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Posts Tagged ‘San Vicente Reservoir’

Stored energy operation at San Vicente Reservoir to be considered in feasibility study

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 28, 2013

[Revised to clarify SDG&E is a potential, not certain, partner]

These three slides show a pumped storage operation already functioning at Lake Hodges and Olivenhain Reservoir.

These three slides show a pumped storage operation already functioning at Lake Hodges and Olivenhain Reservoir.

A $149,920 contract was awarded to Black & Veatch Corporation to perform an economic and financial study, and another $59,667 contract went to Navigant Consulting to provide an independent review and give advice on next steps, for the San Vicente Pumped Storage Project.

The contracts were awarded by the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) at last Thursday’s (October 24) board meeting. SDCWA will also enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of San Diego for joint participation in the implementation of the study. The City will pay an equal share of the study’s cost.

In brief, the pumped storage project would entail construction of a small reservoir at an elevation above San Vicente reservoir. Water from San Vicente reservoir would be pumped to the upper reservoir at night taking advantage of non-peak power rates, then released back to San Vicente during the day, generating electricity to that could be sold to an entity such as SDG&E at higher daytime rates. As a potential purchaser, SDG&E would gain a new reliable stored energy source to help manage fluctuating demand and SDCWA would generate some profit. The project is described in greater detail in this story.


(While the City of San Diego owns San Vicente Reservoir and the dam, SDCWA paid for construction of the dam raise project and owns rights to the resulting additional reservoir capacity)

The proposed facility would have a 500 MW capacity.

Why pumped hydro energy storage?

Wind and solar installations are becoming increasingly important sources of electricity for our power grid. Wind and solar energy production is highly variable, however, and can’t reliably provide a specified amount of energy on demand. Stored energy facilities can help moderate fluctuating power supply situations as well as be on call for periods of peak demand.

SDCWA already has a functioning pumped hydro storage facility at Lake Hodges operating under a power purchase agreement with SDG&E. Water is pumped back and forth between Hodges Reservoir and Olivenhain Reservoir generating up to 40 MW of electricity. The three slides shown here illustrate that arrangement (slides are from the SDCWA PowerPoint presentation at the meeting).


Integrating renewable energy sources and improving grid reliability is why the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) just ruled on October 17 that PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E must procure 1,325 MW of energy storage, to be installed and delivered by the end of 2024. It also ruled that community choice aggregators and electric service providers must procure 1% of their annual peak load from stored energy by 2020.

A possible sticking point

However, the CPUC ruling also said that pumped hydro storage facilities producing more than 50 MW of power cannot be counted towards its procurement targets.

Pumped hydro storage clearly stores energy and could benefit the electric grid, so why should it be ruled out just because it produces more than 50 MW?

CPUC’s rationale was that its policies and procedures must “…provide opportunities for the cost-effective deployment of all types of energy storage technologies. In order to achieve this, however, there must be a limit on the size of pumped hydro storage systems…” because “…the sheer size of pumped storage projects would dwarf other smaller, emerging technologies; and as such, would inhibit the fulfillment of market transformation goals.”

Future outlook

Even within CPUC there was some disagreement about large pumped storage projects and the decision may be revisited. Commissioner Mark Ferron and President Michael Peevey wrote in their Concurrence: “We are concerned that ratepayers may be missing an opportunity to benefit by limiting the size of pump storage under this decision. We hope that a fix can be found.”

At the board meeting, members of SDCWA’s Engineering & Operations Committee concerned about CPUC’s ruling expressed hope that the feasibility study would consider the strategic implications of the CPUC ruling and that SDCWA’s lobby in Sacramento might do more outreach.

The feasibility study is expected to be completed sometime in spring 2014.

San Vicente marina facilities update

Also during the SDCWA board meeting, a contract for work on the new marina facilities at San Vicente Reservoir in the amount of $22,882,639 was awarded to Pulice Construction. The new marina is being built because the dam raise project will bring higher water levels

Work will include additional grading and rock slope protection for the hillsides surrounding the marina, export of excess material, staining for slopes along the marina access road to match the surrounding hillsides, electrical work for the potable water supply system.

Once work on the marina is completed, currently scheduled for late 2014, SDCWA will coordinate with the City to open it and the reservoir to the public. The opening date will depend on how quickly imported water can be obtained to fill the reservoir. At least 50,000 acre-feet will be needed to open the marina.

On the left, the new marina and boat ramp under construction at San Vicente Reservoir is in the quarry that was created to supply material for the dam raise project. The dam isn't visible but is to the left of the marina. The reservoir's "bathtub ring" shows the high water mark behind the old dam (water level is lower now for construction). With the raised dam, the water level will be considerably higher, possibly submerging most of the peninsula on the right. The view is from a trail in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve.

On the left, the new marina and boat ramp under construction at San Vicente Reservoir is in the quarry that was created to supply material for the dam raise project. The dam isn’t visible but is to the left of the marina. The reservoir’s “bathtub ring” shows the high water mark behind the old dam (water level is lower now for construction). With the raised dam, the water level will be considerably higher, possibly submerging most of the peninsula on the right. The view is from a trail in the OakOasis Open Space Preserve.

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San Vicente hydropower proposal gathers momentum

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 15, 2013

The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) announced on July 8 that it is soliciting bids to conduct an economic/financial assessment of a proposed pumped-hydro energy storage (PHES) facility based at the San Vicente reservoir. SDCWA hopes the proposed energy storage facility will be helpful in balancing SDG&E’s power load during peak demand, especially since the San Onofre nuclear power plant is now offline (20% of its output went to SDG&E), and that it would generate extra dollars to boot.

PHES facilities have reversible pump/generators connecting an upper and lower reservoir, with connections to the electrical power grid. The pumps use low-cost electricity during off-peak hours to move water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir, creating stored energy. During hours of peak electricity use, water is released from the upper reservoir to generate power at a higher price.

For the proposed PHES facility, the San Vicente reservoir would serve as the lower reservoir and an upper reservoir would be constructed nearby.

The idea isn’t new. Use of the San Vicente reservoir for a PHES project was first contemplated by the City of San Diego in 1993, when it worked with another entity to apply for a preliminary permit for a similar project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). That permit expired and no extension was requested.

The San Vicente Dam Raise Project shown here nearly completed, increases reservoir capacity from 90,000 to 242,000 acre-feet.

The San Vicente Dam Raise Project shown here nearly completed, increases reservoir capacity from 90,000 to 242,000 acre-feet.

Meanwhile, SDCWA’s massive Emergency Storage Project (ESP) was creating a system of reservoirs, interconnected pipelines, and pumping stations. The Authority imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California waterways in aqueducts that cross three earthquake faults and the flood-prone San Luis Rey River before reaching San Diego County, and a major earthquake or flood could cut the region off from imported water deliveries for between two and six months. The ESP was designed to ensure sufficient local water supplies are available to the San Diego region for up to six months in the event of an interruption in imported water deliveries. Expansion of the San Vicente reservoir and construction of the Olivenhain dam were part of the ESP.

As early as 1996 a PHES facility at Lake Hodges had been identified as complementary to the ESP. In 2000 SDCWA filed with FERC for a preliminary permit and the proposal evolved into the Olivenhain-Hodges Pumped Storage Project, about 15 miles northwest of San Vicente Reservoir. By 2006 late 2000 the Olivenhain dam with a 24,000 acre-feet (AF) reservoir was under construction in an Elfin Forest valley above Lake Hodges, along with a pipeline connecting the two. The PHES facility began operating in the fall of 2011.

In addition to energy storage and new reservoir capacity, the Olivenhain-Hodges connection serves a water resource management function by making it possible to transfer water from Hodges that would otherwise be lost over the Hodges dam spillway during wet seasons if rain runoff exceeds the lake’s capacity. Further, when SDCWA operates the pumps for ‘water purposes’ (i.e., saving water that would otherwise spill from Lake Hodges by pumping it to SDCWA’s aqueduct during a rain event) it pays for the energy at the wholesale rate, not the retail rate.

All of the power generated at Olivenhain-Hodges is sold to SDG&E under a power purchase agreement. The facility operates on a daily schedule, per requests by SDG&E that typically are filed by 2 p.m. for the following day. In general, the project generates power from noon to 4 p.m., while pumping upstream occurs around midnight.

Olivenhain Dam creates a reservoir with 24,000 acre-feet capacity.

Olivenhain Dam creates a reservoir with 24,000 acre-feet capacity.

As for the cost of energy for pumping versus the money earned from power generation at Olivenhain-Hodges, SDCWA says: “Prices change daily. What’s more important is the delta between the two, which typically is in the range of $5 to $8 per MWh.” SDCWA also receives a “standby” fee of $70 per KW year.

The Olivenhain-Hodges PHES facility has a 40MW capacity, while the proposed San Vicente facility would have a 500MW capacity.

The newer San Vicente PHES proposal took a separate track. In 2006, in cooperation with the City, SDCWA filed an application for a preliminary permit from FERC that was approved in 2007.

After conducting preliminary studies, in 2010 SDCWA issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for someone to conduct a power market analysis optimization, siting of the upper reservoir, applicable laws, land acquisition, geotechnical, and financial and economic analysis services. For some reason, a contract never materialized from this RFP.

The idea remained alive, however. The 2010 preliminary permit was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2013 so SDCWA applied for a new permit on June 24. As quoted in the July 8, 2013 SDCWA news release announcing the study RFP, Frank Belock, deputy general manager at the Water Authority said: “The concept of pumped storage at San Vicente has been on our radar for years and is a natural next step now that the San Vicente Dam Raise project is almost complete. An independent economic review will help the Board of Directors determine whether we should make it a priority.”

The scope of work in the new 2013 RFP for the $150,000 contract calls for study completion within about six months:

“In general, the scope of work includes technical, financial, and economic evaluation services and includes but is not limited to, identifying project constructability issues and potential risk including potential pipeline or tunnel alignments; approximate intake structure locations and configurations; geotechnical and seismic condition considerations; potential location of powerhouse; facility cost estimate ranges; development schedule; potential impacts to the existing power reservoir; estimate ranges of annual operations; licensing requirements; upper reservoir constraints; environmental permitting process requirements; evaluation of the regional power needs based on existing and planned generation facilities; and an analysis of the power demand.”

In short, the study is largely for return-on-investment and energy market calculations to see if there is a good financial benefit from the PHES facility.

About thirty individuals attended an RFP “pre-proposal” meeting at SDCWA headquarters on July 10 to hear about the project background, scope of work, insurance requirements, etc. Answers to questions revealed that the study project can be managed by a qualified person but technical reports must be signed and stamped by a professional engineer, and that successful bidders on the project will remain eligible to bid on RFPs for further studies (e.g., engineering, geological, environmental) that are possible following completion of this study. Proposals are due July 30.

The RFP identifies four potential sites for a new upper reservoir near San Vicente (SDCWA says it is open to suggestions for other sites):

Alternative Site A (Figure 4) is located near Iron Mountain, approximately three miles northwest of the San Vicente Reservoir. This site’s full pond elevation is approximately 2,110 feet above mean sea level (MSL). The water surface area at full pond is approximately 93 acres.

Alternative Site B is located near Foster Canyon, approximately one-half mile northwest of the San Vicente Reservoir. This site’s upper reservoir’s full pond elevation is approximately 1,490 feet above MSL. The water surface area at full pond is
approximately 100 acres.

Alternative Site C is located approximately 0.8 miles northeast of the San Vicente Reservoir. This site’s full pond elevation is approximately 1,600 feet above MSL. The water surface area at full pond is approximately 60 acres.

Alternative Site D is located approximately 1.8 miles southeast of the San Vicente Reservoir. This site’s full pond elevation is approximately 1,800 feet above MSL. The water surface area at full pond is approximately 80 acres.

The map below shows the possible sites in relation to San Vicente reservoir (click for enlargement). Although SDCWA says it doesn’t have a preference, the location just east of Iron Mountain (Alternative A) might be a favored spot because it has the highest elevation to provide “hydraulic head”.


According to the FERC preliminary permit application, “In a typical year, the Project would likely generate 15-20 percent of the time, usually within relatively short, daily two to four-hour periods. The Project also has the capability to generate continuously at different power levels from 100-500 MW. Assuming Site Alternative A is used as the upper reservoir, if the Project began generating at full load (500 MW) without any weekday pump-back operations, the upper reservoir would contain sufficient storage to provide over 3.5 hours of daily generation between Monday and Friday.”

Depending on the site selected, the upper reservoir capacity would approach 10,000 acre-feet, roughly twice the capacity of Lake Murray.

There may be environmental concerns about a new upper reservoir and no doubt groups like San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider San Diego, Equinox Center, and others will provide input when environmental reviews begin. Although he wasn’t prepared to issue a position statement, Coast Law Group co-founder Marco Gonzalez, a long-time advocate for sustainable water policy in San Diego, said “I’m always concerned when someone wants to destroy habitat for a reservoir and dam. However, given the need for cleaner power, the hydroelectric/pump paradigm isn’t so bad.”

The economic outlook for PHES projects is somewhat uncertain, which is why SDCWA wants this financial study.

According to Soma Bhadra, CEO of Proteus Consulting, a consultant who is considering the RFP, “After the evaluation, the chips will fall where they will. I sense that the news will not be in favor of pumped storage. Due to the proliferation of solar and wind in the region, the nature of peak is changing, and the value of peak energy production is decreasing. The energy market for regulation or ancillary services are not yet open in California. There may not be enough off-peak differential to make the numbers work for pumped storage projects, unless we fuel the project with only renewables and take the advantage of some tax credit.”

Unconventional natural gas production may significantly lower natural gas prices for gas-fired power plants (which also can provide quick response power during peak loads, thus competing with PHES), while a legislated price or cap on carbon dioxide emissions could improve the outlook for PHES.

An article in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews states: “”Most low-carbon electricity resources cannot flexibly adjust their output to match fluctuating power demands. For instance, nuclear power plants best operate continuously and their output cannot be ramped up and down quickly. Wind power and solar energy are intermittent and their operators sometimes have no control over the schedule of electricity output. Utility-scale electricity storage to maintain balance and prevent blackouts remains a significant barrier to a de-carbonized power system. There are only two large-scale (>100 MW) technologies available commercially for grid-tied electricity storage, pumped-hydro energy storage (PHES) and compressed air energy storage (CAES). Of the two, PHES is far more widely adopted.”

Still, a PHES facility is not a hydroelectric plant generating new electricity as implied by some media reports. PHES stores energy that was already generated elsewhere but recaptures only 70 or 80% of the power input. In other words, 20-30% energy is lost. Further, as San Diego physicist and fluid dynamicist Dr. Burton Freeman notes, the new reservoir would mean additional water loss from evaporation. Evaporation rates are very difficult to estimate and vary according to the weather, size and depth of reservoir, etc., but water loss can be significant. Freeman also observes that moving water in and out of San Vicente might change the reservoir’s circulation in ways not anticipated by the city’s indirect potable reuse project reservoir limnology study. Plus, unlike the Olivenhain-Hodges facility, it’s not clear if a San Vicente facility would create water resource management benefits (e.g., Olivenhain captures water that could have been lost over the Hodges spillway).

So, as Bhadra said above, “the chips will fall where they will.”

UPDATE July 2021: SDCWA has a new map showing the proposed location of the proposed reservoir at


Background material for this story:

Water Authority To Study Viability Of New Hydroelectric Plant / KPBS

Hydroelectric dam may substitute nuke power / U-T San Diego

Water Authority considering hydroelectric power at San Vicente / San Diego Reader

San Diego May Build 500 Megawatt Reservoir Hydroelectric Plant / Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Federal Register, April 15, 2010

Raising San Vicente Dam: Why and How / HydroWorld

Opportunities and barriers to pumped-hydro energy storage in the United States / Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

Thanks to Mike Lee, SDCWA public affairs representative (formerly U-T’s environmental reporter), for obtaining answers to my queries about this project.


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Questions arise about the San Vicente Reservoir limnology study

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 27, 2011

Limnology [lim-nol-uh-jee] Noun. The scientific study of bodies of fresh water, as lakes and ponds, with reference to their physical, geographical, biological, and other features.


San Diego’s Water Purification Demonstration Project is well underway now (aka Water Reuse Program). The project aims to assess the viability of advanced treatment and purification of reclaimed water as a supplemental source of drinking water.

The plan under investigation envisions that the purified reclaimed water will be blended with raw imported water in the San Vicente Reservoir and retained for a specified period of time to create an “environmental buffer” effect. Then the reservoir water would be piped to a water treatment plant to distribute as drinking water.

The project has under contract a limnology study to determine if the San Vicente Reservoir can provide sufficient detention time for the treated reclaimed water before it enters the potable distribution system. The study relies on modeling techniques — sophisticated ones to be sure — to predict the dynamics of water transit through the reservoir.

The question is: can the limnology study accomplish its task through modeling techniques alone?

That’s one question that San Diego physicist and fluid dynamicist Dr. Burton Freeman has been studying. Freeman examined the limnology study methodology and believes he found serious shortcomings. He documented them and asked for comments from Jeffrey Pasek, Public Utilities Dept. (PUD) Watershed Manager, Marsi Steirer, Assistant Director at PUD, Dr. Michael Anderson of the Water Purification Demonstration Project’s Independent Advisory Committee; Dr. Imad Hannoun, the Project’s limnology modeling consultant; and others.

Dr. Freeman agreed to let me publish his review here (may not display properly on mobile devices):


If Scribd doesn’t display the document, here’s a link to the PDF version.

I think Dr. Freeman raised some very pertinent questions, but the official response to Dr. Freeman’s review from PUD’s Jeffrey Pasek was:

“A full Project Report for the Water Purification Demonstration Project will be presented to the City Council in late 2012. The Limnology and Reservoir Detention Study of San Vicente Reservoir [including the modeling work] will be part of this report. At that time there will be opportunity for public review and comment on the report. Until then, sub-portions or internal drafts of the Project Report will not available for public review. When the draft of the full report is released, we would be please to meet with you and get your input.”

That’s pretty clear: no public input or review of the study process until they issue their full draft report late next year, although Jim Peugh, chair of the Independent Rates Oversight Committee, indicated a willingness to allow Dr. Freeman to give a presentation to the committee or a subcommittee, which may happen.



Dr. Freeman’s points are important to be considered for the project as envisioned, but my own question about the project has been on a slightly different track: is there really a need for detention time at all?

Many scientific studies have already demonstrated that the advanced treatment process produces extremely high quality purified water…significantly better than the imported raw water that we use. So pure that it needs to be diluted somewhat for good mineral balance. Blending it in the reservoir with imported raw untreated water seems like the perfect solution.

A bay in the San Vicente Reservoir. Water cascades down the fill chute from the San Diego Aqueduct tunnel portal. Water level has been drawn down while the dam raise project is underway. The new water level will be noticeably higher than the bathtub ring indicates.


But what reason, other than fears about public perceptions about potable reuse, to require a lengthy detention time in the reservoir before it can be used? And what if the limnology study reveals that the treated water mixture will reach the reservoir’s intakes leading to the treatment plant sooner? Does that kill the whole project? I don’t think that’s acceptable.

Surely a reliable multi-barrier failsafe mechanism can be designed to make sure that any malfunction/contamination that may occur in the water purification process will immediately block tainted water from reaching San Vicente Reservoir.

In any case, San Vicente Reservoir has been drawn down considerably because of the construction to raise the dam and increase the reservoir size. After construction, it will take several years to refill to the enlarged capacity. That means there is no way to use real-time data about water currents and other factors that will affect the water added to the reservoir, and the relatively scant historical data about the reservoir may not be relevant because it’s based on the smaller reservoir’s size.

Dr. Freeman’s questions should be taken seriously…(and mine, too!).


Posted in Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

San Vicente Dam first phase construction 50% complete

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 18, 2010

According to a construction update I received from the San Diego County Water Authority, excavation of the foundation on the hillsides adjacent to the dam, removal of concrete from the top and the face of the dam, and other work to prepare for raising the height of the dam 117 feet is over half completed and is expected to be completed this summer. However, completion of the entire project has been pushed back from the original estimate which was late 2012. Work is now expected to be complete in mid-2014.

P.S., I’ll be taking a tour of the project in early March and will take plenty of pictures for a future report.

Here’s a copy of the update (reprinted with permission). Complete background information about the San Vicente project can be found at SDCWA’s San Vicente Project website.

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San Vicente Dam photo tour

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 18, 2009

The San Diego County Water Authority has posted a photographic tour of the San Vicente Dam Raising Project. Click here to see it.

The November Lakeside Community Planning Group Update also has a few pictures.

I’m on the waiting list for a tour, and will post photos and more detail here afterwards.

My earlier posts on the project:


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A quick look at the San Vicente Dam-raising project

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 13, 2009

It has been about three months since the official groundbreaking for the San Vicente Dam raising project. The dam is currently 220 feet tall and when completed, will be 117 feet taller, increasing its holding capacity from 90,000 acre-feet to 242,000 acre-feet. My earlier post on the groundbreaking has links for additional details on the project. Access to the dam site is restricted, but I’m on the waiting list for a project tour (which hasn’t been scheduled yet) and plan to report periodically on progress.

I was able to take a few pictures from outside the guarded entrance to the area. From that location only about half the dam is visible, the spillway near the tower is in the middle of the dam). There will be plenty of blasting of the canyon walls on both sides of the dam, and probably beneath the foot of the dam as well. There was activity on the big hill on the left, and in the second picture, look above the dam on the right side of the canyon. You can see work done where the raised dam will make contact. Imagine operating the tractor that had to dig that road/trail to get up there!




(See also this June construction update for a good picture showing the entire face of the dam)

[Nov 18: SDCWA has posted a photographic tour of the dam site on their website]

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

San Vicente Dam-raising project begins

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 9, 2009

It’s been years in planning, but groundbreaking on the San Diego County Water Authority’s (SDCWA) project to increase storage capacity by raising San Vicente Dam by over 100 feet has  begun.

The general tone of local media reporting has been of excitement and relief.  KPBS quotes Maureen Stapleton (SDCWA General Manager) gushing “That’s enough water for 300,00 homes for a full year.” The impression seems to be that we’ll soon have plenty of water to handle more homes.

But according to the public reports I’ve read, the extra water is supposed be stored for use in case of an emergency with our imported water supply.   The problem I see is whether that emergency water will eventually become “normal” water to supply our growth and increasing demands.

Interestingly, an Oct 2007 EPA memo commenting on San Diego’s Draft Environmental Impact Report alluded to this ambiguity, asking why “water storage reliability” and not “water supply reliability” was given as the reason for the project (they point out that demand could be satisfied through means such as conservation and water-transfers rather than dam expansion).  In other words, they thought we want the extra capacity to meet increasing demand, not just provide for emergency storage.

However, I cannot locate the final environmental impact report to see how this question was answered, even though an April 2008 notice posted in the Federal Register says the final report is available online at SDCWA’s website.  Perhaps I didn’t dig enough.

In any case, enthusiasm for this water project should not dampen our efforts to reduce demand.

Additional information:

Posted in Water | Tagged: | 3 Comments »