San Diego Region’s Water Supplies Remain Adequate Despite Statewide Drought

January 17, 2014

Despite a statewide drought declaration on Friday, the San Diego County Water Authority has adequate supplies for 2014 because of…

Despite a statewide drought declaration on Friday, the San Diego County Water Authority has adequate supplies for 2014 because of local investments in diverse and more reliable water supplies over the past two decades and a long-term decrease in regional water demand.

The Water Authority is not projecting the need for countywide water-use restrictions this year, though the agency is closely monitoring hydrologic conditions across the Southwest. It is also encouraging residents and businesses to use water as efficiently as possible to avoid water waste.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency because areas of California have been hit hard by low water supply availability after two consecutive dry years and the start of a third. The Department of Water Resources’ snowpack survey in early January showed snow levels at 20 percent of normal – tied for the lowest such measurement for that time of year. The Colorado River Basin, another major source of water for Southern California, is faring better with the snowpack at about average for this time of year. However, 11 of the past 14 years have been dry in the Colorado River Basin, and the system’s main reservoirs collectively are less than half full. Locally, precipitation at Lindbergh Field was only 70 percent of normal between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

The San Diego region imports about 85 percent of its water supplies. This year’s imports from the State Water Project are expected to be very low due to low water storage levels in that system, poor hydrological conditions and regulatory restrictions. However, the Water Authority’s largest provider of water – the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – has said it has adequate stored water reserves and doesn’t expect to impose allocations this year.

The governor’s declaration directs state agencies to expedite the processing of voluntary water transfers, enact a statewide water conservation campaign, implement water-use reduction plans at all state facilities and take other actions to provide assistance to farmers and communities that are damaged economically by dry conditions.  The Water Authority staff is closely evaluating the details of the declaration and will update the Board of Directors on water supply conditions at its regular meeting on Jan. 23.

“We welcome any relief that state or federal agencies can provide, particularly in communities that are already experiencing significant impacts from water shortages,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “Today’s declaration underscores the constant water supply challenges facing California, the need to always use water wisely and the value of our investments in diversifying our water supplies.”

In 2006, the Water Authority and its member agencies developed and approved a plan for taking an orderly, progressive approach to managing water supplies during worsening supply conditions.  The document, now called the Water Shortage and Drought Response Plan, was activated by the Water Authority in May 2007 in response to increasing supply constraints and deactivated in April 2011. The Water Authority’s Board will use the plan as guidance for assessing potential regional actions to take this year in response to the supply forecast for the San Diego region in 2014 and beyond.

The governor’s declaration calls for Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. The San Diego region’s water users have made great strides in water-use efficiency. Per capita water use has decreased about 27 percent since 2007, and local cities and water districts are on pace to meet their state-mandated water-efficiency targets for 2020. Total regional consumption of potable water in 2013 was 24 percent lower than in 2007.

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer rebates, tools and educational programs to improve water-use efficiency at homes, businesses and institutions. For more information, go to the WaterSmart link at  

In addition, the Water Authority and its member agencies have made significant investments to diversify San Diego County’s water supply sources. Conservation-and-transfer programs that are part of the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003 provide a significant hedge against drought for San Diego County. In 2014, these transfers will provide the county with approximately 180,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water that reduce local reliance on the State Water Project. The Water Authority’s independent Colorado River transfers ramp up to 280,000 acre-feet in 2021, enough to support more than a half-million typical single-family homes.

Another major piece of the Water Authority’s supply strategy is taking shape across North County. In November 2012, the Water Authority signed an agreement to buy up to 56,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is under construction by the private developer Poseidon Water. It is expected to start commercial production in early 2016. It will produce enough locally controlled, drought-proof water to serve approximately 112,000 homes.

The Water Authority also is assessing proposed solutions to water supply challenges in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, the hub of the state’s water supply system and the source of about 20 percent of the San Diego region’s water supplies. It has become less reliable as a supply source in recent years and its habitat has deteriorated. The Water Authority’s Board is analyzing potential strategies for restoring the Bay-Delta by seeking solutions that are cost-effective and can secure long-term financing. In coming months, the Board will consider submitting comment letters on environmental documents and financing plans related to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. For more information about the Bay-Delta, go to

For more information about water supply and demand, 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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    Phone: (619) 855-5135