Opinion: California Rejects Federal Water Proposal, Lays Out its Vision for Protecting Endangered Species and Meeting State Water Needs

California’s water policy can be complex, and—let’s be honest—often polarizing.

Water decisions frequently get distilled into unhelpful narratives of fish versus farms, north versus south, or urban versus rural. Climate change-driven droughts and flooding threats, as well as our divided political climate, compound these challenges.

We must rise above these historic conflicts by finding ways to protect our environment and build water security for communities and agriculture. We need to embrace decisions that benefit our entire state. Simply put, we have to become much more innovative, collaborative and adaptive.


Sandra L. Kerl is new General Manager of the San Diego County Water Authority

Sandra L. Kerl Appointed General Manager of San Diego County Water Authority

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors approved a contract with Sandra L. Kerl to be the new general manager of the region’s wholesale water agency, following a months-long national search. The Board approved the contract in open session during its regular monthly meeting Nov. 21 at Water Authority headquarters.

Kerl fills the position vacated by longtime General Manager Maureen Stapleton, who retired in March. She has served as the agency’s acting general manager since Stapleton’s departure, working closely with the Board to lead a staff of approximately 250 employees at offices in Kearny Mesa, Escondido, the Imperial Valley and Sacramento.

New general manager brings leadership, vision, collaborative approach

“Sandy brings an ideal mix of leadership, experience and vision to guide the Water Authority into a new decade as the agency seeks innovative solutions that benefit San Diego County and the Southwest,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “Her creativity and collaborative approach ushers in a new era of partnerships and progress that has marked her work over the past eight months.”

As acting general manager, Kerl has initiated increased engagement with the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies. She has taken a similar approach with staff, issuing the first agency-wide employee survey to help identify areas of improvement. Kerl has more than 25 years of progressively responsible experience in all aspects of municipal management, including the past decade at the Water Authority.

New era begins with Sandy Kerl as new general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority

Sandy Kerl was appointed as general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority by the Authority’s Board of Directors Nov. 21 during its regular monthly meeting. (L-to-R) San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer, General Manager Sandy Kerl, Board Secretary Christy Guerin, Board Vice Chair Gary Croucher. Photo: Water Authority

Critical work ahead to meet challenges

“I’m honored to lead an innovative, forward-thinking organization with a talented staff that continually develops creative, pioneering solutions for improving our operations and service to our 24 member agencies and their ratepayers,” said Kerl.

“We’ve made great progress diversifying our water supply portfolio to sustain our thriving regional economy, but we have critical work ahead to ensure reliability in the face of climate change and other factors,” she said. “Increasing partnerships, maintaining efficient operations and ensuring fiscal sustainability will help us meet future challenges while benefitting the region’s ratepayers.”

L to R: Water Authority Deputy General Manager Sandra Kerl, Poseidon Water CEO Carlos Riva, and former Senator Barbara Boxer share a toast at Thursday's third anniversary event at the Carlsbad desalination plant. Photo: Water Authority

L to R: Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl, Poseidon Water CEO Carlos Riva, and former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer share a toast on December 13, 2018 at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in celebration of the plant’s third anniversary. Photo: Water Authority

Kerl helped secure financing for Carlsbad Desalination Plant

During her years at the Water Authority, Kerl played a pivotal role in securing financing for the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, which started commercial operations in Carlsbad in 2015 and produces approximately 50 million gallons of water a day for the San Diego region.

Before joining the Water Authority as deputy general manager in November 2009, Kerl served as city manager of La Mesa. She received her Bachelor of Political Science from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and her Master of Business Administration from the University of Redlands.

The Water Authority hired an executive search firm to manage the recruitment and selection process. During the nationwide search, thirty-two applications were received, and six candidates interviewed by a panel of civic, business, and community stakeholders. The process included a vetting of finalists by the Water Authority’s 36-member Board of Directors, representing 24 member agencies across San Diego County.

“We applaud the Water Authority for including public input during the recruitment and hiring process for this key position in our community,” said Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “Giving stakeholders a voice in hiring Sandy Kerl is another example of the transparency and collaboration we look forward to as she leads the agency.”

Tijuana River Watershed and Imperial Beach. RE:BORDER 2019.

RE:BORDER 2019 Seeks Transborder Solutions For Water Issues

A two-day conference in San Diego and Tijuana seeks to forge regional solutions for cross-border water issues by breaking down academic, political and administrative boundaries.

The theme of RE:BORDER 2019 is “The Water We Share.” RE:BORDER is a new initiative from San Diego State University President Adela de la Torre that each year will examine a significant transborder issue of the California-Baja California border region in partnership with our Mexican university and community collaborators.

The binational conference kicks off at San Diego State University at 9 a.m. on November 25 and continues the next day at the Universidad Autónoma De Baja California (UABC) in Tijuana.

Water industry officials and elected leaders from the U.S. and Mexico will join university researchers for a series of panel discussions that explore how SDSU, UABC, and regional partners – including the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies – can contribute to innovative solutions for water-related challenges in the transborder region.


RE:BORDER 2019 is a two-day conference in San Diego and Tijuana that seeks to forge regional solutions for cross-border water issues. Graphic: San Diego State University

Water knows no borders

“When we think about water in every dimension, whether it’s the ocean, to the rivers, to the creeks across the Tijuana River Watershed, there are no borders,” said SDSU President Adela de la Torre. “The conference is a first step toward creating solutions that allow both countries to be collaborative and learn from each other.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer will deliver opening remarks at SDSU followed by a special presentation by San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel is scheduled to deliver the keynote address. State Senator Juan Vargas will close the first day of the conference.

“Water issues and challenges require collaboration on both sides of the border to reach solutions that transcend political boundaries,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continue to develop local projects and explore opportunities that benefit the region, including Mexico and the Southwest.”

Tijuana River Watershed - RE:BORDER 2019 - San Diego

The Tijuana River Watershed covers 1,750 square miles – three-fourths lies in Mexico and includes the cities of Tijuana and Tecate. Graphic: USFWS/NOAA/California State Parks/Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

Cross border water challenges and solutions

Water reuse, access to a safe water supply, and the political and administrative boundaries in the transborder region are among the topics for discussion at SDSU.

Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dan Denham is one of several panelists who will explore transborder water challenges from the perspectives of regional stakeholders such as farmers, local and state agencies and environmental groups.

Elsa Saxod, a Water Authority board member representing the City of San Diego, will participate in a panel session that looks at the binational management of the Tijuana River Watershed.

Climate change and the transborder region

Topics for Day 2 of the conference in Tijuana include climate change, water security and risks, water and food, and water and equity.

The sessions will examine how the transborder region will be affected by climate change – including greater risks of floods, landslides and wildfires – how reduced water for agriculture impacts the region, and on-going concerns about uneven access to water resources.

“Tijuana and San Diego form a region closely linked by their economies, societies and culture,” said Natanael Ramírez Angulo, director of the Faculty of Economics and International Relations at UABC. “Understanding the problems and challenges involved in the management and use of water, an essential natural resource, must be a priority not only for governments but also for society itself, and we believe that universities can provide valuable knowledge that can help generate programs and policies that help local and federal governments to be successful in addressing this issue.”

Water Policy Priorities For A Changing California

How will climate change affect California water management, and what steps should the state take to prepare for these changes? The PPIC Water Policy Center was asked by the Newsom administration to submit formal comments outlining key water policy priorities for the state—and ways to integrate actions across state agencies to implement these priorities. Our recommendations will inform the administration’s preparation of a water resilience portfolio. We address two key areas where the state can play a leading role—modernizing the water grid and protecting freshwater ecosystems.

Water Authority Board Endorses Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio

San Diego, Calif. –  The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today unanimously supported Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-10-19, directing development of a water resilience portfolio approach that meets the needs of California’s communities, economy and environment through the 21st century. That order also advanced a single-tunnel project to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, instead of the two-tunnel project favored by former Governor Jerry Brown.

The Water Authority Board made its backing of the single-tunnel proposal contingent on a project financing plan that treats San Diego County ratepayers fairly through the proper allocation of project costs by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.