GrokSurf's San Diego

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Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 5, 2023

On one of the many spur trails in the southern section of the park below Point Loma Nazarene University.

Posted in Environment, San Diego Places & Things, Water | 1 Comment »

Understanding California’s relationship with the Colorado River

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 12, 2023

“After decades of drought and overuse, the Colorado River system is on the verge of collapse. To prevent that, every state that draws water from the river must significantly cut back on what it takes in the coming years. How much that affects California, which receives by far the largest portion of any state, will depend on how we fare in a battle now being waged between states, Native American tribes, agricultural giants and the federal government.”

Full story here:


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Wednesday photos: Rancho La Costa Preserve

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 8, 2023

Today in San Diego the weather was perfect for a morning hike and my wife and I were in the mood for a place we hadn’t hiked before, so we headed up the coast to the Rancho La Costa Preserve in Carlsbad.

There are several trailheads to choose from and we selected the one on Corte Romero, just east of Rancho Santa Fe Road, where there was plentiful street parking. A good ways up the trail we came upon a rocky outcrop where we took this photo looking northwest.

In the distance at the the ocean you can just make out Batiquitos Lagoon which has a nice nature trail that’s also nice for morning walks. To see it you might need to squint, zoom the photo, or open the photo in a new tab on your browser for an enlarged version. :-)

The photo below is looking south, where the pointed peak on the horizon to the left is Black Mountain. If you have a really good eye, along the horizon toward the right you can make out the tall buildings near University Towne Center and also Mount Soledad.


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Dam problems at Lake Hodges won’t end soon

Posted by George J Janczyn on January 29, 2023

The dam at Lake Hodges Reservoir almost 10 years ago, in August 2013.

Emergency repair work on the damaged and deteriorated dam at Lake Hodges Reservoir that the City of San Diego started doing last year is expected to be completed by April 2023, but even after spending an estimated $14.3 million on repairs, the City will need to keep the reservoir level lowered indefinitely, according to a report presented at the January 26 board meeting of the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) by Eva Plajzer, SDCWA Director of Operations and Maintenance.

Because the dam’s risk factors will be excessive, even after repairs, the California Division of Safety of Dams requirement that the water level at Hodges should not exceed an elevation of 275 feet will apparently remain in effect (although the City of San Diego’s consultant recommends increasing the elevation limit to 280 feet). Normally, the reservoir’s water elevation would reach 315 feet if it were filled to capacity.

That means the City of San Diego will need to continue releasing excess water to the San Dieguito River in order to keep the Hodges reservoir level low enough, but according to SDCWA’s Plajzer, if we experience heavy rain again, like we recently had, runoff into the reservoir could be so great that it might not be possible to release water fast enough to prevent the water from rising above the 275 foot limit. That would potentially increase the risk of further damage to the dam or even a breach that would threaten people and structures downstream.

Plajzer said the quality of the released water is very poor and the downstream water agencies, San Dieguito Water District and the Santa Fe Irrigation District, are unable to treat and use the water, so the water will flow on to the ocean.

That’s bad enough, but there’s yet another problem:

The lower water level at Lake Hodges interferes with SDCWA’s ability to operate its pumped storage facilities located there. The pumped storage facilities, originally built at a cost of $200 million as part of SDCWA’s Emergency and Carryover Storage Project, connect Lake Hodges Reservoir (owned by the City of San Diego) to Olivenhain Reservoir (owned by SDCWA and the Olivenhain Municipal Water District) so that water can be moved between the two bodies of water for water storage purposes and for electricity generation.

During normal operations, water is pumped from Lake Hodges uphill to Olivenhain Reservoir for about 5 hours every day during periods of low energy demand, typically at night, when energy costs are lower. During daytime at peak hours, the flow is reversed, and the same amount of water is sent back downhill to Hodges through electric generators. This reverse flow generates 40MW of electricity which is sold to SDG&E at peak rates and provides on-demand power for up to 26,000 homes.

The problem is that the water intake system for the pumped storage facilities requires Lake Hodges water elevation to be 290 feet. Since the state has imposed a 275-foot limit, those facilities are therefore inoperable.

Diagram of SDCWA’s Lake Hodges Pumped Storage Facility

On top of SDCWA’s lost revenue of $3 million per year from the idled pumped storage electricity generation, it will be necessary to continue maintaining the idle facilities at a cost to SDCWA of another $3 million per year. It will also cost SDCWA an unspecified amount of money to maintain optimal water level at Olivenhain Reservoir with water transfers via a connection to the San Diego Aqueduct for as long as water from Lake Hodges is unreachable.

Plajzer also said that the pumped storage facilities are now operating under a “Force Majeure provision under the SDG&E Power Purchase Agreement.” According to Wikipedia, force majeure “…is a common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from legal liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties…prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.”

And indeed, the situation is nobody’s fault: we’re talking about a well worn century-old dam that needs to be replaced.

SDCWA Board members expressed hope that some way might be found to allow the pumped storage facilities to restart operations even with the restricted water level, either by building a new water intake system or perhaps with some kind of containment structure around the water intakes where the water level could be kept at a higher elevation. Even if some workaround would be feasible, it could take years to implement.

As for the impaired dam at Lake Hodges, it must be replaced at a preliminary estimated cost of $275 million. The San Diego Public Utilities Department envisions a 12-year process for that. Our local news outlets will likely continue covering developments on that front.




This story is based on the following agenda materials and the audio proceedings of SDCWA’s Engineering and Operations Committee at the January 26 board meeting.

The SDCWA Board January 26 meeting agenda and presentation materials:

The SDCWA brochure about the Lake Hodges Pumped Storage Facilities:


Posted in Energy, Water | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Del Mar’s new civic center

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 14, 2018

The recently-opened Del Mar Civic Center welcomes the public with attractive design and hangouts with a view.

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Viewing the Pine Valley Creek Bridge from the Secret Canyon Trail

Posted by George J Janczyn on January 17, 2018

If you’ve driven on Interstate 8 east as far as Pine Valley you’ve almost certainly taken notice while driving over the high-altitude Pine Valley Creek Bridge just before the Pine Valley exit. Formally known as the Nello Irwin Greer Memorial Bridge it is considered one of the highest bridges in the U.S. (450 feet high).

Looking to get some photos of the bridge we learned that the Secret Canyon Trail goes beneath it. We found the trailhead by getting on Old Hwy 80 in Pine Valley and driving a few miles west to Pine Valley-Las Bancas Road where there’s a big Cleveland National Forest sign announcing the “Pine Creek Trailhead” on the south side of the road.

It’s a short drive south to the end of the road where there’s ample parking and restrooms. A US Forest Service Adventure Pass must be displayed in the windshield in order to park here. A sign marks the beginning of the trail just south of the restrooms.

The trail starts on the west side of the canyon and quickly drops to make a crossing at Pine Creek. If it has rained recently you may not feel like trying to cross, but when we went it was about 3 weeks since the last significant rain and there was just a moderate flow. It’s usually pretty easy to cross as long as the water isn’t running too deep. We’ve hiked the trail a number of times over the years and only once did we have to turn back because of unexpected high water.

The trail continues south above the east bank, sometimes gaining elevation in the canyon above the creek, sometimes descending to creek level. It’s an attractive and pleasant trail with oak and willow trees, manzanita groves, and numerous other plants. It’s approximately 2 miles (one-way) to the bridge and I’d classify the trail as moderately difficult because of the elevation gain and loss which is about 600 feet according to various trail guides. You can always take it more slowly to make it easier, it’s not that far.

Here are the photos (click images for an enlargement to open in a separate browser tab).

Here’s our parking spot above the creek. The canyon goes south to the right.


Sign marking the beginning of the trail.


This is the creek crossing when it’s pretty easy to hop across.


This was the same crossing on another day when a decision was required about getting wet up to the knees!


This is on the trail at about the halfway point, looking back towards our starting point.


Continuing along the trail the bridge comes into view.


Getting closer.


Almost there.


Sun in our eyes.


The bridge appears to mark a popular jet route too.


Looking up from the creekbed.


This was taken from the south side after passing beneath the bridge.


We hiked another 1/4 mile further south beyond the bridge so we could get this clear view of the whole thing (looking north).

As you can see from that last picture, once you cross south of the bridge the trees pretty much disappear and the trail gets hot and dry so unless you’ve planned a much longer hike it’s a good place to turn around.

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A stroll in Pacific Beach down Garnet Ave from Ingraham St to Crystal Pier and back again

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 31, 2017

A slideshow of photos taken on December 22, 2017.

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Here’s what bicycling in San Diego should be like

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 1, 2017

During our recent visit to Canada we saw a considerable number of bicycle commuters in downtown Montreal and Vancouver, far more than we ever do in downtown San Diego and vicinity. I think their street accommodations and strategic use of one-way streets might have something to do with it!

René Lévesque Boulevard in Montreal about 1/2 km east of Chinatown.


Downtown Montreal, Blvd de Maisonneuve at Rue Peel.


Downtown Montreal. Sometimes there were more bicycles than cars on the road.


Downtown Monteral. This was typical at all times of the day.


Vancouver is a role model for what support for bicycling can do. In 2015 the city reported 131,000 bicycle trips (


Downtown Vancouver.

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Lake Hodges Dam

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 11, 2016

(click image for full size)


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Dulzura Conduit: San Diego’s fragile link to an important East County water resource

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 24, 2016

[Note to email subscribers: click the article title link to view in browser for better appearance.]

Most everyone around these parts knows that the San Diego River, starting in the mountains to our northeast near Julian and captured at El Capitan Reservoir about 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, is a significant water resource for the city, but a lesser-known also important source, Cottonwood Creek, starts in the Laguna Mountains farther south.

Cottonwood Creek first drains into Morena Reservoir, about 45 miles east/southeast of San Diego near the community of Campo. The reservoir also captures water from Morena Creek. Because the reservoir is very wide and shallow, losses from evaporation are considerable so when it’s feasible the City prefers to release most of the water downstream to Barrett Reservoir which is narrower and much deeper, where evaporation is less of a problem. Barrett Reservoir is positioned just below the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and Pine Valley Creek, about 10 miles west of Morena.

Morena Reservoir.

Morena Reservoir.

Barrett Reservoir

Barrett Reservoir


During very wet seasons if Barrett is in danger of flooding the excess water is released down the dam’s stair-stepped spillway back into Cottonwood Creek. Such events are rare; normally all the water is reserved for San Diego. But Cottonwood Creek, as part of the Tijuana Watershed, is a tributary to the Tijuana River south of the Mexican border, so how does the water in Barrett end up in San Diego instead?

Barrett Dam spills into Cottonwood Creek which continues south down the canyon to the right.

Barrett Dam spills into Cottonwood Creek which continues south down the canyon to the right.


Answer: the Dulzura Conduit.

The Dulzura Conduit is a 13.38 mile-long aqueduct built to divert water from Cottonwood Creek to San Diego. Originally comprised of dirt channels, redwood flumes, and nearly two miles of tunnels through rugged territory (all dug by hand), the conduit was constructed in the years 1907-1909 by the Southern California Mountain Water Company under a plan devised by John D. Spreckels.

A portion of the Conduit consists of a dirt channel lined with concrete.

A portion of the Conduit consists of a dirt channel lined with concrete.


The Conduit remained operational through the mid-1980s by which time the wooden flumes were so deteriorated and maintenance costs so high that it was taken out of service.

The Conduit was renovated in the mid-1990s and the wooden flumes were replaced with new steel pipelines on concrete and steel supports. Because it was impossible for ground vehicles and equipment to reach some locations, helicopters were needed to supply concrete and to place a steel truss bridge and large pipe sections.

A renovated segment of the Conduit.

A renovated segment of the Conduit.

Covered channel transitions to pipeline where the slope becomes too steep.

Covered channel transitions to pipeline where the slope becomes too steep.

Flume emerging from small tunnel.

Flume emerging from small tunnel. Yes, the narrow dirt road halfway up the steep canyon was scary!

Scraps and debris from the renovation project.

Scraps and debris from the renovation project.

My wife bravely came along while I was doing these photographs.

My wife bravely came along while I was doing these photographs.


The Dulzura Conduit extends to Dulzura Creek which joins the Otay River which flows west until it reaches its destination at Lower Otay Reservoir in Chula Vista, where a water treatment plant initiates the distribution of water to San Diego customers.

Lower Otay Reservoir and dam.

Lower Otay Reservoir and dam.


In 2004-2005, runoff from heavy rains severely damaged the Conduit and it again was out of service. Before repairs could be performed the Harris Fire in 2007 caused further damage and it was some time before extensive and expensive repairs could be carried out.

Starting in 2009 a large section of the Conduit’s open channel was outfitted with paneled concrete covers placed by Sikorsky helicopter. Along with other upgrades the Conduit again became operational in January 2011. Although it has a capacity to move up to 40 million gallons per day, diversions are sporadic and the amount varies considerably depending on how much upstream water is available and whether it’s needed.


* Many thanks to Brent Eidson of the San Diego Public Utilities Department for arranging my access to areas that are closed to the public.

Additional references:

1. Rehab By Helicopter. Civil Engineering (American Society of Civil Engineers), volume 66, no. 1 (January 1996).

2. Surface Water Supply of the Pacific Slope of Southern California / H.D. McGlashan. Washington: US GPO, 1921.

3. Fowler, L. C. 1953. A History of Dams and Water Supply of Western San Diego County. Univ. of California. MS Thesis. 233pp. ISBN 3 1336 04945 8764.

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