned and operated by Padre Dam MWD and is entirely self‐sustaining, receiving no funds from water/sewer ratepayers or taxpayer subsidies.

The San Vicente Reservoir boat dock will welcome visitors again starting June 13. Photo: City of San Diego reservoirs begin reopening

Reservoirs Begin Reopening to Recreational Use Countywide

City of San Diego lakes and reservoirs previously closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are now in the process of reopening for public recreation.

“A lot of San Diegans have a passion for fishing and boating, and we’ve been able to partner with the County [of San Diego] to reopen all of our lakes and reservoirs to the public,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

El Capitan Reservoir and Upper Otay Reservoir reopened on June 6. San Vicente Reservoir will open to the public June 13.

Three reservoirs will re-open in July: Lake Hodges on July 1, Sutherland on July 3, and Barrett on July 8.

Miramar, Murray, and Lower Otay Reservoirs have opened in mid-May.

Standup paddleboarding will return to Lake Hodges on Saturday, July 1. Photo: City of San Diego reservoirs begin reopening

Standup paddleboarding is available at Lake Hodges on Saturday, July 1. Photo: City of San Diego

New safety and cleaning protocols initiated with the re-openings in May will remain in place at all reservoirs. The reservoirs will be open during regular business hours for walking, jogging, cycling, fishing, and boating. Normal fishing and boating fees will apply.

“As we have seen from the thousands of calls, emails, and letters to City Hall, fishing is more than a hobby, it’s a passion,” said San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman. “Our lakes and reservoirs are too important of a recreational asset to keep closed and I am thankful they will be opened soon.”

For more information, go to https://www.sandiego.gov/coronavirus

Lake Jennings reopens for recreation and fishing June 13

TCatfish are being restocked this week in Lakes 3 and 6 at Santee Lakes for happy fishermen. Photo: Courtesy Santee Lakes/Padre MWD

Catfish are being restocked this week in Lakes 3 and 6 at Santee Lakes for happy fishermen. Photo: Courtesy Santee Lakes/Padre Dam MWD

Lake Jennings in Lakeside, operated by the Helix Water District, will also reopen for recreation and day-use on Saturday, June 13. Hours are limited to weekends from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fishing and day-use visitors must wear masks and adhere to social distancing. The Bait and Tackle Shop will be open with restrictions. Shore fishing and private boat launching are available, but no boat rentals, night fishing, or fish stocking at this time.

In addition, Lake Jennings recently reopened for camping on June 5 with restrictions in place limiting use to every other campsite, and only by members of the same household. See the complete list of restrictions at the Lake Jennings website.

“We are thrilled to be able to reopen in compliance with the County regulations,” said Kira Haley, Lake Jennings recreation manager. “We really appreciate your understanding in this difficult time while we continue to work hard to keep our community safe.”

The public will be asked to observe COVID-19 preventative measures, including mandates requiring face coverings and physical distancing.

Santee Lakes, operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, expanded recreational use including fishing with some restrictions on May 16. All activities with physical distancing are allowed including jogging, bike riding, roller-skating. A facial covering is not required during physical activities but must be in your possession. Physical distancing and possession of a facial covering are required while fishing. The lake’s campsites have remained open throughout the pandemic, but campers must practice social and physical distancing while on site.

County of San Diego to help cover costs

The cost of reopening the City of San Diego’s additional reservoirs is approximately $1 million. Funding identified through a tentative cost-sharing agreement with the County of San Diego will be limited to covering enhanced staffing costs for ensuring public health is maintained in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the City Council and San Diego County Board of Supervisors will need to approve the agreement.

Santee Lakes Supports City of Santee in COVID-19 Community Efforts

Santee, CA – Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve and Padre Dam Municipal Water District applaud the City of Santee’s “Support Our Santee” efforts to help the Santee residents and business community through the economic challenges due to the COVID-19 health emergency. The City’s plan allows for Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) deferral from the City’s hotels, which would include Santee Lakes. Santee Lakes and Padre Dam have made the decision to partner with the City in COVID-19 recovery efforts and will not defer TOT that is paid to the City.

Along with the rest of California's lakes and reservoirs, Lake Jennings is currently closed to fishing. Photo: Lake Jennings

Reservoirs, Lakes Remain Closed to Fishing Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Although San Diego County’s lakes and reservoirs remain closed to fishing and other recreational activities for safety reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff and volunteers continue to work. Crews are maintaining facilities, providing security, and sharing photos of wildlife and native blooms enjoying the arrival of spring.

Popular overnight campsites remain open at Santee Lakes, operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

Popular overnight campsites remain open at Santee Lakes, operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Popular overnight campsites remain open at Santee Lakes, owned and operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.

“Camper well-being is important to us and Santee Lakes didn’t want to displace people,” said Melissa McChesney, Padre Dam communications manager. She said that includes long-term campers who spent winter at the lake.

“It is important to note that Santee Lakes is not promoting recreation at this time, and the day use section of the park is closed,” said McChesney. “The park is able to provide a safe alternative to any RVers currently on the road in California because we have full electric, water, sewer and WiFi at each site. Santee Lakes is currently only taking reservations for self-contained RVs.”

Campers can reserve space for a maximum of six months. McChesney said campers should still shelter in place and practice physical distancing at the 300 campsites and 10 cabins.

At Santee Lakes, campers can also enjoy spring birdwatching. Two hundred and thirty different bird species have been spotted at the lake.

Nature takes flight at Lake Jennings

Two of the three resident bald eagles at Lake Jennings. Photo: Lake Jennings

At Lake Jennings, Recreation Manager Kira Haley says eight volunteers continue to live and work from their campground homes in recreational vehicles and campers. She said their days remain “pretty typical” even though they see more wildlife and not people.

“Our volunteers handle emerging maintenance, take calls from the public, and provide security,” said Haley. “They’re happy to be there, not having interaction with people during this time.”

Although new camping reservations are closed, Haley said campers currently at the Lake Jennings campgrounds were allowed to finish their stay. She said only one person, from out of state, will be the only camper at the entire park through the end of April.

A wood duck and her ducklings swimming across Santee Lakes. Photo: Santee Lakes/Facebook

Haley and her volunteers are sharing photos of the active wildlife and plant growth on social media. Currently, there are three bald eagles at the lake.

On the Lake Jennings Facebook page, Haley noted with a photo of a bald eagle in flight, “Lake Jennings Social Distancing: Always keep an eagle’s wingspan between you and others.” According to National Geographic, a bald eagle’s typical wingspan measures from six to eight feet – the recommended social distancing minimum.

According to National Geographic, a bald eagle’s typical wingspan measures from six to eight feet – the recommended social distancing minimum. Photo: Lake Jennings/Facebook

City of San Diego lakes and reservoirs closed until further notice

Paddleboarding-Lake Hodges-coronavirus-845x450

Paddleboarders will have to wait to get on Lake Hodges. The City of San Diego has closed all reservoirs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: City of San Diego

The City of San Diego’s reservoirs and lakes are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city closed the reservoirs to the public on March 18 to protect the public and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The nine water supply storage reservoirs are operated by the City’s Public Utilities Department.

Fall fishing season is in full swing at San Diego County's reservoirs and lakes, including Lake Jennings. Photo: Helix Water District

Freshwater Fishing Flourishes at San Diego Region’s Reservoirs and Lakes

San Diego County’s freshwater fishing in area reservoirs and lakes managed by the region’s water agencies attracts expert anglers and beginners alike.

Of San Diego County’s 24 reservoirs and lakes, 18 allow fishing. Bryan Norris, Reservoirs and Recreation Program Manager for the City of San Diego, oversees eight locations offering recreational opportunities, including fishing.

“We are the largest provider of recreation for the domestic water supply in California,” said Norris. “No other program provides recreation at eight different reservoirs. The City of San Diego is considered a pioneer in these offerings. It’s really something that gets overlooked.”

Bass and bluegill are biting at San Diego reservoirs

Bluegill are plentiful at El Capitan Reservoir in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Photo: City of San Diego

Bluegill are plentiful at El Capitan Reservoir in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Photo: City of San Diego

What people often call lakes in the City of San Diego are actually water supply storage reservoirs and part of the City’s municipal water supply system operated by the City’s Public Utilities Department. The nine reservoirs are Barrett, El Capitan, Hodges, Lower Otay, Miramar, Murray, San Vicente, Sutherland, and Upper Otay. Lake Hodges, Sutherland, and Barrett Lake close during winter months; the remaining five are open year-round.

Lake Murray in La Mesa and Miramar Lake in Scripps Ranch are stocked regularly with trout by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The remaining fish species are self-sustaining, such as bass, catfish, bluegill, and crappie.

“We’re so well known for our bass fisheries at the city lakes,” said Norris. “We have multiple tournaments at our reservoirs, it’s our top fishery. They are serious, it’s like any organized sport.”

Trout most popular at Lake Jennings

Brian Pierce of El Cajon caught his limit of trout at Lake Jennings in March, and planned to return for the opening of fall trout season 2019 last weekend. Photo: Helix Water District

Brian Pierce of El Cajon caught his limit of trout at Lake Jennings in March and planned to return for the opening of fall trout season this year. Photo: Helix Water District

Lake Jennings in Lakeside, operated by the Helix Water District, opened its popular trout season November 15. It stocks 20,000 pounds of trout annually on a biweekly schedule between November and April, and 10,000 pounds of catfish in the summer months. It recently received 2,500 pounds of rainbow trout stock from Wright’s Rainbows in Thatcher, Idaho.

Helix Recreation Manager Kira Haley said she works closely with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the correct timing for stocking the lake for eager fishing enthusiasts.

“If you don’t stock it, they won’t come,” said Haley. “We base the timing on water temperature for the trout, between November and April, when it’s low enough for trout to survive. When it’s not low enough, we stock catfish.”

In August, catfish were stocked at Lake Jennings. Photo: Helix Water DIstrict

In August, catfish were stocked at Lake Jennings. Photo: Helix Water District

In addition, large-mouth bass, red-ear sunfish, and bluegill, as well as channel and blue catfish live in Lake Jennings. Sign up for the Lake Jennings Fish Report online to see what fish are biting.

Haley says she enjoys her new role as a fisheries manager.

“I wouldn’t have called myself a fisherman before I got here,” said Haley. “I know more about fish than I ever thought I would know.

“It’s a very active community. They care so much about the lake and the health of the fish and the fisheries. It’s a great group of people to work with. Most fishermen are good stewards of the land itself. They see a piece of trash, they pick it up.”

Santee Lakes a popular family fishing stop

Santee Lakes, operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, also stocks 12,500 pounds of trout and 24,000 pounds of catfish annually in the fall months for its anglers.

The catfish have been biting big this season at Santee Lakes. Photo: Courtesy Santee Lakes/Padre MWD

The catfish have been biting big this season at Santee Lakes. Photo: Courtesy Santee Lakes/Padre MWD

San Diego County’s year-round lakes also offer hiking, walking, biking, and picnicking.

Three of San Diego’s reservoirs (Lake Hodges, San Vicente, and El Capitan) allow windsurfing, water skiing, and the use of personal watercraft. Stand up paddle boarding was added this year at Lake Hodges. Barrett Lake and Lake Sutherland offer bird hunting.

Santee Lakes is among the county's most popular family recreation spots. Photo: Santee Lakes/Padre Dam MWD

Santee Lakes is among the county’s most popular family recreation spots. Photo: Santee Lakes/Padre Dam MWD

Norris hopes more people will visit and enjoy an escape from everyday urban life.

“There are so many reservoirs around the county that provide recreational opportunities; it’s unfortunate. Everyone thinks of beaches when they think of San Diego,” said Norris.

Stand up paddle boarding is a new activity now permitted at Lake Hodges. Photo: City of San Diego

Stand up paddle boarding is a new activity permitted at Lake Hodges. Photo: City of San Diego

Easier access to recreation information on new website

As part of an ongoing effort on making it easier for the public to access recreation information, the City of San Diego reservoir lakes website has been revised and enhanced.

The website features fishing, hunting, and recreation information, an interactive map, and a photo gallery. New graphics help anglers determine the types of fish available at the City’s reservoirs. Expanded details provide users with access to the fish catch report and details about boating and permits as well as employment and volunteer opportunities.

Lake Jennings staff including Recreation Manager Kira Haley (front row, fifth from left) rely on their dedicated volunteers including Lori Stangel (front row, sixth from left). Photo: Helix Water District

Volunteer Opportunities at Water Agency Reservoirs in San Diego County

People around the world know the San Diego region for its beautiful setting along the Pacific Ocean. But visitors, and even many local residents, aren’t aware of the recreational activities available year-round at area reservoirs.

There are 24 reservoirs in San Diego County. Of these, there are 18 fishable lakes and some offer overnight camping. Popular activities also include boating, kayaking, hiking, and picnicking.

Lake Jennings Reservoir, east of El Cajon, is called a “hidden jewel.” Lake Jennings Recreation Manager Kira Haley admits she didn’t know much about the lake even though she grew up in nearby La Mesa.

“It’s a beautiful resource, and it’s so close to home,” said Haley.

Volunteers help maintain the Lake Jennings campsites, which include five tipis. Photo: Helix Water DIstrict

Volunteers help maintain the Lake Jennings campsites, which include five tipis. Photo: Helix Water District

Volunteers help Lake Jennings operations become self-sustaining

Haley arrived in December 2014 with the goal of making the Lake Jennings self-sustaining. Recent park upgrades and an aggressive outreach program have attracted new visitors. The Helix Water District considered closing the park due to financial losses. But in 2018, Lake Jennings Park made a profit for the first time.

Onsite volunteers make a significant contribution to park operations. Onsite volunteers live full-time at Lake Jennings in campers and trailers in exchange for campsite space and electricity. They perform key roles by staffing the information and registration kiosk, monitoring and maintaining the 97 campsites, answering questions, and responding on-call 24 hours. All volunteers receive training in first aid and evacuation procedures.

“We find the volunteers through word of mouth or regular campers who retire,” said Haley. “Some work other jobs and still volunteer 24 hours each week. Their backgrounds are varied. Some have been with us for many years.”

Visitors can enjoy hiking year-round at Lake Jennings. Trail maps are available from volunteers at the campground kiosk. Photo: Helix Water District

Visitors can enjoy hiking year-round at Lake Jennings. Trail maps are available from volunteers at the campground kiosk. Photo: Helix Water District

Eight campsites are home to the volunteers, whether individuals or couples. Haley is currently recruiting new volunteers. The Helix Water District oversees the hiring process. Applications are now available on the Helix Water District website jobs page.

“It’s wonderful to live in a place like this in a natural open space situation,” said Haley. “There is a grocery store a mile away, but when you’re here, you feel like you’re in the wilderness. Everyone who comes out here is looking to have a great time. It makes for a wonderful work environment.”

Retired teacher puts her experience to work at Lake Jennings

Volunteer Lori Stangel arrived at Lake Jennings five years ago intending to stay six months, but is still a dedicated onsite volunteer host. Photo: Helix Water District

Intending to stay six months, Lori Stangel has worked as an onsite volunteer host for five years. Photo: Helix Water District

Retired kindergarten teacher Lori Stangel returned to her native San Diego after working in Arizona. She and her husband Chuck found a notice online about Lake Jennings volunteer opportunities and thought the six-month assignment would provide an ideal transition. Five years later, the Stangels are still living and working at Lake Jennings.

“I love nature, and I love being outdoors,” said Lori Stangel. “I love working with the public, and I work for the best staff and administration at Helix you can imagine. They make me feel welcome; it means a lot to me.”

Stangel puts her 30 years of experience as an educator into her volunteer role.

“I get to educate people and families about nature through the outdoors,” said Stangel. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for retired people, but also for young people. They can still go to school or work part-time. It’s a win-win. I’m here because I love it.”

As a Ms. California Senior America pageant competitor, Stangel also spreads the word about Lake Jennings as a valued environmental resource in her personal advocacy platform.

Additional San Diego County Water Authority member agency recreational facilities with volunteer opportunities include Santee Lakes, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, and Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, Olivenhain Municipal Water District.