2020 Urban Water Managment Plan

2020 Urban Water Management Plan Underway

An update to the plan for meeting the region’s long-term water needs is under development by the San Diego County Water Authority, in collaboration with its 24 member agencies. Once completed, the Water Authority’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan will serve as the long-term guide to ensure a reliable water supply that sustains the region’s 3.3 million residents and its $245 billion economy.

The Water Authority Board of Directors’ Water Planning and Environment Committee is holding a special online meeting at 1:30 p.m. on November 12 for an update on the developing plan.

At the meeting, Water Authority staff will provide an overview of the plan and share preliminary water demand projections for 2025 to 2045. Click here for more information about the Board meeting and agenda which includes an extensive overview of the planning process and a link to the webcast.

Planning process is “critical” 

Urban water suppliers in California are required to adopt and submit Urban Water Management Plans every five years. The Water Authority’s 2020 plan will include information on multiple subjects, including a baseline demand forecast, water-use efficiency savings, imported and local water supplies, a supply reliability assessment, scenario planning, and a shortage contingency analysis.

The Water Authority started the planning process in January 2019 by coordinating with its 24 member agencies to create a long-range baseline water demand forecast.

“This planning process is a critical part of meeting the long-range water supply needs of the San Diego region for both normal and dry year weather conditions,” said Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the Water Authority. “As San Diego faces increasingly unpredictable climate patterns, new state planning requirements will prepare the Water Authority for rare scenarios to continue to be a reliable and dependable wholesale water supplier to the region.”

Urban Water Management Plan elements

Through careful planning and the implementation of a water portfolio approach, the agency has increased the region’s water supply reliability through diversification and innovation.

A draft of the 2020 plan is expected to be released to the Water Authority Board of Directors and the public in January 2021 for a 60-day public comment period. The Board is expected to consider adoption of the final plan in April 2021. The 2020 plans must be submitted to the state by July 1, 2021.

Basic elements of Urban Water Management Plans include:

  • Assessment of the reliability of water supply sources over a 20-year planning time frame
  • Description of demand management measures and a water shortage contingency plan
  • Discussion of the development of imported and local water supplies

New state planning requirements

The California Urban Water Management Planning Act is a part of the California Water Code and requires urban water suppliers in the state to adopt and submit an updated plan to the state Department of Water Resources every 5 years.

State legislation passed in 2018 established new requirements for urban water management plans, which now must include a water shortage contingency plan and drought risk assessment methodology that compares available water supplies with projected water demands. Under these requirements, water suppliers must now plan for a dry period that lasts for five consecutive years, an increase from the previous requirement of three years.

Urban water suppliers are defined as agencies that provide water for municipal purposes to more than 3,000 customers or supply more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually. The Water Authority and the majority of its member agencies fit this definition.

Efficiencies Lower Long-Term Water Demand Forecast for San Diego Region

Updated water-use projections for the San Diego region through 2040 are substantially lower than earlier forecasts due to efficiencies that have become standard practice at homes and businesses countywide.

That’s good news because it signals the potential for lower spending on water supply development and delivery in coming decades compared to previous forecasts.

The revised demand forecast by the San Diego County Water Authority also highlights how the region continues to align with state mandates for water-use efficiency even after nearly three decades of significant savings. Per capita potable water use in the Water Authority’s service area declined nearly 50 percent between fiscal years 1990 and 2017.

Changing Water-Use Habits Prompt ‘Reset’

Project water demands in San Diego County based on normal year conditions. Graphic: Water Authority

Project water demands in San Diego County based on normal-year conditions. Graphic: Water Authority

Revisions to the region’s water demand forecast were designed to align the Water Authority’s planning document with current water-use trends. Through the Urban Water Management Plan, the agency updates demand forecasts every five years, with the next comprehensive update in 2020.

However, emergency state regulations related to the 2012-2016 drought combined with the ongoing transformation of the landscaping market toward low-water-use designs and other factors significantly lowered water use between the formal five-year planning periods. That change prompted the interim demand “reset” by the region’s water wholesaler.

Instead of projecting 588,000 acre-feet of demand in 2020, the Water Authority now anticipates demand will be at 537,000 acre-feet – a reduction of approximately 9 percent. Projections through 2040 follow suit, so that annual demand is projected to be 655,000 acre-feet at the far end of the Water Authority’s planning horizon instead of 719,000 acre-feet.

“We wanted the forecast to reflect current conditions and demand levels, and we also wanted to have an inclusive process for receiving input from our member agencies,” said Tim Bombardier, principal water resources specialist for the Water Authority. “The net effect is that the interim demand forecast reset shifts the entire line down by about 60,000 acre-feet for the entire 2020 to 2040 planning horizon.”

The demand reset is intended as a provisional update, and a comprehensive update of the forecast will coincide with preparation of the Water Authority’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan. Decreased demands change the amount of supplies necessary in future years, an issue the Water Authority will assess in detail when developing the 2020 plan. That process will start in late 2018.