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SD Water Authority Mulls New Aqueduct

Addressing the San Diego region’s limited local water supplies with innovative ideas is something the San Diego County Water Authority has become known for. Using expertise gained from decades of successful planning and projects, the Water Authority is developing strategies to reduce the future cost of water that sustains the economy and quality of life across the county.

San Diego County Water Authority-Building at night-MWD

Water Authority Prevails in Rate Litigation

The San Francisco Superior Court has ruled the San Diego County Water Authority is the prevailing party in the agency’s first two lawsuits to be heard challenging rates and charges set by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The order entitles the Water Authority to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs in those cases, in addition to a $44 million damage and interest award made earlier.

“San Diego prevailed, and the judgment not only benefits its own ratepayers but all of the nearly 19 million people in Metropolitan’s service area because enforcing cost-of-service principles serves the interests of all ratepayers,” said Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo in her Jan. 13 order, which can be appealed. The exact amount of recoverable fees will be decided later.

In light of the order, Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher reiterated the Water Authority Board’s longstanding desire to avoid litigation and find common ground with other MWD member agencies. “This ruling only enhances our determination to find an equitable resolution that will not only conclude the few issues that remain pending in court, but also help avoid future litigation as new rates and charges are being considered for 2023 and subsequent years,” he said.

Protecting water ratepayers

The Water Authority filed lawsuits between 2010 and 2018 challenging water rates and charges as they were set and imposed by MWD on San Diego County agencies and their ratepayers. After a favorable court ruling invalidating MWD’s Water Stewardship Rate on the Exchange Agreement, the Water Authority worked with MWD to try to resolve the remaining issues. The MWD Board promised to fund almost $500 million in local water supply projects in San Diego County and the Water Authority agreed to dismiss claims against MWD’s Water Stewardship Rate on supply, which is used to fund local projects under the MWD program.

“It is deeply gratifying that the court not only validated our claims but acknowledged the importance of protecting ratepayers by water agencies following the law,” Croucher said. “This week’s order makes it clear once and for all that our desire to protect San Diego ratepayers was never intended to harm MWD, its other member agencies or the ratepayers they serve. Rather, the litigation was necessary to address serious flaws in MWD’s rates that will, as the court said, ultimately benefit not only San Diego County ratepayers, but all Southern Californians.”

Rate litigation

The Water Authority’s first two rate cases – covering 2011 to 2014 rates – resulted in the court ordering an increase in the Water Authority’s preferential right to MWD water by as much as 100,000 acre-feet a year, equivalent to about twice the annual production of the $1 billion Carlsbad Desalination Project. MWD has already complied with this ruling and adjusted its records accordingly.

The court also determined that MWD must pay the Water Authority damages for illegal charges imposed on delivery of the Water Authority’s water under the Exchange Agreement. A Superior Court judge in August 2020 awarded the Water Authority $44,373,872.29 covering rates paid by San Diego County ratepayers during 2011-2014.

Water Stewardship Rate charges

San Diego County ratepayers have also avoided paying more than $45 million from 2018-2020 after MWD suspended its invalid Water Stewardship Rate charges on the Exchange Agreement. The improper charges would have cost local residents more than $500 million over the term of the Exchange Agreement. Currently, MWD owns the only pipeline that can deliver the Water Authority’s independent supply of Colorado River water to San Diego County and it sets the unregulated water rates which govern and control the delivery of water to San Diego County.

In addition, the court ruled that MWD had illegally barred the Water Authority from receiving money from MWD’s local water supply program, even though the Water Authority was still being forced to pay for it. MWD lifted the ban in response to the court’s order, and ultimately promised the nearly $500 million for water supply projects in San Diego County including the City of San Diego’s Pure Water North City Project Phase 1, East County Advanced Water Purification Project, Escondido Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis Facility and Fallbrook Groundwater Desalter Project.

The Water Authority's Water News Network won a Bronze Bernays Award from the Public Relations Society of America San Diego/Imperial Chapter.

Water Agency Outreach Efforts Honored

The San Diego County Water Authority and three of its member agencies were recognized Dec. 17 by the Public Relations Society of America San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter for outstanding work in public outreach and education efforts.

The 2020 PRSA Bernays Awards were presented for communication on a variety of platforms, all designed to inform stakeholders and ratepayers about initiatives ensuring a safe and reliable water supply. Awards were presented virtually via live Twitter feed.

The Silver Bernays Award of Merit went to the Water Authority for "Engaging Hispanics on Water Quality Issues." Photo: PRSA SD/IC

The Silver Bernays Award of Merit for “Engaging Hispanics on Water Quality Issues.” Photo: PRSA SD/IC

The Water Authority received the Silver Bernays Award of Merit for Multicultural Public Relations for “Engaging Hispanics on Water Quality Issues,” and a Bronze Award of Merit in the Research/Evaluation category for “Researching Themes for Hispanic Outreach for Water Quality.” The agency’s Water News Network received a Bronze Award of Merit in the Websites category.

Earlier this year, the Water News Network was named “Best Website” among California public agencies in the California Association of Public Information Officials EPIC Awards competition. The website was also awarded first place as “Best Public Service or Consumer Advocacy Website” in the 2020 San Diego Press Club Journalism Awards.

“During the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was more important than ever for the Water Authority to intensify its efforts to communicate with our audiences and assure them that the virus was not transmitted through the public water system and the essential work to provide a safe, reliable water supply continued without interruption,” said Denise Vedder, director of the Water Authority’s Public Affairs Department.  “In partnership with our member agencies, the Water News Network and our Hispanic outreach initiative played a key role in achieving this goal, and it is rewarding to be recognized by PRSA San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter for those results.”

Water agency outreach wins recognition

Padre Dam Municipal Water District and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside also received awards for outreach and education programs.

City of Oceanside employees Carlos Raymundo (closest) and Shawn Alonzo view the award-winning Pure Water Oceanside wall art project. Photo: City of Oceanside

Oceanside employees Carlos Raymundo (front right) and Shawn Alonzo view the Pure Water Oceanside wall art project. Photo: City of Oceanside

The City of Oceanside and NV5 Inc. recognized in three categories for Pure Water Oceanside:

Silver Award of Excellence, Campaigns: Events and Observances – Less Than Seven Days – “Pure Water Oceanside is on the Map!”

Bronze Award of Merit, Creative Tactics – “Wall Art Tells Story of Water’s Past, Present, & Future”

Bronze Award of Merit, Video – “Pure Water Oceanside Video”

“The City of Oceanside is proud to put Pure Water Oceanside on the map,” said Cari Dale, water utilities director, City of Oceanside. “Once complete, Pure Water Oceanside will provide more than 30% of Oceanside’s water supply. Our staff and consultants are dedicated to providing Oceanside with innovative solutions to water reliability and continued water reuse education.”

The City of San Diego, along with Katz & Associates, received a Silver Bernays Award of Merit in Campaigns, Events, and Observances – Less Than Seven Days for its “2020 Pure Water San Diego Virtual Contractor Expo.”

City of San Diego Director of Public Utilities Shauna Lorance welcomes viewers to the new virtual tour. Photo: City of San Diego water agency outreach

City of San Diego Director of Public Utilities Shauna Lorance welcomes viewers to the new virtual tour. Photo: City of San Diego

“Outreach remains a key element of our Pure Water program,” said Shauna Lorance, director of public utilities for the City of San Diego. “When the pandemic made in-person engagement impossible, our community outreach and project management teams rose to the challenge and implemented a successful 2020 Pure Water Virtual Contractor Expo. Providing the personal outreach to potential contractors allows the contractors to develop the best bids possible and helps ensure a successful Pure Water project.”

The Padre Dam Municipal Water District won a Bronze Award of Excellence for its 2019 Annual Report.

The cover of the award-winning Padre Dam Municipal Water District 2019 annual report. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

The award-winning Padre Dam Municipal Water District 2019 annual report. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

“Padre Dam is proud of our communications team for the great thought, creativity, and appreciation of the District’s work that is put into projects like the annual report,” said Melissa McChesney, communications manager for the Padre Dam Municipal Water District. “They do all of this in order to share with our customers the important work and services we provide to our community.”

The SCOOP SD program and Tracks PR received a Silver Bernays Award of Excellence in Campaigns: Events and Observances – Less than Seven Days, Business, and a Bronze Bernays Awards of Merit in Creative Tactics, both for Sweet Relief for Small Biz During COVID.

Litsa Tzotzolis-Water Utility Hero of the Week-Essential workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Litsa Tzotzolis, San Diego County Water Authority

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Litsa Tzotzolis, San Diego County Water Authority Public Affairs Representative, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Litsa Tzotzolis

Job/Agency: San Diego County Water Authority Public Affairs Representative

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I always wanted to work for a  governmental organization. When moving back to the U.S. in 2010, I discovered a website that promoted government jobs. I saw that the Water Authority was hiring and they were looking for someone that had my skills and I applied. Working for a governmental organization impacts the lives of others and I wanted to impact the lives of others. At the Water Authority, we provide water to people, so it is public service work.  I worked at San Diego State University for nearly four years before coming to the Water Authority. Like working for water, at the university I was able to impact the lives of students in a positive way.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

Not much, 100% of my job is done on the computer. The only thing that has changed is the way I interact with colleagues. We have moved to interacting virtually. I connect with colleagues through Microsoft Teams which I am able to train and advise them on graphic matters.

How are you keeping safe?

I’m usually always home and only go out to walk, play tennis or grocery shop. I try to exercise daily, eat home cooked meals, eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

To go visit family in Chicago, Italy and Greece.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by the San Diego County Water Authority and employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Sandra Louis-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Sandra Louis, San Diego County Water Authority

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Sandra Louis, San Diego County Water Authority Receptionist, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Sandra Louis

Job/Agency: San Diego County Water Authority Receptionist

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I just had my second baby in March 2006 and I tried to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was restless. I applied with Volt Temp Services and was sent to work in a temporary, one month job as a receptionist for the Water Authority.  My one month was extended for another six months. Then, I applied for the full-time staff receptionist position in December 2006 and got the job. So, I would say the water industry was interested in me.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

I miss my co-workers, since most of the Water Authority staff are working remotely. Our main office in Kearny Mesa is closed to the public and delivery drivers have to buzz me from the outside before dropping packages at the front door. New safety protocols are in place for staff coming to the office, including temperature checks before entering the building. One change is that all staff entering the building now have to sign-in with me at the front desk and check out when they leave. Another change is the front reception desk where I work is now surrounded by clear, plexiglass shield barriers, also part of our pandemic safety protocols.

Sandra Louis-Water Utility Hero of the Week-San Diego County Water Authority

The San Diego County Water Authority reception desk, where Sandra Louis works, is surrounded by clear, plexiglass shield barriers, part of the safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

How are you keeping safe?

Wearing my face mask, washing my hands a lot more, cleaning the work area, and checking my temperature before coming into the building.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

Spending time with my elder aunties and uncles, going to church, and going to events.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by the San Diego County Water Authority and employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Authority Seeks County Vote on Possible Exit of Fallbrook, Rainbow Districts

The San Diego County Water Authority wants county voters to weigh in on whether the Fallbrook and Rainbow water districts can detach and join an agency serving Riverside County.

The Fallbrook Public Utility District and Rainbow Municipal Water District, which together serve around 50,000 customers in North County, are seeking to detach in hopes of paying less for water for their largely rural communities.

Water reliability is vital to the region’s core industries including craft brewing. Photo: Water Authority Outreach program

Airport Ads Remind Travelers San Diego Is Brought To You By Water

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Brought to You by Water outreach and education program made its debut on advertising monitors at Lindbergh Field the day before Thanksgiving – just in time for the busy holiday travel season.

Through the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s community promotion program, the ads are expected to remain in the rotation indefinitely, reminding travelers about the importance of water reliability to the region’s quality of life. The electronic display ads are visible in multiple spots throughout baggage claim areas in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

Ads underscore important message about importance of water reliability

Water reliability is vital to the region’s core industries including craft brewing. Photo: Water Authority

The partnership between the Airport Authority and the Water Authority helps educate the region’s residents and visitors on the impact of something many take for granted – a safe and reliable water supply that sustains the region’s $220 billion economy and the quality of life of 3.3 million people.

The Water Authority is focusing on four core industries during the first phase of its Brought to You by Water program – manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and craft brewing. The initial airport ads highlight the craft beer industry, which has a $1.1 billion regional economic impact annually, and the tourism industry, which attracts 35 million visitors a year to the region.

Overall, access to reliable water supplies support $482 million per day in regional sales – the equivalent of nearly three Comic-Cons per day, according to a June report by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

In addition to the airport ads, the Brought to You by Water program has included the creation of the Water News Network, the inaugural Water Innovation and Efficiency Award, a partnership with the hotel-motel industry to promote water-use efficiency by guests, participation in numerous community outreach events, and many other efforts designed to enhance appreciation for the region’s most precious natural resource.

For more information about Brought to You by Water, go to B2UbyH2O.org.