Officials from Northern California visited San Diego County this week as part of a tour focused on regional water use and reliability investments that have been touted as a national model of water management.
San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham welcomed about two dozen leaders at the start of the event, explaining how San Diego County’s long-term investment strategy is fueling a new approach to water management. In 2022, drought created dire water shortages across Southern California, but San Diego had sufficient supplies due to a combination of conservation and investments.
Behind the scenes look at water management
“That got us to a point where we started thinking about how we can do things even more differently, and we started working on cooperative agreements with Metropolitan and Imperial Irrigation District and other Southern California water providers to share some of this water we have invested in,” said Denham.
The Water Authority was represented by Board Vice Chair Nick Serrano and Secretary Frank Hilliker, along with Board Member Lois Fong-Sakai and Gail Goldberg, two of the Water Authority’s delegates to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California organized the tour, in collaboration with the Water Authority for the San Diego portion. MWD was represented by Board Chair Adan Ortega and other Board members, along with General Manager Adel Hagekhalil.
The “inspection trip” was designed to give county officials from the Bay-Delta region a behind-the-scenes look at water management in Southern California, where water management, climate and infrastructure are very different than in the northern part of the state.
Tour highlights: Pure Water San Diego, FlorAbunda Nursery
The tour started with City of San Diego Utilities Director Juan Guerreiro at the City of San Diego’s Pure Water program – a phased, multi-year project that will provide nearly half of San Diego’s water supply locally by the end of 2035. Pure Water San Diego will use proven water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water. In addition, said Serrano, the city has year-round permanent mandatory water restrictions in place, designed to promote water conservation as a permanent way of life in San Diego.
“We are enormously proud of our citizens and our local water conservation efforts which have reduced City’s per capita water usage to 100 gpcd for the past five years,” Serrano said.
Next, visitors stopped at FlorAbunda Nursery in Escondido’s Elfin Forest. The nursery was founded by Dana Groot, a fifth-generation nurseryman whose ancestors founded the Sluis & Groot Seed Company in Holland in the 1870s. FlorAbunda focuses on the commercial production of premium poinsettias and hydrangeas, with five generations of flower and seed production experience and the best of modern genetics and growing techniques.
Groot, who serves as president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, showcased the water efficiency of San Diego County’s farm industry. San Diego County is home to more farms – more than 5,500 – than any other county in the U.S., and it is the nation’s top producer of nursery plants and floriculture. Driven both by the cost of water and a conservation ethic, the region’s farmers are strong proponents of water stewardship.
At FlorAbunda, Groot’s five-acre farm is entirely on high-efficiency drip irrigation. “The goal is to keep the water on the targeted areas,” said Groot, who was joined for the tour by Farm Bureau Past President Enrico Ferro and Hilliker, who sits on the Farm Bureau Board. “It’s kind of been a company policy. Everything is going to be on drip. We thought it was the responsible thing to do.”
After leaving San Diego County, the tour group headed for MWD’s Diamond Valley Lake, and then points north, including the Grace Napolitano Pure Water Southern California Innovation Center.