Across California, a second straight dry year is creating significant challenges for farmers, residents, and water agencies. Reservoir levels in many parts of the state are below their historical averages – in some cases alarmingly so – and the snowpack was just one-third of normal in late April.
Conditions are so severe that the governor has declared drought emergencies in 41 of 58 counties even though we have yet to feel the heat of summer.
It’s a different story in San Diego County. Thanks to three decades of investments in diversifying and strengthening our water supply portfolio, we have reliable supplies for 2021 and future dry years. That is great news for the 3.3 million people who live here and our $253 billion regional economy–and it is no accident.
After the severe drought of 1987-91, the Water Authority and its retail member agencies set out on a mission to make sure that we were never again in the vulnerable position of being solely dependent on a single water supplier for virtually every drop.
Today, that strategy means that we have several locally controlled supply sources, and no source accounts for more than one-third of our water. Those sources include the nation’s largest water conservation-and-transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, which has high-priority rights on the Colorado River. We also rely on the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which produces up to 50 million gallons per day of high-quality drinking water.
In addition, the San Diego region has invested in two major water storage upgrades–building Olivenhain Dam and raising San Vicente Dam–so that we have significant water reserves for dry years and other emergencies. Several local water agencies across the region are also developing potable water reuse projects to produce high-quality drinking water and increase water resources in our region.
Another major piece of our strategy is water-use efficiency. In fact, per capita water use in San Diego County has shrunk by almost half of what it was in the early 1990s. The reason is water-smart practices and investments by residents and businesses, including the widespread adoption of low-water landscapes and appliances across the region.
Those strategies and others mean that the Water Authority and its member agencies have enough water to meet normal demands, reliability which our ratepayers pay for each month. While other regions are having to wrestle with the cost and complexity of making major new investments today, we are benefitting from decisions made years ago that we are already paying off.
Despite our solid position, it’s important to remember that the job of securing reliable water supplies is never done in the arid West. To that end, the Water Authority is promoting continued water-smart practices this summer; supporting additional state funding for water security; educating state officials about regional shovel-ready and shovel-worthy projects in our region; and exploring additional opportunities to protect our county’s agricultural industry.
With those efforts and others, we can collectively continue to ensure the San Diego County is drought-safe for decades to come.