GrokSurf's San Diego

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Posts Tagged ‘San Diego Public Utilities Department’

San Diego responds to media reports that water department sitting on excess funds

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 22, 2012

U-T San Diego recently reprinted an Investigative Newsource story criticizing the Public Utilities Department use (or non-use) of money raised from rate hikes (Water rate hikes leave $630 million unused) and KPBS followed up with Public Utilities flush with cash but behind on projects.

Today the City responded with the following letter:


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

The unsettled water rates in San Diego

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 19, 2011

San Diego’s most recent water rate hike last March happened because the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) raised its water rate to the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) which in turn raised the water rate for county water agencies that it supplies (including the City of San Diego). San Diego, of course, typically needs to import 85-90% of its water so it doesn’t have much recourse.

As a result, the City Council reluctantly approved a “pass-through” water rate increase for City customers effective March 1 to cover the SDCWA rate hike. The Council also sought to exert some pressure on MWD.

The perceived pressure point was SDCWA’s lawsuit against MWD charging that it illegally inflates the price of water for San Diego County. The City naturally supports that position so when approving the pass-through increase the City Council asked the City Attorney to recommend whether the city should join SDCWA’s lawsuit against MWD, and also asked the Mayor’s Intergovernmental Relations Department to develop a recommendation for seeking state legislative support for auditing MWD pricing practices.

Here we must note that an underlying issue in SDCWA’s lawsuit against MWD is that in addition to buying water from MWD, SDCWA buys Colorado River water from Imperial Valley as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). However, there are no water pipelines from Imperial Valley to San Diego so SDCWA needs to pay MWD to capture Imperial Valley’s water upstream at Lake Havasu and transport it through the Colorado River Aqueduct to San Diego’s pipelines.

MWD’s charge to transport that water (wheeling charge) is a big deal. SDCWA says MWD illegally inflates the wheeling charge with expenses unrelated to the Colorado River Aqueduct (e.g., costs associated with obtaining State Water Project water from Northern California).

The disagreement over water transport pricing is an old issue that was already evident when the QSA was enacted in 2003. The Record of Decision actually memorialized that “…MWD and SDCWA do not agree on the nature or scope of rights to the delivery, use or transfer of Colorado River water within the State of California.”.

So when MWD and SDCWA signed their agreement for transporting the water, the contract included a provision that “after conclusion of the first five years, nothing shall preclude SDCWA from contesting in an administrative or judicial forum whether such charge or charges have been set in accordance with applicable law and regulation.”

Which is exactly what SDCWA is now doing with its lawsuit.

Meanwhile, on another front around that time, MWD had been developing incentive agreements to provide rebates and subsidies for local conservation and recycled water programs. Those programs are funded through MWD’s Water Stewardship Rate fee charged to all MWD member agencies.

Here’s where MWD got tricky: in 2004 MWD adopted so-called Rate Structure Integrity (RSI) language in the Water Stewardship agreements to the effect that if a member agency “files or participates in litigation or supports legislation to challenge or modify Existing Rate Structure…Metropolitan may initiate termination of this Agreement.”

So, after MWD refused to modify its wheeling charge and SDCWA filed suit, in response MWD recently exercised its option to terminate support for some of the San Diego County programs. It partially retained a few residential and commercial agreements but decided against implementing larger agreements including funding for a San Vicente Recycling program in Ramona and a subsidy for the Poseidon Desalination Project in Carlsbad.

How would that affect the City of San Diego? At an Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) Environmental & Technical Subcommittee meeting on July 10, Cathy Pieroni, Principal Water Resources Specialist for the Public Utilities Department reported that MWD’s Water Stewardship cuts would not impact existing MWD contracts with the City and that the City could still potentially obtain MWD funding for up to $250/AF for Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) water if the Water Purification Demonstration Project materializes as a full-scale operation.

As for the City Council’s request that the City Attorney investigate possible legal action that could be taken to apply pressure on MWD over the rate hike issue, City Attorney representative Tom Zeleny said that his office will likely recommend against legal action, saying it “would probably not be cost-effective.” He said the official report from his office will be on the August agenda for the City Council’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee.

On the issue of the Council’s request to the Mayor’s Intergovernmental Relations Department, it appears the Mayor may have influenced Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to introduce AB 779 relating to establishment of water district oversight committees. Faced with opposition (including MWD’s considerable influence), at the last minute Fletcher pulled the bill from its scheduled hearing indicating he would make it a two-year bill and proceed later.

MWD’s opposition to Fletcher’s bill can be seen in its May 16 board meeting minutes where it revealed its suspicion that AB 779 was related to the San Diego City Council’s desire for legislative intervention over MWD water rates:

“There is speculation, however, that AB 779 might be amended and used as a legislative vehicle to assist the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) in its lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) which challenges Metropolitan’s water rates and charges. A judicial victory by SDCWA would result in a significant increase in the cost of water for Metropolitan’s customers outside SDCWA’s boundaries. The rationale for this speculation is based on a memorandum circulated by the San Diego City Council after the filing of the lawsuit that details potential parallel strategies regarding the issues addressed in the lawsuit. These strategies included seeking a Joint Legislative Audit to perform a financial audit of Metropolitan as well as sponsoring legislation to create an Independent Rate Oversight Committee for MWD to evaluate the price charged for water as well as operations.”

So for the time being AB 779 is stalled and prospects are uncertain, it doesn’t look like the City will pursue legal action, and other legislative initiatives seem iffy.

Instead, for the short term, the City will try to “absorb” the SDCWA rate increase announced for next fiscal year: Mayor Sanders has proclaimed that the City won’t raise water rates next fiscal year. Instead, he wants the Public Utilities Department (PUD) to take the hit from the higher expense.

Discussing the Mayor’s announcement at yesterday’s IROC meeting (July 18), Assistant PUD Director Alex Ruiz said the department will find an accomodation because local water supplies increased considerably during the last rainy season. As a result the department figures it can draw “up to” 20,000 AF of local supplies to avoid buying about $8.75 million in imports from SDCWA. The department is also looking at more staffing cuts and creating further “efficiencies.”

Although the action hasn’t been labeled a “deferred” price increase, that’s what it looks like. SDCWA’s higher price isn’t going away at the end of the next fiscal year and there will likely be another price hike announced for the following year as well. So at some point the City will have to cover the higher costs either by passing them on to consumers or by further “absorbing” expenses within the department at some risk to infrastructure and operations. And if you think capital improvement projects, maintenance and repairs, and EPA consent agreement work isn’t piled up already, think again.

Will San Diego have to “catch up” with deferred water rate increases? What’s the risk of drawing down the City’s emergency storage capacity now that it has some water saved? Are we using precious reserves to temporarily defer expenses as a political expedient? And what about popular support for setting water rates that discourage waste? Does artificially keeping rates down send a mixed message about that?

Whatever happens, I don’t think broader public understanding will come from would-be mayors accusing PUD of mismanagement over water rates and saying things like “I pledge to cut rates by 15% and freeze them for five years without any delay in our infrastructure investment and while maintaining the highest standards for water quality.”


Posted in Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC), Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), Water, Water rates | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Legal setback for Sweetwater Authority groundwater desalination project

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 9, 2011

The Sweetwater Authority’s plan to construct five additional wells south of the Sweetwater River in the San Diego Formation as part of its project to expand the Richard A. Reynolds Desalination Facility has hit a legal roadblock. In a ruling on the City of San Diego’s lawsuit challenging certification of Sweetwater’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), Judge Ronald S. Prager agreed with some of the objections raised by San Diego.

According to the court’s Minute Order, four issues were subject to review: 1) whether Sweetwater complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in approving the project and certifying the FEIR, 2) whether the FEIR contained an adequate project description re. brine discharge point, 3) cumulative impacts, and 4) whether the FEIR includes a reasonable range of project alternatives or discusses feasible mitigation measures.

On issues 1 and 2 the judge denied San Diego’s contentions, ruling in favor of Sweetwater.

On issues 3 and 4 the judge agreed with San Diego that Sweetwater did not take into consideration the cumulative impacts of any particular past, present, or probable future projects, and that the proposed mitigation and monitoring are inadequate.

While the judgment has not yet been made official, it will be based on the minute order, according to Glenn Spitzer, one of the attorneys working on the case for the San Diego City Attorney (click here for a copy of the June 28, 2011 Minute Order).

The foregoing represented Phase I of what is called a “bifurcated” trial. In addition to the CEQA issues, San Diego had also challenged Sweetwater’s water rights in the San Diego Formation. The water rights question will be addressed in a Phase II portion of the trial. A resolution on the water rights issue could take a couple of years, according to Mr. Spitzer.

I wasn’t able to get comments from San Diego or Sweetwater officials, but the issue is on the closed agenda for next Wednesday’s July 13, 2011 Sweetwater Authority Board Meeting.

Posted in Sweetwater Authority, Water | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A sweet water resource but there’s some salt in the mix

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 8, 2011

On average, San Diego County imports a sobering 80% of its water supply from hundreds of miles away in Northern California and the Colorado River. That figure varies though, depending on which of the 24 member agencies of the San Diego County Water Authority you’re looking at.

Take the Sweetwater Authority. If you look at a map of the Sweetwater service area sandwiched as it is between the City of San Diego on the north and the Otay Water District to the south, you might be surprised it can make do with only 41% imports. What’s the secret?

Sweetwater’s service area includes the western and central portions of the City of Chula Vista, all of the City of National City, and unincorporated areas of the County of San Diego (Bonita). But in a long sliver from the northeast flows the namesake river that’s responsible for much of the liquid wealth.

Illustration courtesy of Sweetwater Authority

For starters, Sweetwater Authority commands the surface runoff from the 230 square mile Sweetwater River watershed, beginning at Green Valley Falls in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about a 50-mile drive from Chula Vista. The entire watershed is fully appropriated to the Sweetwater Authority. Sweetwater also owns and operates two reservoirs in the watershed, Loveland Reservoir, and Sweetwater Reservoir, which together have capacity for over 53,000 acre feet.


Next, the Sweetwater Authority sits above productive groundwater aquifers. Its National City wells on the Sweetwater River Basin Alluvial Aquifer can supply up to 2 million gallons per day (gpd) of potable water, and additional wells drawing brackish water from the adjacent San Diego Formation aquifer are treated in a desalination facility with a capacity of 4 million gallons per day (gpd).

Looking to increase local storage capacity, Sweetwater Authority and the City of San Diego are cooperating on a proposed four reservoir intertie that could effectively allow them to share an additional 100,000 acre feet of storage without increasing reservoir size, through shared “load balancing” (my term). Some of the extra water could come from local runoff that individual reservoirs might otherwise be forced to spill during peak rainfall conditions.

As for future water requirements in the service area, the Sweetwater Authority’s 2010 Urban Water Management Plan looks forward to relative stability:

“Due to widespread conservation efforts, demands within Sweetwater’s service area have decreased over the past 25 years. Several changes in demographics are anticipated to increase water use in the future…This transition from undeveloped and formerly commercial to residential properties is anticipated to result in an increase in overall water demands within the service area. However, as new buildings replace existing buildings, water efficiency standards for toilets, showerheads, faucets, and urinals, as well as associated changes in outdoor irrigation practices to more “California friendly” landscapes, will cause the per capita water usage to decrease.”

Reverse-osmosis trains inside the facility.

There’s one uncertainty, though: a planned expansion of the Richard Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility.
“The Desalination Facility commenced operation in January 2000. The facility was designed to extract groundwater from four alluvial wells and five deep San Diego Formation wells, located on the north side of the Sweetwater River. A sixth San Diego Formation well was constructed in 2006. The Desalination Facility treats brackish groundwater using reverse osmosis (R/O) technology. The Desalination Facility was initially designed to produce 4.0 MGD of drinking water; however, it was constructed with space to accommodate an expansion to produce up to 8 MGD.” (2010 Sweetwater Urban Water Management Plan)

Empty pods in center would allow three more reverse-osmosis trains for a total of six.

One brackish water wellhead is just outside the door to the desalination facility.


As planned, Sweetwater’s Board did develop a plan to drill five additional San Diego Formation wells and increase capacity in the desalination facility. It certified a final Environmental Impact Report and approval for the well project last year, Feb 24, 2010.

An obstacle

The City of San Diego promptly filed a lawsuit March 26, 2010, challenging Sweetwater’s certification of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approval of the project. San Diego complained that its concerns about groundwater depletion/overdraft in the San Diego Formation, saltwater intrusion, land subsidence, brine discharge, and other issues were rejected or ignored by Sweetwater.

Meanwhile it was discovered that Sweetwater’s Findings and Facts in Support of Findings had not been included on the CD distributing the EIR. The oversight meant the Board would need to again adopt the Findings and Facts and reapprove the project. This was done at the Oct 27, 2010 Board meeting.

Following this turn of events, San Diego filed a second lawsuit in order to challenge the reapproved project, Dec 9, 2010.

San Diego’s second lawsuit went further than just challenging the new EIR certification and project reapproval. It also asserted that San Diego holds Pueblo water rights to all water within the boundaries of the Pueblo, that the San Diego Formation aquifer underlies parts of the Pueblo, and that the proposed wells would tap the San Diego Formation. The City therefore asked the court for “a declaration regarding its rights to the San Diego Formation vis-a-vis Sweetwater.”

Because of overlap between the two lawsuits, the Court decided to consolidate the two cases on Dec 21, 2010.

San Diego probably feels it has no choice but to press a challenge. Presently San Diego imports 85-90% of its water. According to its Long Range Water Resources Plan (LRWRP) 2002-2030, “By 2030, the City’s reliance on imported water could be as low as 57% if most of the alternative resources options available to the City were implemented.” San Diego is investigating a number of groundwater possibilities. However, as the City’s LRWRP notes, the San Diego Formation “does not appear to recharge naturally at a useful rate.” It also observes “there could also be potential interjurisdictional and water rights issues regarding the City’s use of the basins because they extend beyond the boundaries of the City’s overlaying land.” The City’s lawsuit certainly speaks to that point.

For now, things have been quiet. At Superior Court the only thing pending is a Status Conference scheduled for Aug 12, 2011 in Dept 71, Richard S. Prager presiding.

[late word: although it wasn’t in the court record when I reviewed it last week, I just heard that there was a preliminary decision in June…that the judge agreed that there are several problems with the EIR. If correct, this could mean back to the drawing board for Sweetwater. I’ll post an update tomorrow.]


Posted in Sweetwater Authority, Water | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Preview: City of San Diego 2010 Urban Water Management Plan

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 12, 2011

As part of its long-range water resources planning activities, the City of San Diego, like other large water agencies, is required to adopt and submit an Urban Water Management Plan to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) every five years. Here’s the 2005 version. The new 2010 plan was originally due by December 31, 2010 but a six-month extension was given and the July 1 deadline is now approaching.

Until recently, where public comment on the draft 2010 plan is concerned, the Public Utilities Department (PUD) kept a fairly tight rein on it (but you can get a copy below).

Last month PUD announced the planned publication of the 2010 plan at an Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) subcommittee meeting and the Natural Resources and Culture (NR&C) Committee by offering a brief PowerPoint summary about it.

For the upcoming May 18 NR&C meeting the agenda packet includes a shortened PowerPoint summary but not the full draft plan. The committee will be asked to approve the plan and forward it to the full city council.

The only complete public copy of the draft (so far, that I know of) was just distributed yesterday to the IROC mailing list with its May 16 meeting agenda packet. Here’s a portion from the section discussing public involvement:

“The Plan was presented at public meetings to the Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) Environmental and Technical Committee on April 11, 2011 and the San Diego City Council’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee (NR&C) on April 20, 2011. These public meetings included a discussion of the Plan including the per capita water demand targets. The draft Plan was presented to IROC on______ and to NR&C on _______. The Plan was presented at a public hearing before the San Diego City Council at one of its regularly scheduled meetings on_______, where it was approved for adoption. A notice of the public hearing was provided to all cities within San Diego County and to the County of San Diego 60-days before the hearing. Public hearing notifications were published and copies of the Plan were made available for public inspection at the City’s office and on the web site two weeks before the public hearing. Copies of the 60-day notification, published public hearing notification and adoption resolution are included in Appendix A. The Plan will be submitted to DWR, the California State Library and San Diego County within 30 days after adoption. The Plan will be available for public review on the City’s web site within 30 days after filing a copy of the Plan with DWR. The City shall implement the adopted Plan in accordance with the schedule described in this Plan.” [from Section 1.6]

From the looks of it, that was the original idea, anyway. If you read it carefully, the draft plan wasn’t shown or distributed at the April IROC and NR&C meetings, it was simply announced with PowerPoint slideshow handouts. The blank dates for the draft plan apparently will be filled in with the May 18 IROC and May 20 NR&C meetings, although only IROC’s agenda packet actually includes the draft plan [note–see update below]. Presumably broader public access to and ability to comment on the draft plan will be possible once it is docketed for the City Council meeting.

Councilmember Sherri Lightner should be interested since she lately expressed the wish to develop a new water policy for San Diego.

The draft management plan emailed to IROC was sent in three parts; you can view it here:

Update: I sent email to the NR&C Committee Consultant regarding the absence of the full plan from the May 18 agenda packet and he arranged to add it. It’s now there, here’s the direct link:

I should also note that on May 16 I received an email message from Eric Symons, Supervising Public Information Officer for the Public Utilities Department, in which he said: “There was no intent on the part of the City to keep a “tight rein” on the UWMP. The Draft 2010 UWMP was inadvertently excluded from the Documents Available for Download section of the NR&C website on Wednesday when other supporting documents appeared.”


In contrasting related news, the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) announced on May 9 that it is seeking public comment on its draft 2010 Urban Water Management Plan for San Diego County. The draft can be viewed at SDCWA’s website. Comments on the draft will be accepted through June 6.


Posted in Commerce, Land use, Water | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

San Diego water rates to go up in March

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 14, 2010

By now, just about all San Diego city residents should have received a notice of public hearing to be held on January 24, 2011 to discuss a requested water rate increase. The increase is needed to cover the new price of water charged by the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) — the imported water wholesaler supplying the City of San Diego and 23 other member water agencies in the county.

Although SDCWA’s price increase to its member agencies takes effect January 1, 2011, the City’s proposed rate increase would not begin until March 1, so there will be a few months where water rate revenues will be out of sync with what the City has to pay for water. The San Diego Public Utilities Department (PUD) believes it can absorb the difference for a few months, but if the March 1 increase does not take effect, something will have to give.

Many water agencies throughout the county have already approved rate increases for the same reason. In addition, some of them have taken the opportunity to bundle in additional operations and maintenance costs into their rate increases, so they are doing more than simply passing along the increased price of water.

San Diegans are not being asked for those extras. The higher price of the water itself is the only thing residents are being asked to pay for. For single-family residences — the majority of San Diego water customers — the increase will amount to about $0.47 per month. [late clarification: that amount pertains only to the increase in the base fee. The overall increase in the bill can be $3.41 for for up to 14HCF of use — see comments]

San Diego is in the middle of the pack. From the 2006 Water Cost of Service Rate Study

Practically speaking, it looks pretty straightforward and non-controversial. But politically there are complications.

For one thing, it is already known that SDCWA will increase the wholesale price of water again in 2012, so San Diego residents will again be asked to approve a “pass-through” rate increase next year.

For another, the City will eventually need to expand its water capital improvement program (to replace overaged water mains, etc.) and cover other higher costs.

The Public Utilities Department has been engaged in longer-term thinking about the water rate structure and the Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) has been monitoring developments and giving feedback on that topic.

To that issue, yesterday the IROC held a special workshop — a presentation from PUD on the framework for the rate setting process. The nearly two-hour presentation by PUD Assistant Director Alex Ruiz went into detail about the many complex issues involved in designing rates. To list a few of the rate drivers: operations and maintenance; pumps, plants, and pipes; bond coverage requirements; rate affordability; current economy; pensions; trust/transparency; taxes; CIP financing; regulations.

The current rate structure was last overhauled via a four-year capital improvement program in 2007. The 2007 program was based on the San Diego Water Cost of Service Rate Study completed in 2006. FY 2011 is the final year for that program and PUD is now gathering information for a new rate review, with a new cost of service study expected to begin in FY 2012.

Mr. Ruiz also briefly characterized ongoing staff discussions about a future revision to the rate structure possibly incorporating some of the techniques used by the Irvine Ranch Water District for taking household needs into account in a rate structure that encourages conservation and penalizes waste.

Meanwhile, City Councilmember Carl DeMaio is campaigning against the increase by introducing tangental arguments that, especially in the City’s current economic malaise, tend to generate emotional responses. Based on a “white paper” he delivered in September, DeMaio makes charges of “empty promises” and “out of control labor costs” and that “flaws and weaknesses” in PUD’s management and the overall rate structure have not been addressed and therefore (as punishment, I guess) this pass-through increase should not be approved until those issues are addressed.

(Incidentally, while observing the IROC workshop I got to wondering if Mr. DeMaio ever attends IROC meetings. IROC’s administrative support person Monica Foster wasn’t sure how many times, but committee member Gail Welch recalled that did he come to one meeting long enough to inform the committee of his priorities as a councilmember.)

Ultimately, the whole rate structure issue can appear to boil down to this dynamic between costs and rates: on the one hand you can total the costs and then calculate what rates should be to pay for them; or you can determine what ratepayers can afford to pay and then decide which costs can be funded with that amount. Somewhere in that mix is the answer.

The immediate rate increase bypasses those difficult issues for the time being. Carl DeMaio’s diversions notwithstanding, the question is simply whether we’re willing to cover the commodity cost of water that the City has to pay SDCWA.

For further information, here’s a report by the San Diego Independent Budget Analyst (see also the City Auditor’s review of calculations used for the proposed increase).


Posted in Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC), San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), Water, Water rates | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Groundwater dispute between San Diego and Sweetwater Authority

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 8, 2010

Is the City of San Diego’s environmental lawsuit against Sweetwater Authority actually more about asserting water rights in the San Diego Formation aquifer? The lawsuit alleges defects and procedural errors with the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but a Sweetwater Authority representative told me San Diego is positioning itself to assert its pueblo water rights over the aquifer and perhaps lay claim to work already done by Sweetwater. The staffer made the remark in response to a question I asked during a recent open house at the Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility.

If you look at the City’s lawsuit, it does focus attention on the EIR and procedural issues — there’s no mention of pueblo water rights. However, there are definite allusions to claims on the water such as: “The City of San Diego is committed to managing its water rights and the groundwater resources within its jurisdiction…” and “…as an entity with water rights in the Formation, the City has a special interest in managing this important resource…” (page 2 of the lawsuit).

It’s true that San Diego has a “paramount right” to all water within the San Diego River watershed, including the groundwater, based on the City’s pueblo past (the Journal of San Diego History has this background on that business). The question, though, is what about the groundwater in the San Diego Formation aquifer? The issue is much murkier there.

The Sweetwater Authority has been drawing an average of 2,727 af/yr from six existing wells in the Formation since 1999, and now plans to install five additional wells to roughly double the take.

The San Diego Formation aquifer is bisected by four different drainage basins, so rights to its groundwater are hardly clear, and there’s relatively little that is known about how it behaves and is recharged. True, it has been the object of widespread study (see the USGS San Diego Hydrogeology web page and the County Water Authority’s San Diego Formation Aquifer Storage and Recovery studies). Legal claims and project ideas have been made, but the bottom line on the whole situation, as observed by Wes Danskin, Project Chief for the USGS San Diego Hydrogeology Project, is: “What I know is that the science is not well founded yet.”

Certainly any large-scale groundwater withdrawals should be based on thorough scientific understanding of the aquifer and San Diego’s lawsuit credibly addresses potential problems with increased pumping, including overdraft of the aquifer, land subsidence, seawater instrusion, and increased waste brine discharge from the desal plant going into storm drains and ultimately into San Diego Bay.

No doubt San Diego wants some of that Formation water for itself and increased withdrawal by Sweetwater threatens the remaining supply. The lawsuit states “Also, the City informed Sweetwater of a project it intends to construct within 4 to 5 years. Sweetwater chose to ignore this project as well.” For some reason the City seems reluctant to say what that is. When I sent email to PUD’s Arian Collins asking for the name of the specific project, he referred me to Eric Symons. Symons didn’t reply until a week later and then vaguely only to “confirm that it is the San Diego Formation Basin.” I’ve gotten no reply to my followup request to name the specific project.

One can try to guess which project, I suppose: here’s a general San Diego Formation Fact Sheet and a Mission Valley Basin Fact Sheet. The City also has an interest in drawing from groundwater below Balboa Park. However, the Mission Valley site is complicated by the groundwater contamination from the fuel tank farm near Qualcomm Stadium. As for beneath Balboa Park, it appears to be somewhat isolated from Formation groundwater flow so recharge would be a concern, according to Danskin.

Little is known about how the entire San Diego Formation aquifer recharges itself, but it should be safe to say the recharge capability is limited and large-scale withdrawals raise questions about sustainability.

Dec 8, 2010: A copy of San Diego’s complaint is reproduced below. Today I spoke with a clerk at Superior Court who said that Sweetwater has not yet filed a reply brief (the U-T article said today was the deadline for that), but that settlement negotiations are ongoing. A Status Conference has been scheduled for Dec 17. Meanwhile, the clerk also informed me that a NEW lawsuit will be filed on Dec 10, but it is not yet known what party will file that suit.


There’s another area I’ve been looking at that’s potentially linked to the San Diego Formation (it’s certainly in the San Diego River watershed), but it’s playing out a bit differently. The City has a pilot well located near the foot of the dam at El Capitan Reservoir to determine if seepage from the reservoir can be captured. Presumably that groundwater travels through El Monte Valley and is ultimately linked in some way with the San Diego Formation.

Presently many property owners in the El Monte Valley have their own wells drawing groundwater. Theoretically San Diego could exert its pueblo water rights against those wells but probably does not consider their use to be a problem.

As for the consequences of Helix Water District’s plan to develop a 5 mgd groundwater operation with its El Monte Valley IPR Project, I got this statement from Kate Breece, Public Affairs Manager at Helix Water District: The El Monte Valley Project would be a “put and take” project. We would have the right to any water we put into the basin, and we would take out no more than we put in. So, the City would not claim any of that water as belonging to the “watershed.” Our staff works with the City’s staff to make sure we keep them informed of our project.”


Posted in Environment, Helix Water District, Sweetwater Authority, Water | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »