Pure Water Oceanside-Drought-Water Shortage-Water Supply-DroughtPure Water Oceanside construction remains on schedule for completion in 2022. The Oceanside project will purify recycled water to create a new, local source of high-quality drinking water that is safe, drought-proof and environmentally sound. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Water Conservation Helps San Diego Regional Supply During Drought

Water conservation is a way of life in the San Diego region, whether during drought periods or wet years. While the region is in drought like much of the Southwest U.S., San Diego County is not experiencing a water shortage. That’s because the Helix Water District, and the other water utilities serving the region, have worked together for 25 years to conserve water and invest in new water resources.

The San Diego County Water Authority, its 24 member agencies, and the water ratepayers of San Diego County, have made investments to increase water supply reliability.

June 2021 was the hottest June on record in the U.S.

High temperatures make drought conditions worse. The hotter it is, the faster water evaporates from soil and transpires from plants. This is why urban landscapes, crops and forests dry out and the risk of wildfires increases. The map below shows all of the wildfires currently burning throughout the West.

Map from InciWeb

InciWeb map shows current fires burning across the U.S. West.

On July 8, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency everywhere except Southern California

The Governor called for all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, but only declared a drought emergency in the counties in red in the map below. That’s because communities in central and northern California are more likely to rely on a single river, creek or well for their water and are more vulnerable to drought. It’s drier in Southern California and water agencies have been developing multiple water resources to meet water supply needs for more than 100 years. Today, this approach helps protect the region against drought and water shortage.

Map from Cal Matters

On July 8, 2021, Governor Newsom extended his drought emergency declaration to include all 50 counties in central and northern California.

In the San Diego region, water utilities work together to develop water supply

Helix and other water utilities in San Diego depend on the San Diego County Water Authority to import water from the Colorado River and Northern California.  When residents and businesses pay their water bills, their water utility pays the Water Authority for the imported water they use. Then, all the water utilities meet at the Water Authority and decide how to invest that money in water resources. By pooling our money over the last 25 years, we invested $3 billion and developed projects no single utility could afford on its own.

San Diego County Water Authority board meeting photo from Water News Network

Board members from member agencies work together as the board of the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego residents use half the water they used in the 1990s

Residents and businesses in the region have reduced their water bills by installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances, landscapes and irrigation, and have taken advantage of rebates to save money. Today, San Diego County residents use half the water they used in the 1990s. As a result, water utilities have been able to reduce the size and cost of new water projects. Conservation eases demand when there is a water shortage due to drought or emergencies.

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden.

Water supply from the Colorado River

In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to sell up to 200,000 acre feet of water annually to the San Diego County Water Authority. Water used to irrigate crops was now available to San Diego homes and businesses, and just one acre foot of water can sustain up to four homes for a year. And, the Imperial Irrigation District has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River. If the Colorado River Basin states renegotiate how the river’s water is divided up, those senior water rights will help protect San Diego.

Colorado River photo from KUER Public Radio

Muddy Colorado River flowing through Utah.

Drought-proof water resources

In 2014, the Water Authority completed the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water. It’s the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere. Now, we’re focused on turning recycled water into drinking water by using reverse osmosis, just like at the Carlsbad plant, and other advanced water treatment technology.

New water supply projects underway

Helix is working with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and the county of San Diego on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside are developing “Pure Water” programs.

Reverse osmosis cannisters at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo from Poseidon Water

Reverse osmosis canister arrays at the Carlsbad Desalination

More space to store water

The more water we can store during a wet year, when a lot of rain and snow falls on California and the Colorado River Basin, the more water we have available in a dry year. Diamond Valley Lake, which Metropolitan Water District of Southern California filled in 2002, stores enough water for Southern California for six months. With the construction of Olivenhain Dam and the raising of San Vicente Dam, we have an additional six month water supply just for the San Diego region.

San Vicente Dam photo from the San Diego County Water Authority

San Vicente Dam.

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