The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday said the agency is advancing plans that align with recommendations issued by the San Diego County Grand Jury in its May report, “Reduce Dependence on Imported Water.”
The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies “will continue to implement programs and projects that encourage efficient water use through conservation and water recycling,” the Water Authority’s official response said. “Additional supply options are being pursued to address the multiple challenges to providing future water supply reliability." The letter was submitted August 1 to comply with the Grand Jury’s deadline, and then ratified on Thursday by the Water Authority’s Board.
“The Grand Jury’s articulate assessment of water issues benefits the entire region,” said Thomas V. Wornham, chair of the Water Authority’s Board. “It’s encouraging to have this kind of support for our mission as we craft water supply plans through 2035. We will continue diligently looking for cost-effective ways to enhance the county’s water supply portfolio and emergency safety net."
In May, the Grand Jury said the Water Authority “has made substantial progress in diversifying water supply sources." It formally recommended that the Water Authority “continue to pursue a vigorous policy to lessen dependence on imported water by continued conservation, reuse and reclamation, additional emergency storage projects and new desalination projects." It also recommended that the Water Authority “further demonstrate the economic feasibility of expansion of desalination projects to include a Camp Pendleton location."
The Water Authority said those recommendations are being implemented through various means, including the development of local groundwater and recycled water supplies, ongoing conservation efforts and the evaluation of seawater desalination options conducted in collaboration with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
In addition, the Water Authority fully agreed with two findings issued by the Grand Jury – that desalination is a viable local source of water and that long-term local storage of water for use in emergencies is vital.
The Water Authority partially disagreed with a third finding – that six months of water storage capacity for emergencies is insufficient. Based on projected growth, supply development and conservation, six months of capacity for emergency use remains adequate for responding to an earthquake or other catastrophic event for the next 20 or 30 years, according to the Water Authority. However, the agency is developing 100,000 acre-feet of additional storage at San Vicente Reservoir to address potential needs due to environmental restrictions on water deliveries, drought and other factors that can limit supply availability but don’t fall under the parameters of the Water Authority’s Emergency Storage Program.
The Water Authority’s diversification strategy dates back to the early 1990s, when the agency relied on the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for up to 95 percent of its water. In 1991, a severe drought led to a 31 percent reduction in supplies for San Diego County, with threats of deeper cuts.
In response, the Water Authority launched a long-term plan to increase water supply reliability through a series of investments in major infrastructure projects, water-transfer agreements and conservation measures. The agency helped craft the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in 2003 and embarked on a multi-billion dollar Capital Improvement Program that has substantially increased the region’s ability to move and store water by adding and expanding facilities.
In addition, the Water Authority has promoted water-use efficiency through legislation, outreach and conservation upgrades such as low-flow toilets, weather-based irrigation controllers and water-efficient landscaping. Those efforts helped decrease regional water consumption by about 30 percent between 2007 and 2012.
The Water Authority’s overall strategy has markedly reduced its reliance on MWD. In 2020, the San Diego region plans to meet 30 percent of its demand with water supplies from MWD, and the rest will come from its portfolio of other sources.