Board Adopts Long-Term Plans for Water Facilities and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

March 28, 2014

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously adopted an updated water facilities master plan and…

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously adopted an updated water facilities master plan and a Climate Action Plan, along with an environmental analysis of the two long-range strategies. The package will serve as a roadmap through 2035 for future capital projects and responding to climate change as it relates to activities within the agency.

Regional infrastructure development and water conservation efforts over the past decade allowed the Water Authority to defer two major projects and reduce projected capital improvement program costs by $653 million through 2025. In addition, documents adopted Thursday show that recent Water Authority investments in new energy generation will allow the agency to meet 2020 state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

Since September 2011, the Water Authority has conducted more than 23 public workshops, meetings and hearings about its long-term planning documents before the Water Planning Committee and the full Board. All three documents approved Thursday were released Nov. 22, 2013, for public review and comment.

“These plans, crafted through an extensive public process, benefit the entire San Diego region in several ways,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “They will help us continue to improve water supply reliability, integrate with other regional planning efforts, promote fiscal sustainability, enhance environmental stewardship and build on our legacy of water conservation.”

The 2013 update builds on a history of successful projects coming out of the 2003 master plan that are helping prepare San Diego County for droughts and other emergencies that limit water supplies.

“By continuing to execute cost-effective strategic plans, we can continue to support our $191 billion economy and the quality of life we enjoy in this region,” Wornham said.

The centerpiece of the documents approved Thursday is the 2013 Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan Update. It incorporates projections for future water demands and water supplies from the agency’s current Urban Water Management Plan, and it identifies the facilities needed to meet those demands. Current projected spending on master plan projects is estimated at $380 million to $500 million. The main anticipated projects are efficiency improvements that will enable the Water Authority to better manage its existing water-delivery system and optimize capital projects the region has already built.

The master plan update recognizes the “new normal” of reduced water sales in the region, and a greater emphasis on water conservation and local water supply development. Water Authority member agencies are on track to meet the state-mandated goal of reducing per capita water use 20 percent by 2020. The master plan also accounted for the agency’s shift from a “building” organization to one that that will concentrate its focus moving forward on asset management, operations and maintenance.

One of the key projects anticipated by the master plan is a new pump station in North County that will deliver stored water to the northern reaches of the Water Authority’s service area. The plan also calls for adding valves to the Water Authority’s extensive pipeline network that can more efficiently isolate aqueduct sections for inspections, maintenance and repairs.

The updated master plan defers $653 million in capital improvement projects through 2025 to control expenses and adapt to lower water demand due to conservation. Two large facilities that won’t be needed before 2030 are a new pipeline to bring water into the county and a new “crossover” pipeline to alleviate potential constraints in the delivery system.

“The San Diego region has made significant investments in infrastructure and a serious commitment to water conservation,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “Those efforts have allowed us to scale back construction projects in coming years without endangering water supply reliability, saving ratepayers a significant amount of money.”

The 2013 master plan also considers the long-term regional benefits of efforts under consideration by Water Authority member agencies, such as a large-scale potable reuse project being studied by the city of San Diego. Construction of that project or others by member agencies would minimize or eliminate the need for the Water Authority to develop additional water supplies over the next 25 years. The Water Authority plans to continue evaluating the feasibility of a seawater desalination facility at Camp Pendleton while closely monitoring the progress of complementary regional projects along with the accuracy of water demand forecasts.  A Camp Pendleton desalination plant was not included among the projects approved Thursday.

Because major infrastructure projects typically take more than a decade to permit, design and build, the Water Authority uses the master planning process to look far ahead at how to meet the water needs of the region’s growing economy and population. In 2003, the master plan identified large-scale regional water treatment capacity, seawater desalination, and increased reservoir storage as priorities, prompting three major construction projects that will serve the region for decades.

 The Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant, capable of treating 100 million gallons per day, was finished in 2008. The privately developed Carlsbad Desalination Project – which will be the largest desalination plant in the nation, producing up to 50 million gallons per day – is under construction, and the Water Authority expects to start receiving water from the plant to bolster regional supplies by early 2016. Finally, the San Vicente Dam Raise is nearing completion. The project will more than double the storage capacity of San Vicente Reservoir, providing increased regional protection from droughts or other emergencies that limit water supplies.

In conjunction with the 2013 master plan update, the Board also approved the Water Authority’s first Climate Action Plan, a voluntary strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. The plan demonstrates the Water Authority’s commitment to improving the energy efficiency of its operations and saving ratepayer money by limiting greenhouse gas emissions over which the Water Authority has direct control.

The greenhouse gas “footprint” of the Water Authority’s system is relatively small; non-Water Authority projects such as the Carlsbad Desalination Plant are addressed and mitigated for in separate environmental planning processes. The Climate Action Plan includes baseline emissions of 9,325 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2009, and a target of 7,927 million tons in 2020 to align with state goals for a 15 percent reduction in the baseline amount.

Water Authority projections show that the agency will achieve the targeted reductions because of emissions offsets it receives for pumped storage power generated at Lake Hodges since 2012. In addition, projects in the master plan will incorporate energy-efficient designs, and the Water Authority is investigating additional ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through expansion of renewable energy sources such as hydropower.

The final element of the Water Authority’s document package approved Thursday is a Supplemental Program Environmental Impact Report that addresses both the Climate Action Plan and the 2013 master plan update.  The environmental report covers potential and cumulative impacts from completing new projects and is a supplement to the 2003 Program EIR.  At a program level, the report finds there are no significant environmental impacts from implementing new projects detailed in the 2013 master plan update.

For details about the master plan and related documents, go to

  • The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $268 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 23 retail water providers, including cities, special districts and a military base.

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