GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

San Diego County making good progress diversifying water supply

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 11, 2011

“Our strategies are working” was the message from the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) Water Planning Committee at a joint meeting with the SANDAG Regional Planning Committee held Friday at 1pm at the SDCWA headquarters on Overland Avenue.

The severe drought experienced in California in the 1990-91 years was a wake-up call for San Diego County, which at the time relied on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for 95% of the county’s water supply — delivered from Northern California and the Colorado River. News headlines from those days delivered numerous grim messages about the effect water shortages were having on the local economy and way of life.

The response, explained Ken Weinberg, Water Authority Director of Water Resources, was to develop a strategy to improve water supply reliability and reduce San Diego’s dependence on imported water.

Developing new supplies would not be cheap compared to what had been spent previously, said Maureen Stapleton, SDCWA General Manager, but the drought made San Diego realize how vulnerable it was and that it could not afford the consequences of a catastrophic cutoff from future drought or when the California Delta breaks (I noticed Stapleton said when, not if).

Facing growth, regulatory restrictions, the possibility of future droughts, climate change, and increased costs, the county’s strategy for supply reliability was to develop a forecast of demand, encourage water use efficiency, invest in regional infrastructure, and diversify supply sources.

SDCWA coordinated with SANDAG to obtain a wealth of information and planning expertise on growth forecasts and the regional comprehensive plan.

That planning effort led to the development of new supplies as well as infrastructure investments.

For new water supplies, encouraging a water conservation ethic became a high priority. Negotiations to purchase water conserved by Imperial Valley farmers were concluded. Water recycling programs and brackish groundwater projects were implemented. Seawater desalination (Poseidon in Carlsbad) and the City of San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse demonstration project are more recent developments.

As for infrastructure, SDCWA created a $3.8 billion Capital Improvement Program to implement an Emergency Storage Project that would bring new surface storage (Olivenhain Dam, Lake Hodges, San Vicente Dam Raise), water treatment (Twin Oaks Water Treatment Plant), as well as pipelines, pump stations, and hyroelectric generation from water gravity flows within the system, among other things.

This SDCWA chart graphically depicts the progress that has been made towards the goal for 2020:

The meeting ended with the conclusion that the strategies to reduce reliance on MWD through sustained conservation, new supply sources, and infrastructure development have been working. The plan is to continue implementation of these strategies and to pursue further local supply sources.

See also this North County Times story that highlighted other topics that came up at the meeting — including reduced demand by aging citizens.


7 Responses to “San Diego County making good progress diversifying water supply”

  1. John Fleck said

    George – Those pie charts tell a remarkable story – the changing size of the yellow slice. How realistic is the 2020 pie version?

  2. We can hope, can’t we?

    Seriously though, take a look at the huge blue slice expected from the IID water transfer agreement under the QSA. The future of that transfer is still open to question due to the state and federal lawsuits challenging the QSA that have yet to be decided. If the decision (and subsequent attempt at a fix) goes the wrong way for that water transfer, that could be huge.

    The transfer also assumes that future Colorado River flows will be enough to allow for California to continue withdrawing a full 4.4 MAF per year indefinitely (most of which goes to Imperial Valley). Everyone seems to know the river allocations overestimated river flow, but nobody’s talking about changing the allocation–yet.

    I also think the recycling goal, including IPR, is much too modest. IPR looks to be roughly the same cost as desalination, possibly a bit less. With IPR plus expansion of tertiary recycled water for irrigation/industry, we should be shooting for a 15% recycling goal.

    • One more thing. It’s easy to look at the chart and think it shows dramatically less dependence on imported water, but the IID water transfer is the same imported Colorado River water, it’s just not purchased from MWD. I think the chart’s real message is reduced reliance on MWD purchases, not so much that it’s significantly less imported water.

      • Burton Freeman said

        George, your comments re Colorado River water are right on! In fact, there are additional problems with the QSA water in that it is transported over the Colorado Aqueduct that has a limited capacity, is stored and transported in MWD infrastructure, the cost of which is in dispute, as well as being under litigation associated with the IID!

        Your aspirations for increased use of recycled water have to confront some hard facts. In spite of cut rate pricing ($0.80/HCF) purple pipe water demand is able to attract only a fraction of available supply of recycled water from the existing small capacity plants. And we’ve been there before on the potential price of IPR.

      • I agree purple pipe looks weak indeed…there are few remaining landscape irrigation spots that might justify the expense of putting in purple pipe. And we shouldn’t be encouraging water-intensive landscaping, anyway.

        As for IPR, the current plan is for a pipeline to San Vicente at 16mgd–if a “full-scale” system is approved. I think if we’re going to spend that much on IPR infrastructure, it should be designed for 50-100mgd, not a symbolic 16. If not, then I agree it’s money just for show.

  3. Burton Freeman said

    Indeed, the Water Authority has diversified our imported water sources and has an Emergency Storage Program under development. So the glass is half full as a result of these half measures; still, we recognize our remaining dependence on entities outside of the county, supply vulnerability to natural or terrorist events, and on the vageries of climate. And we are aware that the escalating price of our water (destroying much of the county’s agriculture) is set by entities over which we have minimal control.

    Plans for truely local water, such as desalination, aquifers(?) and IPR, are way too little and way to late!

  4. Burton Freeman said

    The role of SANDAG in water policy is, as I understand it, very limited; they provide forecasts of demographics for the county and for the use of SDCWA in water planning. (Have I missed other water-related activities of SANDAG?)

    The pie-charts from the Water Authority unfortunately do not reflect (through their diameters) the quantity of water currently used as compared to the amount predicted for, say, 2020.

    So, if we are interested in how much water, in addition to the fraction of water from different “sources” we have to inquire further. By 2020 how many additional people will need water, how much conservation/reuse will there be, and how much will currently viable job-generating economic activity, such as agriculture, be curtailed? Since, hopefully, supply will meet demand, where are the sources of the needed additional water?

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