As the current drought stretches into a third year, the San Diego County Water Authority is providing water saving tips as part of a drought survival kit to San Diegans. San Diegans have learned how to conserve water, but there is always more we can do. Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Efren Lopez joined CBS 8 Anchor/Reporter Carlo Cecchetto on the news program “The Four” to discuss Gov. Newsom’s new water portfolio strategy and offer additional ways San Diegans can reduce water use.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today adopted a $1.7 billion budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 – a 0% change from the current two-year budget – and approved water rates and charges for 2022, following a public hearing.
The all-in rate, which is a blend of fixed and variable rates, will rise by 3.6% for treated water and 3.3% for untreated water in calendar year 2022, due to more rate increases by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, continued payments for past investments in supply reliability, and inflationary pressures on energy, chemicals, and construction materials. Actual water bills will vary based on customers’ water use, along with factors unique to their local retail water agencies.
“I’m proud of this budget and rates package in an era of unprecedented challenges,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “We have contained costs while benefitting from strategic investments in water supply reliability that protect the region’s $253 billion economy and 3.3 million residents from statewide drought conditions. This achievement is only possible due to collaboration with our member agencies, strategic guidance from the Board, and the dedication of agency staff.”
More than 90% of the two-year budget is for buying and treating water or building and financing infrastructure. Seven percent of the budget for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023 funds the Water Authority’s operating departments. The budget increase for those departments is 2%, or $1.9 million, compared to the current two-year budget.
Key initiatives during next two-year budget cycle
- Long-term planning – The Water Authority’s Long-Range Financing Plan and the Water Facilities Master Plan will be prioritized. Both are critical documents for projecting the Water Authority’s financial future and providing the Board with flexibility. Phase B of the Regional Conveyance System Study will conclude, and the Board will determine whether to proceed. Another focus is developing water storage capacity in Lake Mead to provide additional drought resilience for San Diego County and other parts of the Colorado River Basin.
- Controlling costs – The budget includes the elimination of seven staff positions, along with a reduction in outside services and minimizing travel. In addition, equipment replacement was evaluated for deferrals, minimizing the budget impact of day-to-day operations. As always, the budget is partly the function of water sales and water rates, which are both trending upward.
- Capital improvements – The Water Authority’s Capital Improvement Program is the cornerstone of the agency’s efforts to ensure that regional water delivery and treatment systems continue to meet a variety of ever-changing demands. The agency will move forward on the highest-priority asset management projects, along with detailed seismic, hydraulic and cavitation analysis. Staff also will continue to enhance security systems for physical and cyber assets – a responsibility that grows as potential threats continue to expand.
- Collaborating with member agencies – Water Authority staff in every department work closely with member agencies to support local efforts, from outreach and advocacy to budget and rate development – and those efforts will continue to be a priority. There are opportunities for collaboration both in joint projects and joint policy issues, such as advocating for local decision-making about drought investments and responses.
- Communicating with stakeholders – Whether it be in the state Capitol or local chambers of commerce, the Water Authority will continue to share the region’s water story through a full range of engagement tools and creative tactics.
Although the Water Authority’s budget spans two fiscal years, the agency sets rates annually to manage changing conditions more effectively. The Water Authority developed its 2022 water rates in conjunction with an independent cost-of-service study to ensure rates and charges comply with state law, legal requirements, cost-of-service standards, and Board policies.
Collaboration with member agencies
The Water Authority also worked closely with its member agencies to keep the proposed rates and charges at the low end of earlier projections.
In 2022, the Water Authority will charge its 24 member agencies an all-in rate of $1,523 per acre-foot for untreated water, or $49 more per acre-foot than they currently pay. Charges would be $1,833 per acre-foot for treated water, or $64 more per acre-foot than in 2021. (Note: An acre-foot is about 325,900 gallons, enough to serve the annual needs of 2.5 typical four-person households in San Diego County.)
The Water Authority’s overall rate increase is driven by multiple factors, including rising costs from its wholesale water provider, MWD. MWD increased its rates, including the amount it charges to transport the Water Authority’s lowest cost regional supply – high-priority, independent supplies from the Colorado River. Overall, MWD’s rates and charges for the Water Authority in 2022 will increase 3.9%.
The water rates for calendar year 2022 include strategic withdrawals from the Rate Stabilization Fund. To reduce 2022 rate increases by approximately $65 per acre-foot, the Water Authority plans to draw $25 million from the agency’s Rate Stabilization Fund. The fund was created in 1990 to help avoid rate spikes, especially those driven by reduced water sales. The rate proposal also includes strategic management of the Water Authority debt portfolio resulting in $130 million in net present value savings from several refundings.
The 2022 rates ensure debt-coverage ratios that maintain the Water Authority’s strong credit ratings and minimize the cost of borrowing money for construction projects, an approach that saves ratepayers money over the long run. The Water Authority has senior lien credit ratings of AAA from Standard & Poor’s, AA+ from Fitch ratings and Aa2 from Moody’s.
For more information about the Water Authority’s 2022 and 2023 budget, and 2022 rates, go to pages 58 and 69 in the June Board packet.
The San Diego County Water Authority announced June 21 that the region is protected from drought impacts this summer, and through 2045, despite continued hot and dry conditions.
Statewide drought conditions are highlighting the value of regionally and locally controlled water supplies in San Diego County. No shortages or regional water-use mandates are in the forecast, the result of three decades of strategic investments that create an aquatic safety net for San Diego County’s $253 billion economy and quality of life for 3.3 million residents.
At the same time, Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher asked residents to continue embracing water-use efficiency practices that have become part of the regional ethic. Simple but important steps include turning off the faucet while brushing teeth, fixing irrigation system leaks, and using hoses with automatic shut-off nozzles.
“Thank you San Diegans for everything you have done to make sure that we have enough water to meet the region’s needs now and for decades into the future,” said Croucher. “You have invested through your water bills and your water-smart practices, and those efforts are paying off in tangible ways. The key this summer is to stay water-smart.”
Diversified water supply portfolio
Key government, agriculture, business, and science leaders joined Croucher in thanking residents for their efforts, encouraging continued water-use efficiency, and marking the region’s progress over the past 30 years.
In the early 1990s, the county’s economy was crippled by drought, suffering 13 straight months of 31% supply cutbacks from the Water Authority’s wholesale water provider, the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which controlled almost all of San Diego County’s water.
Today, the picture is much different: The region’s diversified water supply portfolio includes highly reliable, locally controlled and drought-proof supplies from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the nation’s largest conservation-and-transfer agreement, which provides high-priority, low-cost water from the Colorado River. The combination offers significant protection against droughts and other emergencies so that the Water Authority’s newly adopted 2020 Urban Water Management Plan shows San Diego County will continue to have sufficient water supplies through the 2045 planning horizon, even during multiple dry years.
Drought-Safe “for the long haul”
“There’s no way around it: Our region’s economy runs on water – brewing, tourism, biotech, defense, farming and so many other key pieces of our economic engine require safe, reliable water supplies to function,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We look to the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to provide the fundamental water resources that keep us strong – not just for today, but for the long-haul.”
Pure Water San Diego
The region’s multi-faceted water portfolio strategy includes local projects such as Pure Water San Diego, the next major increment of water supply for the county. The City of San Diego expects its project to start producing 30 million gallons per day of drinking water in the next few years. By 2035, Pure Water will provide nearly half of the City of San Diego’s water supply using proven water purification technology to clean recycled water and produce safe, high-quality drinking water.
“By helping reduce the impacts of statewide drought on our communities and ensuring supply reliability, Pure Water is an investment that will create a more sustainable future for all of us,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “Our changing climate is challenging us to develop new, creative solutions. Thanks to our long history of regional collaboration and innovation, we can say with confidence that San Diego is up to the test.”
Regional water use cut by 50% since 1990s
San Diego County ratepayers have conserved more than 1 million acre-feet of water over the past three decades, and per capita water use across the region has decreased nearly 50% since the devastating drought of the early 1990s.
Widespread adoption of water-efficiency measures were not the only result of that drought. In fact, the biotech industry advocacy group Biocom California was founded in San Diego to help ensure that the Water Authority would never again risk the region’s economy by over-dependence on a single source of water. Today, Biocom California works on behalf of more than 1,400 members to drive public policy, build a network of industry leaders, create access to capital, introduce cutting-edge workforce development and STEM education programs, and create robust value-driven purchasing programs.
“Biocom California was founded on the issue of access to water – our members depend on reliable, constant access for sensitive research and manufacturing processes,” said Joe Panetta, president and CEO of Biocom California. “Water supply reliability and diversification in our region has given the life science industry a firm foundation and the confidence to grow and thrive.”
Agriculture industry makes “the most of every drop”
The San Diego region’s multibillion-dollar farming industry also has flourished thanks to a reliable water supply. Today, the county is among the most productive in the nation with more than 5,000 family farms, the most of any county in the United States. Innovative practices – including water-use efficiency measures – allow local farms to be productive by focusing on high-value crops such as ornamental trees and shrubs, bedding plants, succulents, and indoor plants.
“San Diego County farmers have done their part by investing heavily in water efficiency so that they can produce an amazing cornucopia of products,” said Hannah Gbeh, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “Our members are stewards not just of the land, but of the water as well. They make the most of every drop through high-efficiency irrigation systems and other strategies.”
Climate Change and water supply
The changing climate means that San Diego County will need to continue to evolve to meet the water needs of the future through continued efficiency efforts, strategic investments, and scientific advances. That’s why the Water Authority and the City of San Diego are partnering with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during and after those seasonal storms. Scripps’ Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) last year launched the Water Affiliates Group, which brings together cutting-edge science and hands-on water industry experience to enhance reservoir operations in light of the changing climate.
“It is vital that the Water Authority, the City of San Diego and our other affiliates are helping to improve modeling in ways that will continue to produce practical, real-world benefits for water managers statewide,” said Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for marine sciences at UC San Diego and director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “With continued research we can utilize the latest science to develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water resilience through improved reservoir management. This will aim to decrease the impact of dry years by improving forecasts that lead to capturing more water produced by atmospheric rivers. Applying science to action will help protect San Diego County and the rest of California from droughts, as California’s climate becomes increasingly volatile in the future.”
For more information about water supplies in the San Diego region, go to www.sdcwa.org/investments-protect-san-diego-region-from-drought/.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors April 22 authorized staff to explore opportunities to help other water districts weather an emerging drought across California.
Three decades of investments in supply reliability, along with a continued emphasis on water-use efficiency, mean the San Diego region has sufficient water supplies for multiple dry years. Those investments include high-priority conserved water from the Imperial Valley, seawater desalination, and access to the Semitropic Original Water Bank in Kern County, where the Water Authority has stored about 16,000 acre-feet of water.
The Board authorization allows Water Authority staff to assess selling, leasing, or swapping its Semitropic water with agencies that need it. Increasingly severe impacts of drought are already being felt in Central and Northern California. Any agreement recommended by staff would be brought to the Board for approval.
Innovative ideas to improve water management
“Given the extraordinarily low 5% allocation on the State Water Project and the location of our groundwater in the Central Valley, it’s a perfect time to explore mutually beneficial agreements with agencies that need more water this year,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “The Water Authority is committed to innovative ideas like this to improve water management across the arid West and at the same time benefit San Diego County ratepayers.”
This water supply and opportunity is available because in 2008 the Water Authority secured extra water for the San Diego region in preparation for future droughts. At the time, the Water Authority worked with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to swap that water for 16,000 acre-feet of MWD water stored in the Kern County water bank. Due to other water supply investments which have come on-line, the Water Authority has not needed to call on its Semitropic water.
Help for agencies during drought
Given its current water supply portfolio, Water Authority staff will look at the potential to use its stored water to help other agencies and generate revenues for the benefit of San Diego County ratepayers.
At the same time, the Water Authority continues to pursue authorization to store water supplies which are qualified for storage in Lake Mead, which is declining due to a two-decade drought in the Colorado River Basin. If the Water Authority could store water there, it would also open up the potential for other water management strategies to improve Lake Mead water levels and water supply reliability for the Basin States.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to think creatively about long-term water management even though that will mean doing new things in new ways,” said Croucher. “A fresh, collaborative approach is our best hope to act as a multi-state region to meet the needs of people, farms and the environment.”
California is facing a second consecutive dry water year. Snowpack and precipitation are below average in both the Northern Sierra and the Upper Colorado River Basin, and most California reservoirs are below their historical averages for this time of year. On March 23, the California Department of Water Resources reduced the State Water Project allocation from 10% to 5%. The only other year on record with such a low SWP allocation is 2014. Following the state’s April 1 snow survey, DWR Director Karla Nemeth declared the state’s conditions “critically dry.”
Water supply diversification strategy
Those circumstances highlight the importance of San Diego County’s supply diversification strategy that began after the drought of the early 1990s. Back then, the region was hit with 50% supply reductions because it relied almost entirely on one source. Since then, the region has added a significant new transfer of conserved agriculture water from the Imperial Valley, completed the All-American and Coachella Canal lining projects to receive conserved Colorado River water, invested in the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, and continued to embrace water-use-efficiency measures that have become a way of life in San Diego County.
The Water Authority’s draft 2020 Urban Water Management Plan shows that regional investments in a “water portfolio approach” to supply management and a sustained emphasis on water-use efficiency mean that San Diego County will continue to have sufficient water supplies through the 2045 planning horizon – so the region’s residents and economy remain safe even during multiple dry years.