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WaterSmart: Weathering Dry Times in San Diego County

News stories by national and regional media outlets highlighted the investments by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to create a plentiful water supply for the region, helping to weather dry times like the current drought.

The New York Times, Spectrum News 1, The Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine are among several news organizations that have reported on the region’s water supply projects, current and future, that ensure the 3.3 million residents of the county won’t be left high and dry during times of drought. The news stories also recognize the successful efforts by the region’s residents to significantly reduce water-wasting practices by embracing a “conservation ethic.”

Water supply in dry times

California-based reporter Jill Cowan visited the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the San Vicente Reservoir, among other locations, for her article in The New York Times. The news story covers regional water supply projects and investments made by the Water Authority and its member agencies to ensure San Diego County would not be stuck “at the end of the pipe” during periods of drought.

 “There are no silver bullets anywhere,” said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, who noted San Diego’s strides. “They’re definitely in the upper echelon of these creative approaches.”

Chula Vista resident and Sweetwater Authority customer Paul Rodriquez was highlighed in the story as one of many county homeowners who are WaterSmart: Conserving water by yanking out turf for drought-tolerant landscaping and using water-efficient fixtures indoors.

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San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeremy Crutchfield (L) explains the reverse osmosis process to The New York Times Reporter Jill Cowan (R) at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Let’s Diversify”

Spectrum News 1 Reporter Sarah Pilla wrote about the region’s water supply history and how an historic drought led to investments creating a diverse water supply portfolio:

Back in the drought of the ’90s, 95% of San Diego’s water came from one source, and they faced 30% cuts for 13 months.

“Of course being at the end of a pipeline, when there’s little water available, you are at high risk. So, our community came together and said let’s diversify,” Kerl said.

Fast-forward 30 years later, and the San Diego County Water Authority has multiple streams of water sources in its portfolio, including the groundbreaking Carlsbad Desalination Plant that utilizes ocean water to provide the region with about 10% of its drinking water.

Video and story: https://bit.ly/3DWFM1F

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San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra K. Kerl (L) talks with Spectrum News 1 (LA) Reporter Sarah Pilla, at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Diverse portfolio of resources

Wired Magazine writer Matt Simon focused on the science of water recycling and the Pure Water San Diego project.

If that all sounds like a rather convoluted way to get drinking water, that’s because the American West is facing a rather convoluted climate crisis. San Diego—and the rest of Southern California—have historically relied on water from Northern California and the Colorado River. But they’ve always been at the end of the line. The river hydrates 40 million other people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, and it is withering under a historic drought, a harbinger of even worse water scarcity to come as the climate warms.

So San Diego has to figure out how to do more with less water. The Pure Water program aims to provide more than 40 percent of the city’s water from local sources by the year 2035 by reusing water recycled from homes and businesses. (That means water that has flowed through sinks, showers, toilets, and washing machines.) “We’re diversifying the portfolio,” says Todd Gloria, San Diego’s mayor. “We’re heavily dependent upon water that comes from very far away, and that’s a problem that we have to address.”

Read more: https://bit.ly/30xU8qF

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Pure Water San Diego Associate Engineer Anthony Van guides a virtual tour of the demonstration facility. Photo: City of San Diego

Dry Times and Cutbacks

Reporter Jim Carlton with The Wall Street Journal, visited San Diego County earlier in 2021, reporting on the differences in water supply and drought conditions in California: “California’s Drought Leads to Cutbacks in Marin County but Not in San Diego

The pain of a two-year drought drying up the American West isn’t being felt evenly across the country’s most populous state.

That is because Southern California water agencies have for decades invested in new ways to diversify their supplies and recycle what they get, say people who study and work with water in the West. In Northern California, meanwhile, a history of more plentiful rain and snow meant many communities were less prepared for the latest drought and now more homes and businesses must cut back.

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Jim Carlton, reporter with The Wall Street Journal (L) listens as San Diego County Water Authority Principal Engineer Jeff Shoaf describes the San Vicente Dam raise during Carlton’s visit to the San Vicente Reservoir in June 2021. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Plenty of water”

The Southern California News Group also published an editorial, “SoCal’s water planning offers lesson for state” on October 19:

It’s beyond ironic that the driest, most-populated parts of California are in reasonably good shape whereas the less-populated rainiest parts of the state are in dire straits. San Diego, for instance, had so much water during the last drought that it had to release some of it from its reservoirs. It has plenty of water during this current drought.

Statewide Drought Emergency Declared

(Editor’s note: This story was updated on October 20. The Sweetwater Authority and the City of San Diego are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Opinion: Can California Make Do With the Water It Has?

With the city’s sewage water recycling system moving forward and the desalination plant in Carlsbad already pumping out drinkable water, the San Diego region has some of the most ambitious water projects in the state.

Those are part of a long-term strategy that San Diego water managers say will provide the region sufficient supplies through 2045.

Nevertheless, the San Diego County Water Authority earlier this month urged customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent following a similar statewide request by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It was more an act of solidarity than one of actual need.

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Opinion: Can California Make Do With the Water It Has?

With the city’s sewage water recycling system moving forward and the desalination plant in Carlsbad already pumping out drinkable water, the San Diego region has some of the most ambitious water projects in the state.

Those are part of a long-term strategy that San Diego water managers say will provide the region sufficient supplies through 2045.

Nevertheless, the San Diego County Water Authority earlier this month urged customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 15 percent following a similar statewide request by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It was more an act of solidarity than one of actual need.

Read the rest of the column by Michael Smolens in The San Diego Union-Tribune: https://bit.ly/3sPTS0u 

(Editors note: This is an excerpt from a column written by Michael Smolens)

Drought, Water Supply and Climate Change in the San Diego Region

An update on San Diego’s water supply during the current drought, and how climate change affects regional weather, was the main focus of a recent event sponsored by several organizations.

The Citizens Water Academy, Leaders 20/20 and San Diego Green Drinks hosted a lunch and learn session August 17 that also provided details on how weather and climate impacts water supplies, and how prepared the San Diego region is for drought impacts.

Mayor, EPA Chief Celebrate First Phase of San Diego’s Drought-Resistant Water Recycling Project

Mayor Todd Gloria, along with state and federal leaders, formally kicked off construction of Phase 1 of the city’s Pure Water program August 20. The project is intended to provide nearly 50% of the city’s drinking water by 2035 and reduce the need for imported water.

Helping the mayor celebrate the historic occasion in University City were Rep. Scott Peters, California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel.

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Mayor, EPA Chief Celebrate First Phase of San Diego’s Drought-Resistant Water Recycling Project

Mayor Todd Gloria, along with state and federal leaders, formally kicked off construction of Phase 1 of the city’s Pure Water program August 20. The project is intended to provide nearly 50% of the city’s drinking water by 2035 and reduce the need for imported water.

Helping the mayor celebrate the historic occasion in University City were Rep. Scott Peters, California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel.

Water recycling project

“Today, we celebrated the launch of the largest, most ambitious infrastructure project in San Diego’s history,” said Gloria. “The Pure Water program will guarantee us a local water resource that allows San Diego to be drought-resilient and environmentally sustainable. This is a key part of how we will provide clean drinking water to our residents for generations to come.”

Two Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans from the EPA are providing funding for up to $733.5 million toward the program’s Phase I projects. Additional funding for the construction of the project will come from Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loans in the amount of $665.1 million, and more than $80 million in federal and state grants, which do not need to be repaid.

The city will also receive a $340 credit from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for every acre-foot — enough water to supply up to four households for a year — produced for 25 years. This corresponds to a credit of $285.6 million over the life of the agreement, project leaders said.

Read the complete story from Times of San Diego here: https://bit.ly/3zgns1q

Pure Water San Diego is one of three potable water reuse or recycling projects under development in the San Diego region. The City of Oceanside is working toward creating 50% of its water supply locally, including Pure Water Oceanside, by 2030.

The East County Advanced Water Purification project would recycle 15 million gallons of annual wastewater discharge into drinking water, meeting 30% of the demand for potable water in East San Diego County.

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

California Drought Could Lead to Mandatory Water Restrictions Reinstated Statewide

Even on an overcast, dewy day at the beach, drought conditions are of concern.

In July, Governor Gavin Newsom urged everyone across the state to cut their water use by 15%, but some water experts say that may not be enough.

“For us in San Diego County, we live in an arid region and we should be really behaving like we live in a drought 365 days of the year,” said Ian Monahan said, director of marketing and philanthropy for I Lova A Clean San Diego, an environmental non-profit focused on zero waste.

San Diego Prepping Long-Term Water Solutions as State Requests Cuts

As California Governor Gavin Newsom asks residents of the state to cut water usage by 15%, the San Diego County Water Authority is supporting that request while simultaneously working on long-term solutions to combat water shortages.

Goldy Herbon, Senior Water Resources Specialist for the Water Resources Department at San Diego County Water Authority, said there is no imminent concern over water shortages in San Diego County, however, it is important for locals to cut back now to set the area up for success in the future.

Opinion: Voters Played Role in Marin Municipal Water District Shortage

The welcome arch across Modesto’s main street proclaims, “Water, wealth, contentment, health.”

In essence, water, the first word, directly leads to the following benefits. The same formula applies to Marin. Now it’s the scarcity of water that endangers our county’s ability to enjoy the benefits of wealth, contentment and health.

The entire American West is enduring a drought of epic proportions. The globe’s climate will only get warmer in the next 50 years. Marin is late preparing for that eventuality. Doing so isn’t impossible but it comes with a hefty price tag and can’t happen overnight.

Semi-arid San Diego County has already accomplished what Marin needs to do. They have a sufficient water supply that will last until 2045. Marin may run dry next year.

San Diego’s Water Desalination Efforts Could Get Boost in Federal Funding

Desalination projects in the San Diego area could get millions in federal funding under a bill Rep. Mike Levin introduced Tuesday.

The Desalination Development Act would provide $260 million over five years for desalination projects across the country, including the City of Oceanside’s Mission Basin Groundwater Purification Facility, which converts brackish flows into potable water, said Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.

It also sets environmental standards for projects that get federal funding, with requirements for energy efficiency, wildlife protection and water conservation.