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The Big Picture San Diego Blog

Investor Spotlight: San Diego County Water Authority

October 21, 2014

San Diego County Water Authority

Water is an essential part of the region’s economic health. From genomics to advanced manufacturing and beer, many of San Diego’s strongest industries are also those that use the most water.

Amid one of the most severe droughts in the State’s history, local governments and water agencies have put in place restrictions to conserve and increase regional water flow to preserve the health of our economy and people. The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) launched a When in Drought campaign to educate county residents and businesses about the need to conserve our water supply.

The good news is that when it comes to these diversification efforts, San Diego is leading the pack. Thanks to the efforts of the SDCWA, the region no longer relies on one source for 95 percent of its water supply, instead looking to new sources such as recycled water as well as water storage to bolster these efforts. The recently-completed San Vicente Dam raise doubles the reservoir’s capacity. Another answer may be right in our backyard: when complete in 2015, the Carlsbad Desalination plant will be the largest of its kind in the Western hemisphere, and provide another local source of water.

This week, we got to learn a little more about the region’s water supply – and what it means for our economic competitiveness - from Mark Weston, the newly-elected chair of the board of directors at the San Diego County Water Authority. Mr. Weston serves as the Poway representative.


1) Tell us about the SDCWA.
San Diego County is a wonderful place to live, but there are not local enough water supplies to support the region’s 3.1 million people and $206 billion economy*. That’s where the Water Authority comes in. We import water from distant sources and distribute it in five very large diameter pipelines to 24 retail water districts and cities. We also are helping to develop local water resources such as seawater desalination, and we are assisting our member agencies advance potable reuse, water recycling and groundwater. And, we promote water conservation to make the most of every drop. Established in 1944, the Water Authority service area stretches from Camp Pendleton to the Otay Water District on the U.S-Mexico border. Over the past two decades, the Water Authority – in partnership with the community – has diversified the region’s water supply sources. We no longer rely on a single supplier for 95 percent of our water, a strategy that is helping reduce the impact of the current statewide drought on our community.

2)  What makes San Diego’s water supply unique?
Our region is effectively at the end of two major pipelines that bring water from the Colorado River and Northern California. After the county’s imported water supplies were cut by 31 percent in 1991, the Water Authority SDCWA on the region's water supply and the region – with support from our member agencies and the business community – developed an aggressive plan to diversify our supply sources. The strategy included the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer as part of the historic 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. In addition, the Water Authority has promoted water conservation as a way of life, helping to reduce the region’s per capita water use by more than 20 percent since 2007. The Water Authority also has been a strong supporter of water recycling. And, in fall 2015, we expect to start buying water from the landmark Carlsbad Desalination Project.

3) Water is an essential component of our future. Pick a San Diego company that is paving the way when it comes to water conservation.
San Diego Zoo Global recycles more than 16 million gallons of water annually and uses that water to support its horticultural collections. In addition, the Zoo uses water-saving technologies such as low-flow toilets, water reclamation ponds and evaporation-reducing mulch around plants. San Diego Zoo Global is also doing a great job spreading the word about the need for water conservation through: new signs at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park that emphasize WaterSmart practices; water conservation reminders during bus and tram tours; and social media posts that highlight California’s water supply challenges while encouraging its legions of supporters to conserve water.

4) What do you anticipate for the Water Authority in the next 5 years? What do you anticipate for San Diego?
By 2020, the Water Authority anticipates achieving its long-term goals for creating a fully diversified water supply, and we also expect the region will meet the state Legislature’s mandate to reduce water use by 20 percent by 2020. But that doesn’t mean our job is done. The serious statewide drought and a changing climate will continue to challenge local and state water suppliers. For instance, if this winter is dry, it may mean reductions in the amount of imported water delivered to San Diego County by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California. While MWD is still our region’s largest water supplier, our diversification efforts will reduce the impacts on our community of any water allocations by MWD. About this time next year, the Carlsbad Desalination Project will generate 50 million gallons of water a day, enough to meet about 7 percent of regional demand in 2020. In addition, we will continue supporting our member agencies’ efforts to enhance groundwater supplies and water recycling. Several member agencies are developing or studying potable water reuse projects, and we have identified potable reuse as the region’s most likely next source of local supply. Finally, we will continue partnering with residents and businesses to conserve water, particularly outdoors.

*2014 estimated GDP, according to National University Systems Institute for Policy Research