Board Approves Next Phase of Regional Water Conveyance System Study

November 19, 2020 – The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.

The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County.

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.

Quality of Life Dashboard for San Diego County Highlights Water Use

Water use in the San Diego region was one of the positive trends in the 2020 Quality of Life Dashboard report released today by the Equinox Project. The Quality of Life Dashboard measures and benchmarks environmental and economic trends throughout the region. Half of the 16 indicators used to measure San Diego County’s quality of life were either positive or neutral in 2019.

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La Niña and California’s New Water Year

It’s that time of the year in California, when water managers, climatologists and meteorologists look at the factors that determine what the winter will bring during Water Year 2020-21 (October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said that La Niña conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, “with an approximately 85% chance of La Niña lasting through the winter.” Forecasters currently think this La Niña will be on the stronger side. For California, those conditions typically mean a drier winter, with increasingly dry conditions heading into 2021.

Fortunately for the San Diego region, any impacts from La Niña will be lessened because of the region’s development of a diversified water supply portfolio. Following a record number of acres burned from wildfires in 2020, La Niña would only increase fire danger.

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La Niña continues in the tropical Pacific, with an approximately 85% chance of lasting through the winter, according to NOAA’s October 2020 La Niña update. Graphic: NOAA

Water Year 2020

But, whether the forecasts come to fruition, and what that means for California’s water supply, won’t be fully known until next spring. What we know now is that the water year that just ended (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020) varied across the state.

While Northern California was mostly dry, parts of Southern California experienced above average precipitation, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The agency said that the water year ended below average and pointed to the impact of climate change on the California’s water supply.

Impacts of climate change

“California is experiencing the impacts of climate change with devastating wildfires, record temperatures, variability in precipitation, and a smaller snowpack,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “We must continue to invest in our infrastructure to prepare the state to cope with more extreme weather for the state’s needs today and in the future.”

For Water Year 2020, a lack of precipitation resulted in a snowpack of just 50% of average on April 1, as measured by the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program, making it the 10th smallest snowpack in California since 1950, according to the DWR. California’s reservoirs received just a third of the water runoff from precipitation and snowmelt that they did during the same time period a year ago.

The wet season got off to a slow start, but a series of storms in late November and early December pushed 2019 precipitation to near or above average in central and southern California, according to Goldy Herbon, San Diego County Water Authority senior water resources specialist.

Driest February on record

“The wet start didn’t last with dry conditions taking hold over most of the state in January, and then most of California experienced its driest February on record,” said Herbon.

While precipitation picked up in March 2020 for Southern California, statewide snowpack in mid-March was only 38% of average.

“The dry north/wet south precipitation pattern continued in March and April, with some locations in Southern California setting many daily precipitation records, San Diego included, as northern California precipitation levels remained below average,” said Herbon.

Water supplies in “excellent shape”

Despite the below average year in northern California, Herbon said statewide water supplies are in “excellent shape” thanks to above average precipitation the previous year and good reservoir storage. DWR reports that statewide reservoir storage through the end of September 2020 was projected to be 93% of average.

In the San Diego region, a wet spring boosted rainfall totals to near or above normal.

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Regional precipitation during Water Year 2020. Graphic: National Weather Service San Diego

Pure Water Oceanside Gets $69 Million Loan

Oceanside has been awarded a $69 million loan to help finance the innovative Pure Water project that broke ground with a ceremony at the San Luis Rey Valley site in February.

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation loan from the federal Environmental Protection Agency will cover nearly half of the project’s $158 million costs, city officials said. The 1.2 percent interest rate is expected to save an estimated $24 million over typical market financing costs.

Oceanside’s Plan to Recycle Water Gets a Boost From the EPA

Oceanside’s major water reclamation project is getting a financial injection from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is loaning Oceanside nearly $70 million to help finance the city’s water reuse plans. The San Diego County city currently imports most of its water from the Sacramento Bay-Delta and the Colorado River.

The federal loan for the $158 million project will ultimately help Oceanside generate three to five million gallons of drinking water a day.

The Water Authority is Resurrecting its Pipe Dream – Again

After almost 80 years of suckling the proverbial teat that brings fresh water from the Colorado River and Sierra Nevadas to San Diego, the local water manager is hatching a plan to unlatch.

CA Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot on the Governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio

Water is central to nearly everything we value in California. Healthy communities, economies, farms, ecosystems and cultural traditions depend on steady supplies of safe water. Those values are increasingly at risk as California confronts more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, overdrafted groundwater basins, aging infrastructure and other challenges magnified by climate change.

Poseidon’s Desalination Plan for Huntington Beach Delayed Again

After years of bureaucratic hurdles and increasing regulatory requirements, Poseidon Water was dealt yet another delay Friday, Aug. 7, in its pursuit of a controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach.  The Regional Water Quality Control Board concluded three days of hearings on the project’s next permit by telling Poseidon it must return with a more robust, more detailed mitigation plan to offset the environmental damage the project will cause.

Water Officials Push Back Decision on Huntington Beach Desal Project Yet Again

State regional water officials have again delayed a decision on a controversial seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach, instead placing further requirements on the project’s company to reckon with the facility’s anticipated environmental damage.