Investments Protect San Diego Region from Drought

June 21, 2021

Over the past three decades, the Water Authority and the region’s water ratepayers have invested in a diversified “portfolio approach” to water security that protects the region’s economy and quality of life from droughts and other water supply shortages. The strategy includes increasing locally controlled water supplies, such as the Carlsbad Desalination Plant which uses reverse osmosis filters (shown at left) to turn saltwater into drinking water, expanding water storage capacity, and improving water-use efficiency.

The result is enhanced water supply reliability that provides a safety net for San Diego County. The Water Authority’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan highlights how the region’s strategy to supply management and a sustained emphasis on water-use efficiency mean the region will continue to have sufficient water supplies through the 2045 planning horizon even during multiple dry years. 

Current dry conditions statewide are a reminder of just how important those investments are. The emerging drought also serves as a reminder that Sacramento should not impose one-size-fits-all mandates for combating drought like it did during the 2012-2016 drought. At that time, unprecedented state water-use decrees unnecessarily undermined regions like San Diego that had prepared for dry times. 

It would be especially damaging to restart the drought cycle with sweeping one-size-fits all demands that are inequitable and counterproductive. That approach would depress our economy just as it’s restarting after the year-long pandemic pause. Instead, the state should employ a stress test methodology for water agencies that acknowledges the unique circumstances of each area of the state and allows for local, targeted, real-time responses.

Locally Controlled Supplies

Local supplies mean decisions are made for San Diegans by San Diegans.

Long-term contracts for high-priority Colorado River water provide low-cost conserved supplies.

Desalinated seawater, groundwater and recycled water provide additional security.

Potable water reuse is the next source of supply.

Water Storage

Investments have created more than 190,000 acre-feet of emergency and drought response storage capacity that shield the region from potential supply cuts during multiple dry years.

Regional water storage capacity totals approximately 723,000 acre-feet, a 30 percent increase since 2003.

San Diego County ratepayers have invested in reservoirs owned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Water-Use Efficiency

Per capita water use in the San Diego region has declined by nearly 50 percent since 1990.

San Diego County ratepayers have conserved more than 1 million acre-feet of water over 30 years.

The Water Authority has been a leader since the 1980s in requiring and supporting conversions to water efficient devices like low-flow showerheads and toilets.