(L to R) Helix WD employees John Wilson, Eric Hughes, Dan Baker and Bryan Watte, and Padre Dam MWD workers Jesse Knowles and Austin Darley. Photo: Helix Water District Paradise Irrigation District

San Diego Water Pros Aid Paradise Irrigation District Following Camp Fire

Six water professionals from the Helix Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District spent one week in August assisting the Paradise Irrigation District with disaster recovery in the wake of the devastating Camp Fire.

The Camp Fire burned through the town of Paradise, California in November 2018. CAL FIRE reported the fire burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and resulted in 85 civilian fatalities and several firefighter injuries. The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, according to CAL FIRE.

Ten months later, Paradise remains hard at work on recovery efforts.

The fire caused significant damage to the Paradise Irrigation District’s infrastructure. As a result, more than 10,500 customers fell under a “Do Not Drink” advisory due to contamination from several harmful volatile organic compounds in distribution pipelines.

Austin Darley and Jesse Knowles hard at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Austin Darley (kneeling) and Jesse Knowles hard at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Padre Dam employees Austin Darley and Jesse Knowles, and Helix employees John Wilson, Dan Baker, Eric Hughes and Bryan Watte, spent a week in Paradise working to help ensure water system safety. While most customers have water service restored, the water quality is being carefully monitored.

“The majority of the work we did revolved around keeping customers in water during a three-day testing period, and reestablishing water service through a plastic jumper after samples had been drawn,” said Darley.

State emergency assistance system activated to provide mutual aid

Helix and Padre Dam are among 14 member agencies and the Water Authority participating in the California Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or CalWARN, to support and promote statewide emergency preparedness, disaster response, and mutual assistance processes for public and private water and wastewater utilities.

Damage remaining from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Damage remaining from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

“This program is like an insurance policy that can provide assistance when an emergency becomes larger than our internal resources can deal with,” said Melissa McChesney, Padre Dam Communications Manager. “The situation Paradise Irrigation District finds themselves in is a good example of this. We also have agreements with neighboring water agencies in which we call upon each other for equipment or staffing when needed.”

The agencies identified staff with the skills and experience to help the Paradise Irrigation District. All agreed to volunteer for the mutual aid mission. Padre Dam employees Jesse Knowles and Austin Darley were selected to help.

“Jesse and I feel very blessed to work for an organization that is passionate about helping those in need,” said Darley. “It was an important reminder that recovery efforts continue long after the disaster leaves the news. Paradise is still in need of our thoughts, prayers, and help.”

Recovery effort not over for Paradise Irrigation District

Padre Dam Municipal Water District and Helix Water District crews at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

Padre Dam Municipal Water District and Helix Water District crews at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

“There’s a lot of work up here but the town is healing,” wrote Helix employee Dan Baker while working in Paradise. “I think I speak for all four of us when I say I’m proud to be a part of this.”

Water service for burned lots will be replaced as recovery progresses and new homes are built.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to assist our fellow Californians with this recovery effort,” added Darley. “Although we exist 600 miles apart we all have the same goal, to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to our residents and communities.”

Lake Jennings - East County Advanced Water Purification Program - Woranuch Joyce

Water Agencies Approve Funds for East County Advanced Water Purification Project

The East County Advanced Water Purification Project is moving forward after a new funding agreement was approved.

The program’s partner agencies – Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the City of El Cajon, Helix Water District and the County of San Diego – recently approved the Interim Funding Agreement. The final vote from the County of San Diego took place July 10.

The project is expected to begin producing water in 2025.

Purified water reduces dependence on imported water

The agreement requires each agency to commit $2.35 million ($9.4 million total) toward the program, with the aim to create a new, local, sustainable, and drought-proof drinking water supply using state-of-the-art technology to purify East San Diego County’s recycled water.

“This is an important milestone toward the completion of this innovative and much-needed program, said Allen Carlisle, CEO and general manager of Padre Dam Municipal Water District. “Working together with our partners, we are moving one step closer to reducing our dependence on imported water and putting the mechanisms in place to support our economy and quality of life well into the future.”

Sustainable drinking water project

An artist's rendering of the new Padre Dam Visitor Center at the East County Water Purification Treatment Center. Graphic: Gourtesy Padre Dam Municipal Water District water repurification water reliability

An artist’s rendering of the new Padre Dam Visitor Center at the East County Water Purification Treatment Center. Graphic: Courtesy Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Once complete, the East County Advanced Water Purification Program will generate up to 11.5 million gallons per day of new drinking water. This represents approximately 30 percent of current drinking water consumption for residents within the Padre Dam service area (Santee, El Cajon, Lakeside, Flinn Springs, Harbison Canyon, Blossom Valley, Alpine, Dehesa and Crest), and the Helix service area (including the cities of Lemon Grove, La Mesa, and El Cajon, and the Spring Valley area). This represents approximately 373,000 residents.

The project will recycle East San Diego County’s wastewater locally, and then purify the recycled water at an advanced water treatment facility using four advanced water purification steps producing water that is near-distilled in quality. The purified water will then be blended with water in Lake Jennings, treated again at the Helix R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant and then distributed into the drinking water supply.

Industry Day planned for prospective designers and contractors

Next steps for the project include formation of a Joint Powers Authority between Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the City of El Cajon, and the County of San Diego to serve as the governing body for the program.

An industry day is being planned in mid-August to provide notice to prospective designers and contractors on the initiation of a selection process for the progressive design-build packages that will begin posting in Fall 2019.

Partner agencies also continue to pursue grant and loan opportunities to help fund the estimated $528 million project.

The water-recycling project is intended to diversify East County’s drinking water supply and reduce the region’s dependence on imported water. It also helps the region in achieving long-term compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Padre Dam offers tours of the East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Project. To schedule a tour or for more information on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, visit

READ MORE: East County Advanced Water Purification Project On Track for 2025

Environment Report: The Earthquake Risk No One’s Talking About

San Diego faces a hidden earthquake threat — to its water supply. A quake, even one so far away that nobody in San Diego feels it, could cause an emergency and force mandatory water-use restrictions. That’s because most of San Diego’s water comes from hundreds of miles away through threads of metal and concrete that connect us to distant rivers and reservoirs.

Market-based Program Would Encourage Farmers to Buy, Sell Local Groundwater

A local water district is developing a novel, market-based groundwater trading program that, if successful, could be expanded or copied to help Central Valley farmers cope with new state restrictions against over-pumping the region’s aquifers.

San Diegans attending the Pure Water Day Open House could sample the purified water produced at the North City Water Reclamation Plant's demonstration facility. Photo: City of San Diego

Pure Water Day Delivers Pure Family Fun

The City of San Diego held its third ‘Pure Water Day’ Open House at the North City Water Reclamation Plant in the Miramar area, inviting residents to enjoy family-friendly activities and learn about the upcoming project construction.

More than 300 community members took tours of the five-step water purification process at the Demonstration Facilities. Photo: City of San Diego

More than 300 people took tours of the five-step water purification process at the demonstration facilities. Photo: City of San Diego

More than 300 people took tours of the five-step water purification process at the Pure Water Demonstration Facility and tasted the purified water produced at the facility following their tour. Residents of University City, Clairemont, and Scripps Ranch learned about Phase 1 of construction scheduled in their neighborhoods.

“We are excited to once again open our doors to the community, and share how we will deliver a new, safe, local source of drinking water for San Diego,” said John Helminski, assistant director of the San Diego Public Utilities Department.

Attendees enjoyed a variety of family-friendly activities at the third annual Pure Water Day. Photo: City of San Diego

Attendees enjoyed a variety of family-friendly activities at the third annual Pure Water Day. Photo: City of San Diego

Pure Water first phase starts construction later this year

Pure Water San Diego is a multi-year phased program using proven technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality potable water. After construction is completed, the Pure Water Program is expected to provide one-third of the City of San Diego’s water supply by 2035.

The first phase of construction includes the North City Pure Water Facility, new pump stations and pipelines, and upgrades to existing facilities. The North City Pure Water Facility will be constructed on City of San Diego owned property east of Interstate 805 and north of Eastgate Mall, across from the existing North City Water Reclamation Plant.

Purified water produced at the completed plant will be delivered to the Miramar Reservoir, blended with the City of San Diego’s imported and local water sources, and treated again at the existing Miramar Drinking Water Treatment Plant. After this process, the water will be distributed to customers. Construction of Phase 1 is expected to begin later this year and is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Water Authority board chairman Jim Madaffer addresses the National Albondigas Political Society of San Diego about water's importance to the region's economy. Photo: Water Authority Water supply reliability

Madaffer: Collaboration Propels San Diego Water Supply Reliability

As the San Diego County Water Authority celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, Board Chair Jim Madaffer offered a fresh vision of the region’s water future and outlined new efforts to ensure water supply reliability for generations to come at the National Albondigas Political Society of San Diego meeting in Chula Vista.

Madaffer pointed to the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District as an example of the creative thinking and political leadership needed to secure reliable water supplies not only for San Diego County, but across the southwestern U.S by working cooperatively.

“We were able to work out a deal with the Imperial Irrigation District for 200,000 acre-feet of water,” said Madaffer, noting that IID has priority rights to Colorado River water supplies. “How smart to have this insurance policy for the region.”

Madaffer said one of the key efforts ahead is securing storage rights for the San Diego region’s water at Lake Mead, a strategy that could offer benefits to the San Diego region and more broadly across the Southwest by minimizing the chances that Lake Mead will slip in formal shortage status.

Water Authority board chairman Jim Madaffer (right) with John Dadian of the National Albondigas Political Society of San Diego. Photo: Water Authority water supply reliability

Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer (right) with John Dadian of the National Albondigas Political Society of San Diego. Photo: Water Authority

Creative concepts explored to improve water supply reliability

Madaffer also outlined some of the concepts being explored by the Water Authority and its member agencies to improve water supply reliability with more diverse water supply sources, along with engineering and political creative thinking.

Madaffer said the Water Authority’s Board of Directors is considering a study about constructing a regional pipeline system to move the San Diego region’s independent water supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego. He said the options offer additional advantages to farmers in Imperial County and the Salton Sea.

“I’m a regionalist,” said Madaffer. “I’m interested in what we can do to make sure all of our member agencies are supported, and make sure water delivery works for the entire region.”

Graphic: Water Authority

San Diego is Brought to You by Water

Displaying a chart showing the change in water supply sourcing from 1990 to today, Madaffer asked, “Do we think we can insulate our region from the ravages of drought, so we aren’t depending on pipeline relining and several pipelines delivering imported water?”

He said the region’s approach includes a mix of investments, backed by efforts to use water wisely.

“We’re using less water today with 900,000 more people than we did back in 1990,” said Madaffer, calling it a conservation success story. “All our member agencies, plus each of you in this room, are responsible for helping make it happen.”

Madaffer also touted the region’s innovation culture.  “From Qualcomm to BIOCOM to all of the technology we produce, we are a hotbed of innovation in the region,” he said. “If you remember our drought back in the 1990s, there were states trying to grab our people, saying ‘Hey, work in our state instead, because California is out of water.’ We’ve changed that narrative 100 percent … San Diego is Brought to You by Water.”

A snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountain peak to the northwest from the Phillips Station meadow season. Photo: Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources snowmelt

Report: Shorter Winters Could Impact Snowpack and Water Supply

New research shows shorter periods of winter weather are altering snowpack melt times, with potentially significant implications for water management and wildfires.

Associate Professor Amato Evan at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography analyzed snowpack data from 1982 through 2017, publishing his analysis in the December Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, and presenting his findings at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Evan found no decline in snowfall totals overall, but he discovered snow in mountainous regions is disappearing earlier in the year – in line with earlier projections and modeling. California and other western states rely heavily on snowfall and snowpack for water. When the snowpack melts, it fills reservoirs, a vital resource for cities and farms.

If snowmelt occurs more quickly than normal, it could result in reservoirs filling earlier in the winter or spring. If that dynamic isn’t managed correctly, it could result in losing water supply when the reservoirs overflow. Evan noted California would be among the most-affected states.

Investments buffer San Diego region

Three decades of investments to diversify the San Diego region’s water supply sources with seawater desalination, recycled water and other supplies have lessened the local impact of snowpack variations, said Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority. The San Diego region relies on snowmelt in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, along with a variety of local water resources. In addition, the Water Authority has expanded local water storage by raising San Vicente Dam and more than doubling the reservoir’s capacity. That allows the region to hold more imported supplies during wet years to prepare for dry ones.

“By increasing water-use efficiency and investing in drought-resilient supplies and local storage, the San Diego region is less susceptible to changes in snowmelt,” said Friehauf. “But climatic shifts likely will be an important factor in water management across the West for years to come.”

Researcher observes winter weather declines

Evan used data for his research collected from a network of over 400 snow telemetry sensors across the western U.S. The sensors compress and expand as snow falls and melts, measuring the weight of the snowpack throughout the season. Evan developed a mathematical expression he could apply to the observations which can identify trends in snowpack variations over the course of the winter season.

Evan found two key changes in mountain snowpack consistent across the western U.S. First, warmer fall and spring seasons are “squeezing” winters, making them shorter from a weather perspective.

Second, higher elevations are showing snowpack characteristics normally found at lower altitudes, with a gradual build up and gradual decline. This translates into less snow and earlier melts. While this has been shown in climate model simulations, the Scripps study is the first time it has been observed. Evan’s findings are consistent with numerous other methods of measuring changes in the seasons.

“The power of this work was the ability to examine how and why snowpack is changing throughout the year,” Evan said in a Scripps news release. “In terms of freshwater in the West, the total amount of snow we receive during the year is important, but how long into the spring that snow stays frozen up in the mountains is also critical.”

The Scripps research was supported by funding from the Climate Program Office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The California Department of Water Resources conducted the second snow survey of the 2019 season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The survey site is approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento in El Dorado County. Photo: Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources.

Mid-Winter Storms Drench California, Boost Sierra Snowpack

A remarkable series of winter storms in January and early February has doubled the Sierra Nevada snowpack and recharged reservoirs across the state of California. With more rain and snow in the forecast, California’s water supply picture is far better than it was a year ago, when San Diego received the second-lowest amount of rainfall on record since 1850.

In San Diego County, Lindbergh Field has recorded more than nine inches of rain since October 1, which is nearly the average annual rainfall of 10.33 inches, according to the National Weather Service. More storms are on the way: NWS has forecast more showers in the next few weeks.

Some of the wettest local spots include Mt. Woodson, which received 4.34 inches of rain in the past five days, Lower Oat Flats with 4.08 inches, Rainbow Camp with 3.6 inches, and Fallbrook and Bonsall each with 3.41 inches.

Local rainfall is important, because it allows residents and farmers to reduce or eliminate irrigation for weeks or months at time while Mother Nature does the work. In addition, local surface water meets about 10 percent of San Diego’s annual water needs. From a supply perspective, it is much more important snowpacks continue to grow in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.

Water conditions far better than 2018

Surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources recorded 50 inches of snow and a “snow water equivalent” of 18 inches on January 31 at Phillips Station, where DWR has conducted manual snow surveys for decades.

This was the second of five snow surveys planned for this winter. More than 50 agencies at the local, state and federal levels collaborate on the Cooperative Snow Surveys Program to collect snow data from more than 300 locations statewide each year. Results from these surveys are crucial to water management in California.

The most recent survey at Phillips Station showed the snowpack as 98 percent of average to date – just shy of the statewide average. By comparison, on February 1, 2018, measurements at Phillips Station showed a snow water equivalent of 2.6 inches – just 14 percent of the early-February average. Snow water equivalent is a standard metric of how much water is held in snow.

In the Upper Colorado River Basin, conditions are slightly better than they are in California – a good sign for a region that has suffered nearly two decades of drought. Precipitation and snow water equivalent were both at 105 percent of average at the end of January.

No shortages are expected on the Colorado River system in 2019, though long-term drought conditions continue to be a concern across the Southwest.

San Diego well-positioned to meet regional water demands

The National Weather Service reports that between Oct. 1, 2018, and Feb. 6, 2019, San Diego County received more than nine inches of rain at Lindbergh Field, which was 165 percent of normal, and more than 11 inches of rain at Ramona Airport, which was 142 percent of normal.

“This winter is shaping up nicely,” said Jeff Stephenson, a principal water resources specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority. “A well-timed string of storms and cooler temperatures is allowing us to leave water in storage for use during the dry summer months – and it’s important that everyone continue to leave off their irrigation systems while there’s plenty of water in the soil.”

No matter how the winter plays out, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have enough water to meet regional water demands for the foreseeable future. This is made possible by a combination of investments in drought-resilient resources, including the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, conserved agricultural water transfers and continued water-use efficiency measures.