First Aqueduct Maintenance Shutdown Runs Feb. 25 to March 5

Portions of the San Diego County Water Authority’s historic First Aqueduct will be shut down for inspections and maintenance to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the region. The work – funded through water bills – is scheduled from February 25 to March 5.

Work will focus on the southern portion of the First Aqueduct and will isolate sections of the pipeline as part of a major pipeline structure rehabilitation project to be performed over the next twelve months.

The Water Authority and its member agencies are coordinating to minimize impacts to residents and businesses, while servicing critical regional pipelines that are more than 65 years old. Customers of the following water agencies should check with their local water provider if they have questions about localized impacts: City of Poway, City of San Diego, Helix Water District and Ramona Municipal Water District.

Pipeline 1 of the historic First Aqueduct was constructed in the 1940s with Pipeline 2 built in the 1950s. On November 28, 1947, the first Colorado River water flowed south from Riverside County for 71 miles into the City of San Diego’s San Vicente Reservoir via the First Aqueduct.

The annual shutdown is a key element of the Water Authority’s Asset Management Program. The agency continually assesses and inspects its 308 miles of large-diameter pipelines, which provide treated and untreated water to 23 member agencies across San Diego County.

As assets age, the Water Authority proactively replaces and repairs them to minimize impacts to member agencies and the public. Investments in the latest inspection technologies, including electromagnetic scanning, robotic inspections and 3-D tunnel inspections help the Water Authority’s asset management team detect defects in pipelines and related facilities. Identifying potential issues early helps avoid more costly fixes later.

For more information about pipeline management, go to: www.sdcwa.org/projects-programs/programs/asset-management/

6,000+ Free Low-Flow Toilets Installed for Local Residents

More than 6,000 high-efficiency toilets have been installed free of charge for income-qualifying residents and those in under-represented communities across the region through a grant-funded program run by the San Diego County Water Authority.     

Funds remain to replace about 4,000 more outdated toilets with professionally installed, high- efficiency models at no cost to mobile home communities, multi-family units and income qualifying single-family homes. Smart irrigation controllers are also available at no cost through the program. To be eligible, participants must be residential customers within the Water Authority’s service area. Learn more and apply at Direct Install Program.   

“This is a great way for residents to get a free home upgrade that both conserves water and saves on water bills,” said Mel Katz, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Water affordability is a top priority for the Water Authority, and this program is one of many ways we are combatting inflationary pressures on water prices.” 

Over the last two years, the Water Authority helped secure $25 million to cover overdue residential water bills resulting from the economic impacts of COVID-19. In addition, the Water Authority also operates an industry-leading asset management program designed to avoid the extreme costs of emergency repairs on large-scale water pipelines. And, the agency is advocating in Washington, D.C., for federal funds to defray the cost of generational upgrades to local dams and reservoirs.

Through the Direct Install Program, toilets that use 1.6 gallons or more per flush are replaced with premium, high-efficiency models that use half the water. The program is entirely funded by more than $4 million in grants from the California Department of Water Resources’ Integrated Regional Water Management and Urban Community Drought Relief programs, and through Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. 

Water Utility Scam Alert: Imposters Working Countywide Seek Access to Homes

Residents countywide are warned to be vigilant for imposter water agency “workers” knocking on doors and requesting entry to homes to test water quality or making sales pitches.

Similar scams pop up every few years. A spate of incidents has been reported by several water agencies across the region in recent weeks, including in the City of San Diego, South County and East County.

The Water Authority and its 23 member agencies are not responsible for water testing or repairs inside private homes and rarely have reason to ask for entry. Water agencies also typically don’t sell or endorse commercial products. Legitimate water agency employees are always in uniform, carry an identification badge and typically drive a clearly marked agency vehicle.

Utility scams take many forms, including requests for bill payment with a credit card, demands that residents buy certain water treatment products and sales pitches for water line insurance. In some cases, imposters go door-to-door, other times, they operate by phone. Imposters may work in pairs, with one person talking to a resident while another cases the home for valuables.

Residents are urged to turn away anyone claiming to be a water utility employee who appears at their home without an appointment and requests to enter, solicit information or payment. Concerns about potential fraud should be reported to a customer’s local water agency.

Water Authority Settles with Water Districts on Detachment

The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has agreed to drop all litigation and allow the Rainbow Municipal Water District (RMWD) and Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) to detach from the Water Authority in exchange for an immediate $25 million payment from the two districts plus related costs and fees. This settlement avoids expensive litigation, provides institutional certainty, and minimizes rate impacts on San Diego County’s 3.3 million residents.

“While the majority of SDCWA’s remaining 22-district membership remains opposed to detachment, they agree that this settlement makes the best of a bad situation,” said Mel Katz, chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority Board. “While we continue to believe the detachment award should have been higher, RMWD and FPUD are required to pay all costs, above the amount ordered by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in addition to its entire exit fee up front, meaning there will be no immediate rate impacts for ratepayers.”

As part of the settlement agreement, both RMWD and FPUD have agreed to pay all costs related to the decommissioning of SDCWA facilities that will not be used post-detachment. Further, the two agencies have agreed to indemnify and hold harmless the SDCWA against any future claims related to detachment and completion of all administrative, technical, and infrastructure-related tasks before the SDCWA’s facilities can be transferred. This is above and beyond what LAFCO prescribed as part of its conditions for detachment.

In response to LAFCO’s July decision to approve RMWD and FPUD’s request for detachment, Assemblymember Tasha Boerner – with the support from Mayor Todd Gloria and the City of San Diego – introduced and passed Assembly Bill 399: The Water Ratepayer Protection Act. This legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom this fall, will go into effect in January 2024 and will require, in the future, a countywide election be held for a detachment of a local district, thereby protecting the long-term integrity of the SDCWA and regions ratepayers.

Sustaining Communities and the Colorado River

New conservation pact protects the river, reduces pressure on water rates

The Colorado River is a critical source of the West’s water supply, supporting 40 million people, nearly 6 million acres of agriculture, and tribes across seven states and portions of Mexico. Decades of drought and heavy use have strained the river, requiring innovative approaches to how we sustain this important lifeline. 

A landmark set of conservation agreements signed in December 2023 protects the river and helps conserve up to 1.6 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead. It’s also expected to save the San Diego region $15 million to $20 million, reducing upward pressure on water rates. The Water Authority was proud to partner with Imperial Irrigation District.  Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to create this innovative model for water management in the arid West.

The Water Authority-MWD-IID agreement builds on the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, which turned 20 years old in October 2023, and highlights how water agencies can work together under existing laws and agreements to adapt to the changing climate. Funds to facilitate the deal are from the federal 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

Learn More

Bureau of Reclamation news release
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Colorado River Board of California news release
Read Here
Full story on WNN
Read Here

San Vicente Dam Raise Wins Global Acclaim

The San Diego County Water Authority this week received a prestigious international engineering award for using an innovative construction technology to raise the historic San Vicente Dam – a project that helps ensure regional water security for generations to come.

Meeting in Guangzhou, China, the International Commission on Large Dams presented the Water Authority with its highest honor for a special type of construction called roller compacted concrete, or RCC. That method simplified construction at San Vicente Dam to save time and money on a structure capable of withstanding a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

Completed in 2014, the dam raise project increased the height of San Vicente Dam by 117 feet, the equivalent of adding a 12-story building atop the original structure. It more than doubled the capacity of the San Vicente Reservoir by adding 152,000-acre feet of water storage capacity, enough to serve more than 450,000 households for a year.

“This award is a reminder that the San Diego region has a long history of strategic investments to protect our most important natural resource,” said Water Authority Board Chair Mel Katz. “The San Vicente Dam Raise was a landmark project and one that inspires us as we seek solutions to current and future challenges.”

San Vicente Dam has been owned and operated by the City of San Diego since it was built in 1943. Capacity in the enlarged reservoir is shared by the city and the Water Authority, which also share the cost of operating the reservoir.

“Raising the San Vicente Dam was a massive feat of engineering and it’s recognized as the world’s tallest dam extension using roller compacted concrete,” said Water Authority Engineering Director Neena Kuzmich. “More importantly, it was the final major element of the Water Authority’s $1.5 billion Emergency Storage Project, a system of reservoirs, pipelines and pumping stations designed to secure a six-month supply of drinking water for the San Diego region in case a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a prolonged drought interrupts imported water deliveries.”

Work to prepare the original dam and foundation for the expansion began in 2009. Using RCC for the expansion was a key design element. Unlike conventional wet concrete, which is poured, RCC uses less cement and water to create a cookie dough or clay-like texture.

Equally as strong as wet concrete, RCC is placed in layers one on top of the other and compacted. The placement process resembles road construction.

This state-of-the art application method significantly shortens construction time while meeting all technical requirements. Expansion of the San Vicente Reservoir, located just outside of Lakeside, concluded in June 2014. The dam now stands 337 feet tall.

In lieu of attending this week’s ceremony in China, the Water Authority sent a video about the San Vicente project. Watch the short video here: LINK

Water Authority Saves Money and Water in Three-Party Water Deal

The San Diego County Water Authority today announced a landmark water exchange designed to boost water levels in Lake Mead, combat upward pressure on wholesale water rates, and create a new template for water management in the arid West. 

The one-year agreement is supported by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and executed in coordination with the Imperial Irrigation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. It builds on the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, which turned 20 years old in October, and highlights how water agencies can work together under existing laws and agreements to adapt to the changing climate. Funds to facilitate the deal are from the federal 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

“This is a great example of what happens when we collaborate and work together. Cooperation by all three water agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation produced a creative solution that helps sustain the Colorado River.” said Water Authority Chair Mel Katz. “Today’s announcement is an innovative win-win-win solution that helps us all meet the incredible challenges we face.”

The agreement meets several goals by helping California meet conservation obligations under the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin conservation program, supporting financial viability for participating agencies, and reducing the chances for more shortages on the Colorado. The river system has suffered drought-induced decline for more than 20 years.

For the Water Authority, the arrangement is expected to save a projected $15 million to $20 million (depending on hydrological variables), which will help offset significant upward pressure on rates due to inflation and other factors. 

Over the past several months, the Water Authority, MWD and IID have been working on ways to make the most of unusual circumstances in which the State Water Project is delivering full supplies to MWD due to a historically wet year. That has refilled reservoirs while reducing demand for Colorado River water. The MWD Board of Directors approved the agreement in November, and the IID Board followed suit on Dec. 1. 

“This transfer is an example of how Southern California water agencies are leading with creative water management,” said Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham. “This agreement is based on decades of working together through the QSA, and it makes good on our collective commitment to the river. While this is a one-year arrangement, it will open the door for additional talks between partnering agencies in 2024.”

The exchange works like this: The Water Authority will leave 50,000 acre-feet of conserved QSA water in the river, helping to raise the level of Lake Mead, which has fallen perilously low in recent years. The volume is equivalent to the amount of water used in a year by approximately 150,000 single-family homes. It’s also equivalent to about three months of San Diego County’s deliveries under the QSA, which created the largest water conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history. The Bureau of Reclamation will cover the cost of the Water Authority’s QSA supplies left in the river. The Water Authority agreed to buy 50,000 acre-feet from MWD to meet current and future demands. The Water Authority’s financial savings result from the cost differential between the MWD supply rate and the rate for IID’s conserved water through the QSA.

Money Still Available for Low-Income Water Customers in San Diego County

Millions of dollars in federal aid are still available for low-income water customers in San Diego County to cover overdue residential water and wastewater bills. The San Diego County Water Authority helped secure the federal funds — and the deadline for applications has been extended to March 31, 2024.

The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), established by Congress in 2021, offers one-time payments to cover outstanding residential water and/or wastewater bills. The federal government allocated $116 million to California to help households struggling to pay their water bills. Statewide, $40 million remains for the program, with nearly $5 million remaining for San Diego County. 

“Water affordability is one of the top priorities for the Water Authority, and we are committed to helping ensure that everyone in San Diego County has access to safe and reliable water,” said Water Authority General Manager Dan Denham. “In addition to the current funds, the Water Authority is supporting efforts to develop federal legislation to make the low-income assistance program permanent.”

As part of its commitment to water affordability, the Water Authority partnered with the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Anti-Poverty of San Diego County (MAAC) and Campesinos Unidos, Inc. to provide outreach and education so residents who are struggling economically are aware of the federal financial aid for water customers.

To find out if they are eligible and to participate in LIHWAP, customers must apply directly to MAAC or Campesinos, the local service providers selected by the state to implement the program in the San Diego region. LIHWAP will pay water-wastewater bills of up to $2,000. Qualified low-income households, including renters whose utility payments are included in their rent, are eligible for funds. Residents can determine their local service provider at www.csd.ca.gov/Pages/FindServicesInYourArea.aspx, by entering their city and locating their “water utility assistance provider.”

MAAC is a nonprofit that serves 75,000 individuals every year and partners with individuals and families to address their immediate needs and provide them with the tools and resources to achieve economic mobility. More information is at https://maacproject.org/lihwap/.

Campesinos was incorporated as a private non-profit corporation to specifically promote greater social, economic, educational, and employment training opportunities for farm workers and other economically disadvantaged residents of the Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties. More information is at https://campesinosunidos.org/water-program/.