Throughout 2017, the Water Authority exhibited the kind of proactive, agile leadership that allowed the agency to anticipate significant events and initiate changes when circumstances required.
Securing major victories in the rate case litigation against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was among the year’s most important efforts, as was a sustained push by Board officers to curb overspending, overcharging and unplanned borrowing by MWD.
The Water Authority stepped forward in numerous other ways as well, promoting water-saving resources, successfully sponsoring legislation to improve resource efficiency, and increasing community engagement in water issues through enhanced social media opportunities and a revamped water-themed exhibit at the Fleet Science Center.
The state Court of Appeal in June ruled in favor of the Water Authority on several key issues in the agency’s lawsuits to secure legal rates at the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The appellate court found that the Water Authority is entitled to approximately 100,000 acre-feet more water per year from MWD than MWD had calculated – the greatest water supply victory in San Diego County history. The court also ruled that MWD collected tens of millions of dollars in illegal charges from San Diego ratepayers. In addition, the court found that MWD breached its contract with the Water Authority by not setting legal rates, and that a contract clause designed to punish the Water Authority for its decision to challenge MWD’s rates in court was unconstitutional. However, the court issued a significant adverse ruling by determining that MWD’s State Water Project costs could be included in the price MWD charges to transport the Water Authority’s independent water supplies from the Colorado River.
With sufficient water supplies for the San Diego region, the Water Authority in July launched a new education and outreach campaign focused on promoting long-term water-use efficiency no matter the weather. Live WaterSmart followed the award-winning “When in Drought” campaign once the region beat the state’s water-use reduction mandate and passed the state’s stringent “stress test” for water supply reliability. Live WaterSmart includes events, such as a partnership with the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation to distribute 1,501 heavily discounted rain barrels across the region in December. The campaign continues to promote efficient water use through everyday actions, including regular checks of irrigation systems for leaks and upgrading landscapes with low water-use plants. It includes resources such as free WaterSmart Checkups for homes and businesses, WaterSmart landscaping classes and videos, a home water use calculator.
The Water Authority and City of San Diego in March unveiled a renovated permanent display about water at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, which hosts approximately 400,000 visitors annually. The new exhibit theme – “Water Supply Reliability for the 21st Century: Innovation and Conservation” – underscores countywide priorities of investing in water supply reliability while making the most of the region’s water resources. The upgrades emphasize local water supply projects, WaterSmart landscaping, water recycling and reuse, and reducing stormwater pollution. The new-look exhibit also showcases the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant with photos and a reverse-osmosis filter, similar to those used at the plant to produce approximately 50 million gallons of drinking water per day.
A pair of Water Authority-sponsored bills to advance water efficiency and renewable energy were signed into law in September. Assembly Bill 2515 (Weber) aligns updates of the state’s Model Water-Efficient Landscape Ordinance with updates of the California Green Building Standards Code. The re-alignment is designed to improve the integration of new landscape and irrigation technologies, systems and practices into rules that govern installation and renovation of outdoor landscapes. The second sponsored bill, AB 33 (Quirk), requires the California Public Utilities Commission to analyze the potential for all types of long-duration bulk energy storage resources to help integrate renewable energy sources, such as solar, into the electrical grid. It also declared that pumped hydroelectric storage has the potential to meet needs for rapid energy generation and for maximizing renewable energy resources.
The Water Authority continued its legacy of leadership in water policy during the year, advocating in Sacramento for an end to emergency drought restrictions and for balanced state policies that include supply development and water-use efficiency. At the same time, the Water Authority continued to support the advancement of science-based regulations for potable water reuse so the industry can flourish in San Diego County. Executive staff and Board members also visited Washington, D.C., in September and June for meetings with administration officials. And, the agency hosted a Legislative Roundtable with San Diego Congressman Scott Peters, who discussed water-related topics and legislation with Board members, member agency officials and community leaders.
The Water Authority’s campaign to encourage extraordinary water conservation during the height of the drought won top honors from the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in October. The campaign, “When in Drought: Save Every Day, Every Way,” won the association’s “Silver Bernays” award for integrated communications and “Best of Show” for a perfect score from a panel of out-of-state judges. The Water Authority also received two “Bronze Bernays” awards in partnership with Poseidon Water and Southwest Strategies for outreach related to the dedication of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
The Water Authority’s 2017-2021 Business Plan, unveiled in October, reflected the agency’s sustained emphasis on water system management, system reliability, regulatory compliance and financial stability. Key focus areas in the updated plan include water supply, water facilities, and business services. Each focus area was divided into programs that contain management strategies, objectives and tactics, and key performance indicators necessary to achieve the agency’s mission. The updated business plan also calls for a new emphasis on cybersecurity, energy management and workforce development. The plan was drafted to align with the Water Authority’s vision statement promoting an agency culture that is “Pioneering. Visionary. Agile. Driven.”
Business Plan Key Focus Areas
Imported Water, Local Water, and Resource Planning
Infrastructure/Capital Improvement Program, Sustainability, and Water System Management
Communication and Messaging, Financial Management, Technology, and Workforce Management