Water Authority Develops Road Map to a Secure Water Future

Short Title
Water Authority Develops Road Map to a Secure Water Future
Board reviews infrastructure options for ensuring reliable deliveries through 2035

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday received updates about two potential capital projects to meet the region’s long-term need for water through 2035 – a seawater desalination plant at Camp Pendleton and a large-scale conveyance system to deliver water from the Colorado River. Both options – and several others – will be considered as the Water Authority crafts its long-range planning document, the 2013 Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan.

2013 Regional Water Facilities Master Plan

  • The Water Authority will accept written comments regarding the scope of the Program Environmental Impact Report through May 15, 2013.
  • A public scoping meeting is from 6 to 8 p.m. April 29 in the Water Authority Board Room, 4677 Overland Ave., San Diego.

For details about the planning process, go to www.sdcwa.org/process-updating-regional-water-facilities-master-plan.

A public scoping meeting for the master plan’s Program Environmental Impact Report is April 29 and the comment period closes May 15. The strategic blueprint is expected to be adopted in early 2014, after the Board holds another public hearing about recommendations that are developed and refined over the next several months. Once the Board adopts a final version, it will replace the 2003 master plan and guide the Water Authority’s capital investments through 2035.

Because major infrastructure projects can take more than a decade to plan and complete, the Water Authority is looking far into the future to meet the needs of a growing economy and population.

“Our track record of smart investments puts us in a good spot to assess options for the next 20-plus years,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors.  “We want to move strategically in ways that best match our dollars with the greatest needs.”

2013 Master Plan Update

Long-term supply options the Water Authority Board will consider include:

  • Seawater desalination at Camp Pendleton
  • Increased surface water storage in the region coupled with increased groundwater storage elsewhere
  • Continued reliance on imported supplies from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • A new Colorado River conveyance system for delivering water directly to San Vicente Reservoir

The master planning process is pivotal for the Water Authority. Its 2003 master plan identified seawater desalination, large-scale water treatment capacity and increased reservoir storage as priorities, prompting three major construction projects that will serve the region for decades. The Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant, capable of treating 100 million gallons per day, was completed in 2008. The Carlsbad Desalination Project – the largest desalination plant in the nation – is under construction and is expected to come online in 2016, and the San Vicente Dam Raise will be completed this year, increasing local storage by 152,000 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is approximately 325,900 gallons, or enough to supply two typical four-person households for a year.)

In preparing for the 2013 master plan update, the Water Authority has recognized the “new normal” of reduced water sales in the region, greater emphasis on water conservation and local water supply development, and the agency’s shift from a “building” organization to one that is mainly focused on operations and maintenance. Goals for the plan include:

  • Optimizing existing pipelines, treatment plants and other facilities
  • Developing a regional strategy for surface water storage
  • Assessing renewable energy opportunities
  • Accounting for more local supply development such as indirect potable reuse
  • Evaluating the need for new infrastructure and supply

On Thursday, Water Authority staff updated the Board and the public on a conceptual Camp Pendleton desalination project, which could range in size from 50 million to 150 million gallons per day. By comparison, the Carlsbad Desalination Project will produce 50 million gallons per day. A 2009 study identified two potential sites for a desalination plant at Camp Pendleton, and further investigations in close collaboration with base officials determined both sites are viable for construction. Officials at Camp Pendleton and the Water Authority are assessing the project’s feasibility, and neither agency has determined whether to continue beyond recently completed preliminary studies. The project would cost between $1.4 billion and $3.3 billion in 2012 dollars, depending on its size.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Board also was given new details about a potential Colorado River Conveyance Facility for delivering the Water Authority’s own Colorado River water supplies from Imperial Valley to San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside. Through the landmark Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003, the Water Authority receives an escalating amount of water each year from the Imperial Irrigation District. The 45- to 75-year agreement will reach peak deliveries of 200,000 acre-feet annually in 2021. In addition, the Water Authority receives approximately 80,000 acre-feet of water annually from lining the All American and Coachella canals. Colorado River water from those two agreements currently moves through facilities owned by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which charges a “wheeling,” or transportation, rate for the service. The Water Authority has sued MWD over its rates, alleging they are illegal. A Colorado River Conveyance Facility – including a combination of tunnels, pipelines and possibly canals – would allow the Water Authority to bypass MWD’s system.

Several potential routes from Imperial County were studied by the Water Authority in the 1990s. The Board revived interest in the concept in March 2012, prompting a new look at the two leading alignments of 83 miles and 92 miles. One significant development since the initial studies was the recent completion of SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink transmission line through eastern San Diego County. It would provide nearby access to electricity for a conveyance facility that was not previously available.

The shorter Colorado River conveyance route would cost an estimated $1.98 billion, and the longer route would cost $2.3 billion, according to current rough estimates using 2013 dollars. Both alignments are expected to take at least 10 more years of planning before construction could begin. Initial studies have not identified fatal flaws in either route, and Water Authority staff members will continue assessing the options as they develop long-range supply recommendations coming out of the master plan.