Standing Room Only Crowd Sounds Off About Detachment Proposal

Local residents spoke out at a packed standing room only town hall meeting last week about a proposal by the Fallbrook Public Utility District and Rainbow Municipal Water District to switch water suppliers, a change that they are reportng would save ratepayers millions of dollars.

Following years of escalating water costs from the San Diego County Water Authority, averaging 8% per year, FPUD and Rainbow are seeking to change water suppliers – through a process known as detachment – from the Water Authority.

2020 Urban Water Managment Plan

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.

At the meeting, Water Authority staff will provide an overview of the plan and share preliminary water demand projections for 2025 to 2045. Click here for more information about the Board meeting and agenda which includes an extensive overview of the planning process and a link to the webcast.

Planning process is “critical” 

Urban water suppliers in California are required to adopt and submit Urban Water Management Plans every five years. The Water Authority’s 2020 plan will include information on multiple subjects, including a baseline demand forecast, water-use efficiency savings, imported and local water supplies, a supply reliability assessment, scenario planning, and a shortage contingency analysis.

The Water Authority started the planning process in January 2019 by coordinating with its 24 member agencies to create a long-range baseline water demand forecast.

“This planning process is a critical part of meeting the long-range water supply needs of the San Diego region for both normal and dry year weather conditions,” said Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the Water Authority. “As San Diego faces increasingly unpredictable climate patterns, new state planning requirements will prepare the Water Authority for rare scenarios to continue to be a reliable and dependable wholesale water supplier to the region.”

Urban Water Management Plan elements

Through careful planning and the implementation of a water portfolio approach, the agency has increased the region’s water supply reliability through diversification and innovation.

A draft of the 2020 plan is expected to be released to the Water Authority Board of Directors and the public in January 2021 for a 60-day public comment period. The Board is expected to consider adoption of the final plan in April 2021. The 2020 plans must be submitted to the state by July 1, 2021.

Basic elements of Urban Water Management Plans include:

  • Assessment of the reliability of water supply sources over a 20-year planning time frame
  • Description of demand management measures and a water shortage contingency plan
  • Discussion of the development of imported and local water supplies

New state planning requirements

The California Urban Water Management Planning Act is a part of the California Water Code and requires urban water suppliers in the state to adopt and submit an updated plan to the state Department of Water Resources every 5 years.

State legislation passed in 2018 established new requirements for urban water management plans, which now must include a water shortage contingency plan and drought risk assessment methodology that compares available water supplies with projected water demands. Under these requirements, water suppliers must now plan for a dry period that lasts for five consecutive years, an increase from the previous requirement of three years.

Urban water suppliers are defined as agencies that provide water for municipal purposes to more than 3,000 customers or supply more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually. The Water Authority and the majority of its member agencies fit this definition.


Stimulus Funds Would Create Regional Jobs, Enhance Water Reliability

Water suppliers in San Diego County say future COVID-19 federal and state stimulus packages should include funding for shovel-ready projects that would create jobs in the region.

In a letter to members of California’s congressional delegation, a group of 13 agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority and 10 of its member agencies, and the cities of Del Mar, Oceanside and Poway, say the region’s water utilities have dozens of infrastructure projects that could be launched with an infusion of state and federal stimulus funding.

“As the water suppliers throughout San Diego County, across the state, and around the nation are confronting the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several actions that the federal government could take to provide some much-needed relief,” according to the letter dated May 31.

From replacing valves in pipelines to building water purification facilities, to developing a major pumped hydropower energy storage project for the region, the funding boost would advance efforts to enhance water reliability and increase jobs across San Diego County.

Financial stress, economic fallout from pandemic

The letter requests the following action items be supported as Congress discusses additional legislative relief packages:

  • Allow for use of federal funds to backfill for lost revenue: The largest issues that water suppliers are currently facing are the immediate budgetary impacts and the ongoing effects of lost revenues. Allowing water systems to use federal funds to fill the gap being created by lost revenue would provide significant assistance to prevent layoffs or furloughs, minimize project deferrals or delays, and help avoid other associated impacts that may have a lingering negative effect on regional economies. An analysis produced last month by the Association of American Metropolitan Water Agencies and the American Water Works Association estimated that drinking water utilities throughout the county are facing an annualized revenue loss of approximately $13.9 billion as a result of the pandemic – a sum equal to nearly 17% of the sector’s annual revenue.  We strongly encourage Congress to set aside robust funding for water utilities to help offset these fiscal losses. Otherwise, ratepayers will face escalating costs and reduced economic activity related to delayed capital investments, which will only further hinder the nation’s, state’s, and region’s economic recovery. 
  • Extend the Emergency Payroll Tax Credit to Public Entities: The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” required public employers to provide paid sick and family leave, yet the law excludes these same employers from receiving payroll tax credits made available to private employers. Extending this tax credit to local governments would help cover the costs associated with these programs.
  • Restore advance refunding for tax-exempt bonds: This action would allow flexibility for local government entities to access billions of dollars to reallocate and spend on other projects and priorities, which would be much needed during this time.
  • Aid to low-income ratepayers: COVID-19 response legislation should also include a separate component to ensure that low-income customers are able to afford to keep up with their utility bills throughout the pandemic. Without federal assistance targeted at these customers, some low-income households will fall even further behind on their bills, making it that much more difficult for them to catch up with their payments once the crisis ends.

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility

Pumped Energy Storage-WNN-June 2020-graphic

Pumped energy storage facilities are part of an integrated and sustainable energy system that includes the production, storage and distribution of clean energy.

Regional energy project needs regulatory path

One of those shovel-ready projects does not require any state investment or financial assistance to generate economic stimulus. But it needs a regulatory path forward, which could come in the form of state legislation or decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Water Authority and the City of San Diego have been working on the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility project for several years. All equity and debt financing would be provided by a private investor.

Generating renewable energy and jobs

The project would create a small upper reservoir above the existing San Vicente Reservoir, along with a tunnel system and an underground powerhouse to connect the two water bodies. The powerhouse would contain up to four reversible pump turbines.

During off-peak periods – when power is inexpensive and renewable supplies from wind and solar facilities exceed demand – turbines would pump water to the upper reservoir where it would act as a battery of stored energy. During peak energy use, the system would create clean energy as water from the upper reservoir flows downhill through the turbines.

“Our developer estimates the project could generate more than 50,000 hours of preconstruction work, followed by more than 1,000 jobs during a four-year construction period,” said Gary Bousquet, with the San Diego County Water Authority. “When it’s completed, the facility could store huge volumes of renewable energy and then use that energy when renewables are not available, such as nighttime.”

Bousquet said the project, when completed, would also generate additional revenue to offset water agency costs and help stabilize water rates.

California Utility Regulators Failed To Properly Oversee Water Suppliers, State Audit Finds

State utility regulators have not provided the public clear information about water-rate increases or made sure that suppliers notified customers about hearings related to those rate hikes, a new state audit has found. The California Public Utilities Commission also failed to conduct audits of private water utilities as required by law, according to findings released Tuesday by the California State Auditor.