As water supply conditions deteriorated elsewhere in California, the Water Authority was ready to chart a course through the most severe drought in decades to ensure water reliability for the region. When state regulators issued unprecedented emergency water-use reduction mandates, the Water Authority led regional efforts to beat state targets while helping regulators develop a more balanced approach to drought management.

A strategic public outreach and education campaign added numerous water-saving resources for residents and businesses, putting the Water Authority on the leading edge of conservation efforts statewide. To cap it off, the Water Authority passed the state’s rigorous water supply “stress test,” once again validating the region’s multi-billion-dollar investment in creating a safe and reliable water supply.

  • Supplies Meet Local Demands Despite Drought

    Drought conditions decreased water deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to San Diego County by 15 percent starting in July – MWD’s largest cutback since 1991. Regardless, the Water Authority secured enough water to meet 99 percent of projected regional demands at the start of the fiscal year through its long-term supply diversification plan. Locally controlled supplies increased by approximately 50 million gallons per day in December when the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant started commercial production. In addition, the Water Authority relied on independent Colorado River supplies secured in 2003 through historic water conservation-and-transfer agreements. Those supplies also were not subject to MWD’s cutbacks.

    2016 Potable M&I Chart
  • Conservation and Outreach Initiatives Expand

    The Water Authority’s drought response efforts grew in size and scope with a $1 million budget increase for additional outreach along with the development of new and expanded conservation programs. The Water Authority’s “When in Drought” outreach and education campaign featured increased targeted advertising, a new smartphone app for water-waste reporting, distribution of buckets and a “bucket list” promoting ways to save water, and an intern program to help member agencies meet increased outreach demands. In April, the When in Drought campaign was honored with a Resource Efficiency & Community Service Award by the California Municipal Utilities Association for the best water program by a medium-sized agency in the state. The Water Authority also launched the Qualified Water-Efficient Landscaper program to support installation and maintenance of low-water landscapes, and increased funding for free water-use assessments at homes and businesses across the region.

    iPhone with the When in Drought smartphone app
    Hundreds of residents downloaded the When in Drought smartphone app and used it to report water waste as part of the region’s comprehensive effort to eliminate irrigation leaks, overspray, runoff and other types of waste.
  • Water Authority Helps State Balance Regulations

    Even before the state’s “one size fits all” emergency water-use mandates took effect in June 2015, the Water Authority championed an approach that better balanced water supplies and demands while accounting for regional differences. The Water Authority and its partners tirelessly pursued that goal for months, helping convince state regulators in March to take a regional approach that credited and incentivized the development of drought-resilient water supplies. The revisions immediately benefitted San Diego County, which received credit for desalinated seawater that lowered regional conservation targets from 20 percent to 13 percent. In May, the state made another change by replacing state-mandated conservation targets with a supply-based approach that considers each agency’s specific situation and water supplies – a methodology the Water Authority and others sought for more than a year.

    Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton joined water agency leaders from across the state to promote drought response regulations that support local water supply development.
  • Region Beats State Water-Use Targets

    The State Water Resources Control Board’s unprecedented emergency water-use regulations resulted in a mandate for reducing water use by 20 percent across the San Diego region compared to 2013. Residents and businesses stepped up in innovative ways, saving 21 percent from June 2015 through March 2016. In March, state mandates decreased to 13 percent for the San Diego region before they were removed entirely in June. Through it all, San Diego County continued to conserve, reducing water use by 22 percent during the entire regulatory period.

    Chart showing Water-Use Reductions by Month in San Diego County
  • San Diego County Passes State "Stress Test"

    Two decades of strategic investments in water-supply reliability showed their value again in June, when the San Diego region passed the state’s stringent “stress test,” designed to ensure local areas would have enough water supplies during three additional dry years to avoid shortfalls. It was a seminal moment for the Water Authority: Supplies were sufficient to meet demands due to long-term water transfers, the Carlsbad desalination plant, water stored behind San Vicente Dam and other factors. That meant the San Diego region was no longer subject to state-mandated water-use targets. It also highlighted the regional turnaround from 25 years ago, when water supply cuts by MWD had a devastating impact on the economy and quality of life in San Diego County.

    The Water Authority’s stored water reserves provide a hedge against future dry years and helped the region pass the state’s stringent water supply “stress test.”
    Regional Supply Sufficiency Calculation 2017-2019
  • Elected Officials Flock to Drought Symposium

    As part of its commitment to promoting water stewardship, the Water Authority hosted elected officials and business leaders from across the region for a symposium titled “Drought or El Nino: Charting a Sustainable Water Future.” Dozens of officials attended the October event at the University of San Diego. It included panel discussions about the impact of drought on local industry, local government actions related to the drought, and a keynote presentation by the state climatologist.

    Mark Cafferty speaking at a podium
    Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., moderated a panel at the drought symposium.
  • New Classes, Videos Transform Region’s Landscapes

    The Water Authority’s award-winning WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series of free classes for residents was revamped in February to provide a more holistic, watershed-based approach to the makeover process. The four-part series graduated more than 300 people during the year, while more than 1,200 attended a condensed version of the series called Design for Homeowners. In addition, the Water Authority dramatically increased access to the curriculum by unveiling a 17-video series available online that summarized the main class content into short episodes for implementing a successful landscape makeover.

    Landscape Makeover Videos on Demand take viewers step-by-step through the process of creating water-efficient landscapes. From measuring properties to understanding soil to picking the right plants for the right place, these entertaining and informative videos are a valuable guide to a WaterSmart landscape.

Taking Water Conservation to the Next Level

Fiscal year 2016 was one of the Water Authority’s most active years ever for promoting water conservation. As drought gripped California, our region had sufficient water supplies. But state regulators mandated strict water-use reductions, so the Water Authority moved aggressively to help the region beat the targets.