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Summer 2023 Citizens Water Academy participants tour Olivenhain Dam. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Applications Open for Spring 2024 Citizens Water Academy 

The San Diego County Water Authority is accepting applications for the Spring 2024 Citizens Water Academy class. In three class sessions, participants will learn firsthand about critical water issues affecting the region and go behind the scenes with water planners, managers, engineers, and other staff to gain a deeper understanding of the Water Authority’s life-sustaining mission.

The application period is open from January 29 to March 1, with the class taking place in mid-May. Participants must attend all three sessions to graduate. Applications are available on the Water Authority website 

Spring 2024 Schedule: 

Session 1 – Wednesday lunch hour, May 15 via Zoom. Welcome and overview by Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham.  

Session 2 – Thursday evening, May 16. Dinner, presentations, and activities. Topic: planning for a water-resilient future.  

Session 3 – Saturday, May 18, half day. Breakfast and lunch, and behind-the-scenes tours of the Water Authority’s Control Room, Emergency Operations Center, and Olivenhain Dam and Pump Station. 

Building A Network of Water Industry Ambassadors 

Since the Citizens Water Academy was launched in 2015, nearly 800 civic leaders have participated and become water knowledge ambassadors. The Water Academy is geared toward civic and business leaders. Class participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions. They include civic and business leaders as well as elected official representatives from across the region.  

“It’s easy to take our safe, reliable supply of water for granted,” said General Manager Dan Denham. “We turn on the faucet and there’s the water, ready to be transformed into our morning cup of coffee. But how that water gets from point A to point B requires an astounding work of engineering and strategic planning. The Water Academy is all about connecting our community to this intricate world.” 

Citizens Water Academy participants learn about Operations and Maintenance over breakfast. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Citizens Water Academy participants learn about Operations and Maintenance over breakfast. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority.

Award-Winning Program 

The Citizens Water Academy launched in Fall 2014 and was honored with the Silver Bernays Mark of Excellence Award from the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2015. 

Graduates give the program top reviews, with 99% of participants saying they would recommend the Water Academy to a colleague and nearly 50% of graduates participating in the Water Authority’s alumni network.   

California’s Young ‘Water Buffalo’ JB Hamby Spurs United Colorado River Rescue, For Now

It was a rough debut. JB Hamby, 26 years old, had rocketed to the innermost circle of state and federal officials charged with saving the Colorado River from collapse. In mid-January, he was elected to chair California’s river board, representing Imperial Irrigation District, by far the biggest recipient of the overused river’s supply.

Federal officials had bluntly threatened to impose mandatory cuts across the region if huge voluntary reductions weren’t made.

But 12 days later, after contentious closed-door talks, he watched in dismay as media outlets across the U.S. published stories about six states releasing a joint plan to save the river, with only his state, California, refusing to sign on.

It was a baptism by near drowning for the youngest “water buffalo,” as negotiators of Colorado River agreements have historically called themselves. But Hamby didn’t respond angrily or publicly. Instead he wrote individual thank-you notes to top negotiators in every other state, and asked if he could meet with each to discuss mutual solutions.

Bureau of Reclamation Group Visits South Bay Water Agencies

A planning and training workshop for 100 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees in San Diego County included tours of Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District facilities. The Reclamation employees visited San Diego in September to participate in a planning training workshop.

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New California Law Bolsters Groundwater Recharge as Strategic Defense Against Climate Change

A new but little-known change in California law designating aquifers as “natural infrastructure” promises to unleash a flood of public funding for projects that increase the state’s supply of groundwater.

The change is buried in a sweeping state budget-related law, enacted in July, that also makes it easier for property owners and water managers to divert floodwater for storage underground.

The obscure, seemingly inconsequential classification of aquifers could have a far-reaching effect in California where restoring depleted aquifers has become a strategic defense against climate change — an insurance against more frequent droughts and more variable precipitation. The state leans heavily on aquifers, drawing about 40% of its water supply from the ground during an average water year and up to 60% during dry years.

More than $1 billion in state funds could become available to a wide range of projects that replenish groundwater, including flood control improvements and wetlands restoration, according to the Planning and Conservation League and the conservation nonprofit River Partners, which pushed for the designation.

New law and potential funding source

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A recent change in California law is expected to result in significantly more public funding for groundwater recharge like this state-run project, which diverted floodwater from the San Joaquin River to a Madera County ranch in winter 2023. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

“There’s no question this is a critical step,” said Judy Corbett, a board member of the league. “We’re not talking about [funding] one thing at a time anymore — flood control or recharge or improving wetlands — but now everything.”

The new law also positions local water managers and nonprofit groups to potentially tap Proposition 1 funds – a 2014 statewide bond that dedicated $7.5 billion for water projects – and a sweeping climate resilience bond that Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers are planning for the 2024 statewide ballot.

In the world of environmental policymaking, “natural infrastructure” refers to natural landscape features that provide concrete benefits to the public and to wildlife. Wetlands and floodplains, for example, can slow and retain water to reduce flooding while filtering pollutants and providing habitat for fish and water birds.

Read entire story here: www.watereducation.org/western-water/new-california-law-bolsters-groundwater-recharge-strategic-defense-against-climate

(Editor’s note: The Water Education Foundation, an impartial nonprofit that was founded in 1977 in the midst of a deep drought, has put water resource issues in California and the West in context to inspire a deep understanding of and appreciation for water.)

FIRO-Scripps-Law-Water Management

New California Law Taps Science to Improve Water Management

Legislation signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom ensures the state has the science and weather forecasting tools it needs for more flexible reservoir operations. The bill, AB 30, makes breakthrough water management technology standard for the California Department of Water Resources.

The legislation was introduced by San Diego Assemblymember Chris Ward and co-sponsored by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the San Diego County Water Authority. The bill was supported by the Water Authority’s partner, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The strategy is called forecast-informed reservoir operations, or FIRO, and it complements Gov. Newsom’s California Water Supply strategy released in August 2022 calling for more reservoir storage capacity to capture runoff from big storms, often fueled by atmospheric rivers. The governor and Legislature have already provided funding for state water managers to integrate the strategy.

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Diagram illustrating the FIRO process to develop an adaptive water control manual. Graphic courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes

FIRO-Scripps-Law-Water Management

New California Law Taps Science to Improve Water Management

Legislation signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom ensures the state has the science and weather forecasting tools it needs for more flexible reservoir operations. The bill, AB 30, makes breakthrough water management technology standard for the California Department of Water Resources.

The legislation was introduced by San Diego Assemblymember Chris Ward and co-sponsored by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the San Diego County Water Authority. The bill was supported by the Water Authority’s partner, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations strategy will help deal with drought and flood

The strategy is called forecast-informed reservoir operations, or FIRO, and it complements Gov. Newsom’s California Water Supply strategy released in August 2022 calling for more reservoir storage capacity to capture runoff from big storms, often fueled by atmospheric rivers. The governor and Legislature have already provided funding for state water managers to integrate the strategy.

“We thank Assemblymember Chris Ward for his leadership and vision in supporting next-gen water management and flood reduction efforts that will benefit residents statewide,” said Mel Katz, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors. “The legislation provides an innovative approach to help San Diego County and California thrive in the changing climate.”

Forecast-informed reservoir operations use weather predictions to advise dam operators about how much water to retain or release from reservoirs, enhancing their ability to handle whatever nature serves up while retaining as much water as possible in storage.

FIRO-Science-water management

Diagram illustrating the FIRO process to develop an adaptive water control manual. Graphic courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes

Many reservoirs in the West are strictly regulated based on historical averages of winter storms and spring runoff. Under existing rules, the highly variable rainfall from year to year is not directly considered. Complicating the problem, many current guidelines and practices were developed before satellites, radar and advanced numerical models significantly improved weather forecasts.

To address these challenges, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and elsewhere developed tools that provide weather forecasters with reliable notice of atmospheric rivers a week in advance. Advancing this research could have taken decades, but sophisticated prediction products have evolved in less than 10 years with funding by the San Diego County Water Authority and other water agencies statewide, along with state and federal support.

The Water Authority has partnered with SIO and the Scripps Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at UC San Diego, to share and support best practices in FIRO, to increase research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.

San Diego County Water Authority And its 24 Member Agencies

New California Law Taps Science to Improve Water Management

Legislation signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom ensures the state has the science and weather forecasting tools it needs for more flexible reservoir operations. The bill, AB 30, makes breakthrough water management technology standard for the California Department of Water Resources.

The legislation was introduced by San Diego Assemblymember Chris Ward and co-sponsored by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the San Diego County Water Authority. The bill was supported by the Water Authority’s partner, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The strategy is called forecast-informed reservoir operations, or FIRO, and it complements Gov. Newsom’s California Water Supply strategy released in August 2022 calling for more reservoir storage capacity to capture runoff from big storms, often fueled by atmospheric rivers. The governor and Legislature have already provided funding for state water managers to integrate the strategy.

“We thank Assemblymember Chris Ward for his leadership and vision in supporting next-gen water management and flood reduction efforts that will benefit residents statewide,” said Mel Katz, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors. “The legislation provides an innovative approach to help San Diego County and California thrive in the changing climate.”

Forecast-informed reservoir operations use weather predictions to advise dam operators about how much water to retain or release from reservoirs, enhancing their ability to handle whatever nature serves up while retaining as much water as possible in storage.

Many reservoirs in the West are strictly regulated based on historical averages of winter storms and spring runoff. Under existing rules, the highly variable rainfall from year to year is not directly considered. Complicating the problem, many current guidelines and practices were developed before satellites, radar and advanced numerical models significantly improved weather forecasts.

To address these challenges, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and elsewhere developed tools that provide weather forecasters with reliable notice of atmospheric rivers a week in advance. Advancing this research could have taken decades, but sophisticated prediction products have evolved in less than 10 years with funding by the San Diego County Water Authority and other water agencies statewide, along with state and federal support.

The Water Authority has partnered with SIO and the Scripps Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at UC San Diego, to share and support best practices in FIRO, to increase research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability

Tish Berge and Kelley Gage Appointed to Key Leadership Positions

San Diego County Water Authority executives Tish Berge and Kelley Gage were promoted Monday by General Manager Dan Denham. Berge moves from assistant general manager to deputy general manager after two years in her prior post. Gage, who served as director of water resources the past five years, is now assistant general manager.

San Diego County Water Authority And its 24 Member Agencies

Tish Berge and Kelley Gage Appointed to Key Leadership Positions

San Diego County Water Authority executives Tish Berge and Kelley Gage were promoted Monday by General Manager Dan Denham. Berge moves from assistant general manager to deputy general manager after two years in her prior post. Gage, who served as director of water resources the past five years, is now assistant general manager.

Berge oversees finance, government relations, public affairs, administrative services, and human resources at the Water Authority.

Deputy General Manager Tish Berge

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San Diego County Water Authority Deputy General Manager Tish Berge. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Assistant General Manager Kelley Gage

Gage oversees the water resources, engineering, and operations & maintenance departments.

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San Diego County Water Authority Assistant General Manager Kelley Gage. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Depth of knowledge and experience

“Tish and Kelley are veteran leaders in the water industry who bring a depth of knowledge and experience that will continue to benefit the region and our retail member agencies,” said Denham.  “We have an exceptional leadership team at the Water Authority, with Tish and Kelley at the forefront.”

Berge joined the Water Authority as assistant general manager in February 2021, and since joining she secured $18.5 million in state funding and negotiated project labor agreements and memorandums of understanding with labor. From 2017 to 2021 Berge served as general manager of the Sweetwater Authority, leading the agency to earn a “District of Distinction” award from the Special District Leadership Foundation.

Before that, Berge served as Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District’s director of administration and finance and as assistant general manager for San Elijo Joint Powers Authority. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College, and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance from the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. She is a Certified Special District Manager and Registered Professional Engineer.

Gage has been with the Water Authority for more than 19 years, working in the fields of water supply planning, environmental planning, and water and regulatory policy. She started with the agency in 2001, then rejoined the Water Authority as director of water resources in 2018. From 2015 to 2018, Gage served as the senior director of water resources at Eastern Municipal Water District. She has also worked for the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, and the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She has a bachelor’s degree in geology and environmental science from Michigan State University.

Dan Denham-Water Authority General Manager-Denham

Dan Denham Appointed San Diego County Water Authority General Manager

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors August 24 voted unanimously to appoint Dan Denham as general manager. The appointment follows the June retirement of former General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. Denham has served in several leadership capacities with the Water Authority for the past 17 years, including his most recent post as deputy general manager.

Denham has served in several leadership capacities with the Water Authority for the past 17 years, including his most recent post as deputy general manager. In that role, he oversaw the MWD and Colorado River programs, along with the Engineering, Water Resources, and Operations & Maintenance departments. Denham also continues to oversee the implementation of long-term agricultural-to-urban conserved water transfers that are among the largest in the United States. As a commissioner on the Quantification Settlement Agreement Joint Powers Authority, he leads the Water Authority’s fulfillment of environmental mitigation obligations and legislative advocacy efforts at the Salton Sea.