The region’s successful emergence from drought proved a major theme of 2017. San Diego County led the way for California by declaring an end to drought conditions in January - months ahead of the state – thanks to secure supplies for the foreseeable future and a regionwide commitment to conservation.

The Water Authority’s focus on sustainability achieved national recognition from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and that commitment showed as the Water Authority redoubled its pioneering efforts to educate residents and businesses about the need to continue making the most of every drop, no matter the weather. With Live WaterSmart as the rallying cry, regional water use didn’t spike after drought regulations were lifted. In fact, it remained roughly 20 percent below 2013 levels – a testament to the region’s sustainability ethic.

Along the way, the Water Authority delivered financial incentives as part of a multi-agency Sustainable Landscapes Program to promote the next-generation of water-saving landscapes at homes across the region. The agency also continued preparing for climate change, developing habitat projects and enhancing the region’s pursuit of integrated water management.

  • County Water Supplies Sufficient for 2017 and Beyond

    The Water Authority’s multi-decade supply diversification strategy proved its value again during the fiscal year, which started with the state mired in a fifth year of drought. Despite dry conditions, the San Diego region had secured sufficient water supplies to meet demand for 2017 and beyond even before heavy winter rains and snowfall occurred statewide, avoiding state-mandated water cutbacks. Drought-resilient resources such as the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant – which produced approximately 9 percent of the region’s water supply – and conservation-and-transfer agreements for highly reliable Colorado River water provided supply security for the region. In addition, the Water Authority emphasized continued water-use efficiency through its Live WaterSmart initiative – launched in July – as an essential element of long-term resource management.

    Carlsbad Desalination Plant
    The Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant started commercial operations in December 2015 and quickly became a core water supply for the region, producing about 40,000 acre-feet in 2017.
    Water Use Reduction Chart
  • Historic Drought Ends in San Diego County

    Heavy local rainfall, record-setting winter precipitation in Northern California and a significant snowpack in the Colorado River basin prompted the Water Authority’s Board of Directors to formally declare an end to regional drought conditions in January. The Board resolution called on Gov. Jerry Brown and state regulators to rescind the statewide emergency water-use regulation for areas no longer suffering from drought conditions. By the time of the Board action, San Diego’s official rainfall measurement station at Lindbergh Field had recorded 172 percent of average rainfall since the start of the water year on Oct. 1. The water content of snow in the Sierra Nevada, a prime water source for much of the state, was 193 percent of average, and snowpack levels in the upper basin of the Colorado River were at 161 percent of average. Gov. Brown declared an end to statewide drought conditions in April.

    Sierra Nevada snow pack
    Major water sources such as the Sierra Nevada benefited from record-setting precipitation during the winter of 2016-17, helping California emerge from drought.
    Rainfall Totals
  • Water Authority Earns National Honors for Sustainability

    Sustainable management practices earned the Water Authority national recognition from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in October, and secured the Water Authority’s receipt of all three top awards from the association since 2010. The latest honor – the Sustainable Water Utility Management Award – commended the Water Authority for its commitment to improving the region’s water supply reliability in a manner that balances economic, social and environmental needs. The association praised the Water Authority for its track record of consistently executing programs, projects and policies that responsibly and effectively meet the long-term water demands of the communities it serves.

    Three Top Awards
  • Sustainable Landscapes Program Launches Incentives

    The San Diego Sustainable Landscapes Program in October started offering grant-funded financial incentives to residents who upgraded turf lawns to landscapes that provide multiple environmental benefits. The pilot program drew immediate interest across the region, allocating $1 million in grant money during the fiscal year. Incentive recipients had to meet rigorous design criteria designed to showcase the next frontier of water-saving landscape design. Requirements include water-efficient plants and irrigation equipment, stormwater capture and detention features, and soil amendments to improve water efficiency. The SLP partnership was created by the Water Authority, the City of San Diego, the County of San Diego, the Surfrider Foundation, the California American Water Company and the Association of Compost Producers. A website,, debuted in July to help residents find the resources needed to transform urban landscapes into sustainable mini-watersheds.

    Sustainable Landscapes Program Project
    The Sustainable Landscapes Program uses grant funds and other resources to promote healthy soils, climate-appropriate plants, high-efficiency irrigation and using rainwater as a resource.
  • Developer Interest Runs High for San Vicente Energy Storage

    The potential for an energy storage facility at San Vicente Reservoir continued to grow during the fiscal year, as the Water Authority and its partner, the City of San Diego, passed significant milestones for determining the joint project’s feasibility. After the Water Authority issued a formal Request for Letters of Interest in January, 18 qualified parties responded. Each hoped to participate in the development of the potential project, which could provide up to 500 megawatts of stored hydroelectric energy for use during off-peak periods. The Board of Directors in April authorized staff to formally solicit proposals, in collaboration with the City of San Diego, for a partner to fully develop the project. The energy storage project could lessen upward pressure on water rates by generating energy-related revenues, and increase regional renewable energy use by leveraging existing infrastructure at San Vicente Reservoir.

    Power Generation and Power Storage
    Power Generation and Power Storage
    Energy storage facilities generate power when water flows from an upper reservoir, through turbines in a powerhouse, to a lower reservoir during peak demand periods. Water is then pumped uphill during low-demand periods.
  • $1 Million Incentive Advances Clean Energy Storage

    The Water Authority embraced an opportunity to lower its energy costs in May by accepting a $1 million incentive from the California Public Utilities Commission to build and deploy intelligent energy storage at the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant. Through a no-cost agreement for the Water Authority, Santa Clara-based Green Charge will install, own and operate a 1 megawatt/2 megawatt-hour battery system at the Twin Oaks plant. The industrial-sized batteries are expected to save the Water Authority nearly $100,000 per year in energy costs by storing low-cost power – either excess solar energy from Twin Oaks or retail energy purchased during off-peak hours – for use during high-demand periods.

    Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant
    Nearly 5,000 solar panels are installed at the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant, and the Water Authority is advancing an opportunity to install industrial-scale batteries at the plant to store low-cost power.
  • Habitat Rehab Projects Enter Homestretch

    The Water Authority entered the final phase of habitat restoration related to its $1.5 billion Emergency & Carryover Storage Project when post-construction monitoring started in summer 2016 at nine acres near the San Vicente Reservoir Bypass Pipeline. Restoration projects near San Vicente Reservoir commenced in 2010, and the last segment of sensitive habitat was planted in early 2016. Permits issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board require the Water Authority to ensure re-seeded areas become self-sustaining habitat that no longer requires human intervention – a goal that is expected to be achieved in 2021. When the monitoring is completed, the Water Authority will have restored approximately 82 acres of sensitive habitat related to the E&CSP.

    The Water Authority is restoring 82 acres of habitat, including this plot near San Vicente Dam, with native plants such as California sagebrush, California buckwheat and deerweed as part of its environmental commitment.
  • IRWM Program Secures $250,000 Planning Grant

    The San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management Program continued its legacy of successful projects in late 2016 when it received $250,000 from the Department of Water Resources to update a key planning document and develop a Storm Water Capture Feasibility Study. The Regional Water Management Group – the Water Authority, the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego – will use the grant to help offset the cost of updating the 2013 San Diego IRWM Plan to comply with new state guidelines and enable the region to remain eligible for state grants. The Water Authority and its partners will revise the 2013 plan to address water quality, climate change, groundwater management and stormwater management. The plan update will take approximately two years, and it will include an expanded assessment of the water-related needs of the region’s disadvantaged communities.

    IRWM Project
    The San Diego IRWM Program supports 56 projects, including the Chollas Creek Integration Project, which is restoring native habitat, reducing flooding hazards and maintaining the creek as a natural conduit for stormwater runoff.
  • Climate Change Adaptation Plans Focus on Water

    Through 2016 and 2017, Water Authority served as a technical study partner and third-party reviewer of the San Diego Basin Study, which is part of a cost-share partnership between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department to evaluate how climate change may impact the region’s water supplies and demands. The study, which received state funding from Proposition 50, identifies local strategies to manage potential impacts of climate change, focusing on optimizing reservoir systems and furthering development of new water sources. Potential adaptation concepts were selected by stakeholders for a rigorous trade-off analysis. The final report is expected in April 2018.

    Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Public Confidence in Region’s Supply Reliability Grows During Drought

Weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown ended California’s statewide drought emergency, the Water Authority’s public opinion poll of 1,001 San Diego County adults showed growing confidence in the reliability of the region’s water supply. Conducted in May, the poll revealed that an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of respondents viewed the region’s water supply as somewhat or very reliable, an improvement from the 2015 (65 percent) and 2014 (70 percent) surveys. Residents also continued to show significant support (79 percent) for the Water Authority’s supply diversification strategy, which includes independent Colorado River water transfers, water-use efficiency, and the development of local supplies such as groundwater, recycling and desalinated seawater.

2017 Public Opinion Poll