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Low water conditions reveal the light-colored rink traces along the rock-wall shoreline at Lake Mead, showing the decreased water level from years of drought conditions in the Colorado River basin. Innovative water sharing agreements can help to mitigate this. Photo: Christopher Clark / U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Reclamation

Water Agencies Evolving to Address Changing Realities

California water agencies including the San Diego County Water Authority are exploring ways to better manage sporadic periods of abundant rainfall — part of a larger effort to meet the ever-changing realities they face logistically and economically.

Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham recently discussed the evolution of regional water management on the Southern California Water Dialogue. The Water Dialogues are a monthly forum exploring water-related issues of regional interest.

The backdrop for the discussion is what many call “climate whiplash” — for instance, when three years of record drought from 2020 to 2022 were followed by abnormally high rainfall in 2023. In the future, California could experience shorter but more extreme wet seasons between periods of drought.

View the webinar here.

Creative portfolio approach to water management

At the Water Authority — the agency responsible for long-term water planning in San Diego County — Denham said the lack of regular rainfall and little access to groundwater has forced the Water Authority to be more creative than most water agencies in securing a safe, reliable water supply.

“We embarked upon a 20-to-30-year process to diversify the Water Authority’s supply portfolio. Our board directed a portfolio approach to ensure that we had not only sufficient supplies but also made significant investments in infrastructure,” explained Denham.

“We’ve adopted cutting-edge conservation and techniques. We’ve sponsored legislation at the state level. And we’re at the forefront of many water use efficiency programs,” said Denham.

With those investments and actions as the foundation, the time is right to set a vision for the coming decades. “The future of water in Southern California — of course, reuse is going to be a big component of it — but I do believe a lot of it is going to be sharing resources and developing partnerships,” Denham said.

Advancing long-term water-sharing partnerships

Top (L to R): Mel Katz, chair SDCWA Board; Jim Madaffer, Vice Chair Colorado River Board of CA and SDCWA Board member; Gloria Cordero, MWD’s representative to the Colorado River Board; Adan Ortega, chair MWD Board; J.B. Hamby, Chair Colorado River Board of CA. Bottom (L To R): Dan Denham, SDCWA General Manager; Camille Touton, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Adel Hagekhalil, MWD General Manager; Jamie Asbury, Imperial Irrigation District General Manager. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Signing the historic agreement: Top (L to R): Mel Katz, chair SDCWA Board; Jim Madaffer, Vice Chair Colorado River Board of CA and SDCWA Board member; Gloria Cordero, MWD’s representative to the Colorado River Board; Adan Ortega, chair MWD Board; J.B. Hamby, Chair Colorado River Board of CA. Bottom (L To R): Dan Denham, SDCWA General Manager; Camille Touton, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Adel Hagekhalil, MWD General Manager; Jamie Asbury, Imperial Irrigation District General Manager. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Denham said investing in a long-term partnership with the Imperial Irrigation District in a water conservation agreement has proved key. “Those types of partnerships have continued and had been successful over the past 20 years,” said Denham.

“This is what our diversification looks like. This is 25 years’ worth of investment in resiliency, transitioning us from an imported water agency with one source of supply to where we’re at today with a really diverse resource mix,” said Denham.

Denham says in addition to maximizing reuse, sharing resources and developing partnerships to share those resources will become vital. The Water Authority signed a landmark agreement with the Metropolitan Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District in late 2023.

“What we were able to do was take advantage of those high runoff years in Northern California, bringing that State Water Project water down to San Diego and leaving some of our Colorado River conserved water in Lake Mead – 50,000-acre feet – which raised the reservoir by six inches. It could not have been done without the partnership that we have in relationships developed over time with the Metropolitan Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District. I look towards more of this to the future,” said Denham.

Flexibility to optimize water resources

QSA-Colorado River-modeling framework-USBR

In October 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, State of California and U.S. Department of the Interior completed a historic set of agreements to conserve and transfer Colorado River water.

While planning for drought is necessary, it’s also necessary to devise a plan flexible enough to take advantage of high-runoff years.

“What do you do in those high runoff years, in those years of abundance? Some of that speaks to storage,” explained Denham. “The Water Authority has increased its largest surface water storage reservoir. It’s doubled in size. But the Water Authority — like others in the Metropolitan Water District service area in California, is realizing that those surface water storage reservoirs are pretty full.

“What does that speak to next? Flexibility, and the sharing of resources. If our reservoirs are full, or we don’t have the demands for the investments that we’ve made, whether it’s in the Colorado River supplies or the Carlsbad desalination plant, perhaps there’s another partner in Southern California or in the Lower Colorado River Basin that we can exchange supplies with.

“What I mean by that is we do have supplies that can be managed in a different way,” said Denham.

Established in 1998, the Water Dialogue explores the common interests among Southern California water agencies, environmental organizations, and public interest organizations, and serves as a clearinghouse and advocate for projects, activities, and processes that will improve the quality and reliability of Southern California’s water supply.

The Water Dialogue represents members including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Sierra Club, West Basin Municipal Water District, Central Basin Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Irvine Ranch Water District, Trabuco Canyon Water District, Southern California Water Coalition, Atwater Consulting Group, Jacobs and Caltech/JPL/NASA.

 

California Set to Become 2nd State to OK Rules for Turning Wastewater Into Drinking

When a toilet is flushed in California, the water can end up in a lot of places — the ice in a skating rink, the manufactured snow on ski slopes, in pipes providing irrigation for farmland. And — coming soon — in your drinking glass.

(L to R) Chuck Greely, CWEA president; Dan Denham, Water Authority General Manager; Mel Katz, Water Authority Board of Directors chairman; and Sue Mosburg, executive director of CA-NV-AWWA, with the Advanced Water Treatment Champion award at the November Board of Directors meeting. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority leadership in training

Water Authority Recognized For Leadership In Training Industry Professionals

The California Water Environment Association (CWEA) and the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association (CA-NV AWWA) recognized the San Diego County Water Authority’s leadership and support of setting training standards and establishing training programs for water and wastewater industry professionals.

Chuck Greely, president of CWEA, and Sue Mosburg, executive director of CA-NV-AWWA, presented the Advanced Water Treatment Champion award at the November Board of Directors meeting.

“Your involvement from the very beginning of the Advanced Water Treatment Operator Certification program has allowed CWAA and California-Nevada AWWA to train and certify hundreds of California’s best operators, ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to produce the cleanest water possible,” said Greely.

“Thank you for what you’ve done in California. Thank you for bringing the water operator professional to the next level,” added Mosburg.

To date, 60 water industry professionals have completed the AWTO training and received certification.

Training Opens Career Opportunities In Water Reuse Field

The Advanced Water Treatment Champion award presented to the San Diego County Water Authority for its leadership in developing the Advanced Water Treatment Operator training certificate. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority leadership in training

The Advanced Water Treatment Champion award presented to the San Diego County Water Authority for its leadership in developing the Advanced Water Treatment Operator training certificate. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Prompted by calls in 2014 from water utilities, water professionals and the California State Water Board, a diverse set of stakeholders and experts including the Water Authority contributed their perspectives on the development of the certification. They were supported by CWEA and CA-NV AWWA staff and experts in exam development. Observers from the California State Water Board participated throughout.

Over 100 volunteers from CA-NV AWWA and CWEA were involved in planning, subject matter expert workshops, exam development, marketing and administering the new program. After four years, the Advanced Water Treatment Operator™ (AWTO®) certification was launched in 2020.

The Future of Water is Now

AWTO certification allows water and wastewater operators to demonstrate their advanced knowledge and qualify for new career opportunities at high-tech water reuse facilities. As California and Nevada expand water reuse, AWT operators are expected to be in high demand. There are currently 11 advanced water treatment facilities permitted and operating in California. Seven more are currently awaiting approval in the State of California’s permitting process.

Water and wastewater operators can get ready for these new career opportunities by getting AWTO certified today.

“As more potable reuse facilities start up in San Diego and across the state, this is a watershed moment in California history. We are securing water supplies for generations to come,” said Greely.

“We are well into the next decade of water and wastewater operations, and everyone in our industry plays an important role leading the way toward sustainability,” said Mosburg. “We are building the future now. We need this new supply and a new way of thinking about water before the next drought hits.”

Opinion: This Water Project is Expensive, Wasteful and Ecologically Damaging. Why is It Being Fast-Tracked?

Noah Cross, the sinister plutocrat of the movie
“Chinatown,” remarked that “politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

He might have added public works projects to that list: If they get talked about long enough, sometimes they acquire the image of inevitability. That seems to be the case with the Sites Reservoir, a water project in the western Sacramento Valley that originated during the Eisenhower administration.

Bureau of Reclamation Invests in Reuse, Desal Projects

The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced the selection of 31 planning projects to receive more than $28 million in appropriated funding to support potential new water reuse and desalination projects.

The 31 projects are in California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah. The projects also bring a cost-share contribution of $64.7 million, bringing the total investment of $93.7 million.

East County Advanced Water Purification Program Awarded $2M Grant from San Diego River Conservancy

The East County Advanced Water Purification Program has been awarded a $2 million grant from the San Diego River Conservancy.

The California State Budget (FY 2022-23) appropriated the $2 million grant to the San Diego River Conservancy for the benefit of the East County AWP Joint Powers Authority.

Joint Venture Inked for ‘Landmark’ Southern California Water Reuse Program

A joint venture of AECOM and Brown and Caldwell (AECOM-BC Team) has been chosen to provide program and project management support and engineering design services for the Pure Water Southern California program, one of the largest water reuse programs in the world.

Once complete, the Manchester Avenue Recycled Water Project will reduce demand for imported potable water by more than 10 million gallons every year. Photo: Joe Jensen, Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Water Recycling Projects Expanding in San Diego County

A proactive approach to developing diversified water sources, including water recycling projects and conservation efforts, are helping the San Diego region weather the current drought.

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District is working on multiple projects to expand the use of recycled water. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded the North San Diego Water Reuse Coalition, led by OMWD, $17.8 million in August for the development of recycled water infrastructure in North County.

Combined with the $6.1 million the federal agency granted to the coalition in 2021, up to $23.9 million will help cover costs for work performed on water reclamation and reuse projects through 2025. The coalition consists of nine water and wastewater agencies coordinating recycled water efforts across jurisdictional boundaries.

“Our board is proud to be a water district that consistently innovates to reduce project costs,” said OMWD Board Director Neal Meyers. “We constantly develop new funding partnerships, and we aggressively pursue grant funds to help build our vital infrastructure projects at the lowest possible cost to our ratepayers.”

Recent construction of advanced water treatment facilities at the San Elijo Water Reclamation Facility allows for increased recycled water production using high-salinity influent. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District water supply development

Recent construction of advanced water treatment facilities at the San Elijo Water Reclamation Facility allows for increased recycled water production. Photo: Courtesy SEJPA

Regional Recycled Water Project

The Regional Recycled Water Project will increase the capacity and connectivity of the recycled water storage and distribution systems of the coalition members and maximize reuse of available wastewater supplies.

To do this, the project will replace potable water uses with recycled water components, convert facilities to recycled water service, connect discrete recycled water systems to one another, increase recycled water storage capacity, and distribute recycled water to effectively meet recycled water demands.

Maximizing water reuse, increasing local supply

Project objectives include optimizing available wastewater resources to help offset demands for imported potable water; proactively planning for facilities to meet demands for existing and planned growth in member service areas; combining resources and working together to maximize water reuse; and increasing water supply availability, reliability, and sustainability.

When all long-term project elements are completed, North San Diego County will gain approximately 41 million gallons per day of recycled water and potable reuse water.

Manchester Avenue project underway in Encinitas

Once complete, the Manchester Avenue Recycled Water Project will reduce demand for imported potable water by more than 10 million gallons every year. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District water supply development

Once complete, the Manchester Avenue Recycled Water Project will reduce demand for imported potable water by more than 10 million gallons every year. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Work began on OMWD’s Manchester Avenue Recycled Water Project in summer of 2022. As of October 1, more than half of the total 6,884 feet of recycled water pipeline has been installed. Once complete, irrigation customers connecting to the pipeline will reduce demand for imported potable water by more than 10 million gallons every year.

(Editor’s note: The Olivenhain Municipal Water District  is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Helix Water District Gets $18 Million Loan for Water Reuse Projects

The Helix Water District has received an $18 million loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support the Drinking Water Reliability Project. Helix will use the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA loan, to increase the region’s drinking water resiliency by expanding water reuse opportunities and reducing the reliance on imported water.

Helix Water District-WIFIA loan-EPA-Water reuse

Helix Water District Gets $18 Million Loan for Water Reuse Projects

The Helix Water District has received an $18 million loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support the Drinking Water Reliability Project. Helix will use the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA loan, to increase the region’s drinking water resiliency by expanding water reuse opportunities and reducing the reliance on imported water.

The WIFIA loan will help fund infrastructure improvements for the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, pump station upgrades and cast-iron pipeline replacement throughout the district.

Developing new drought-proof water supply

“In California, we are purifying recycled water and ocean water to replace the water that nature used to provide,” said Helix Water District Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg. “The only way we can afford to keep rates as low as we can and develop these new projects is through collaboration – multiple agencies working together and securing capital from multiple funding sources. We are partnering with neighboring agencies to develop a new, drought-proof water supply and we are so pleased that the EPA selected our project for funding.”

$18 million loan helps recycled water efforts

Specifically, Helix Water District will modernize existing pump stations, conveyance infrastructure, and distribution pipelines as well as install an aeration system in Lake Jennings to meet state surface water requirements.

By completing the project, Helix Water District will replace 30% of its water needs that are currently met by regional sources with an alternative source of purified water conveyed from the East County AWP, which received a separate WIFIA loan. This project also supports California’s Title 22 “Pure Water” objective to increase use of recycled water by at least 2 million-acre-feet per year by 2030.

Scheduled to be complete in 2026, the East County AWP will generate up to 11.5 million gallons per day of purified water— meeting approximately 30% of current drinking water demands for East San Diego County residents and businesses.

As a result of the WIFIA program’s flexibility and competitive rates, Helix Water District will save approximately $3.2 million by financing with a WIFIA loan. Construction and operation are estimated to create nearly 400 jobs.

“Future of water in the West”

“Helix Water District’s project represents the future of water in the West,” said EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Bruno Pigott. “EPA is proud to help finance these infrastructure upgrades that will increase water reuse and help secure reliable safe drinking water for generations to come.”

Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan and guarantee program administered by EPA. The WIFIA program’s aim is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects.

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District and the Padre Dam Municipal Water District are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region. Water agencies in north San Diego County also received federal funds recently to support water recycling projects.)