When historians look back on California in 2016, they will undoubtedly focus on a crisis created by the most significant, far-reaching drought in modern times. When they look at San Diego County, they will see a different story – how the region’s visionary water agencies prepared ahead for drought conditions and – amazingly – stored 100,000 acre-feet of water in a newly expanded reservoir.

That accomplishment marked a sea change in long-term water supply reliability for the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies, in stark contrast to the region’s misfortunes during the drought of 1987-92. At that time, San Diego County had almost no local water resources and paid the price when imported supplies were drastically cut.

In December 2015, the start of commercial operations at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant illustrated how far the region has come. It is the largest seawater desalination plant in the nation, providing a drought-proof water supply of approximately 50 million gallons per day (about 10 percent of the region’s water supply) that immediately benefitted the region by reducing – and ultimately helping to eliminate – state mandates for emergency water conservation.

The San Diego region also did its part to conserve, beating the state’s mandatory emergency conservation targets. The Water Authority showed leadership through our multi-faceted, award-winning outreach and education campaign “When in Drought: Save Every Day, Every Way.” Regional water use during the year dropped 22 percent compared to 2013, an incredible accomplishment. At the same time, the Water Authority successfully advocated for the state to implement balanced drought-response policies that reward ratepayer investments in supply reliability.

The Water Authority’s leadership extended into other areas as well: Prudent financial strategies produced the first AAA bond rating in agency history; the Board of Directors adopted a Long-Range Financing Plan and an updated long-range Urban Water Management Plan; and the Water Authority secured a victory in the final judgment in its 2010 and 2012 rate cases against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which aim to recoup for the region’s ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal overcharges by MWD.

Even with unprecedented challenges, 2016 was a year to celebrate – a year when the Water Authority’s commitment to leadership and innovation helped the agency navigate uncharted waters on behalf of 3.3 million residents and our $222 billion economy.

Fiscal Year 2016 By the Numbers

  • Long-term savings of bond refunding efforts during the year ~$80 M
    Acre-feet of carryover water stored at San Vicente Reservoir 100,000
    State grant funds secured for the San Diego region’s Integrated Regional Water Management Program $31.1 M
  • Number of civic and business leaders who attended the dedication of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant 600+
    Letters submitted to state regulators from San Diego civic leaders promoting a balanced drought management strategy 169
    Time the Lake Hodges Pumped Storage Facility was available for power production 97%
  • Megawatt hours per day that could be generated by a potential energy storage project at San Vicente Reservoir 4,000
    Interns who participated in the San Diego Region Water and Wastewater Internship Program since its inception in 2006 138
    Money spent by the Water Authority and its partners on environmental mitigation this year at the Salton Sea $20+ M