Grand Jury Finds Water Authority Made ‘Substantial Progress’ Diversifying Supplies

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Grand Jury Finds Water Authority Made ‘Substantial Progress’
Report urges continued pursuit of conservation, desalination and other strategies

The San Diego County Water Authority “has made substantial progress in diversifying  water supply sources” that bolster the region’s economy and quality of life, the San Diego County Grand Jury said in a report released Wednesday. It also concluded that the Water Authority should “continue to pursue a vigorous policy to lessen dependence on imported water by continued conservation, reuse and reclamation, additional emergency storage projects and new desalination projects.”

Read the San Diego County Grand Jury report: Reduce Dependence on Imported Water

 “This kind of third-party review raises public awareness about a critical resource issue for our community, and it validates the region’s investment in diversifying our water-supply portfolio,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “The Grand Jury’s comments are particularly timely as we develop a plan for meeting supply needs through 2035.”

Wednesday’s report is the latest in a string of positive appraisals of the Water Authority, which serves 24 member agencies that supply more than 3.1 million people and support a $188 billion economy. In April, Global Water Intelligence (publisher of the weekly Water Desalination Report) named the Carlsbad Desalination Project its 2012 Desalination Deal of the Year. A month earlier, a Bay Area think tank praised the Water Authority’s supply diversification strategy as a model for communities around the West. Also in March, Project Finance magazine named the Carlsbad project its 2012 North American Water Deal of the Year, honoring the Water Authority and its allies for forging a public-private partnership that launched construction of the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant.

The Carlsbad plant is expected to be completed in 2016, giving the region a drought-proof water supply of 50 million gallons per day. While that project has drawn international attention, it’s just one part of a multi-decade strategy to maintain the San Diego region’s quality of life through greater water reliability.

The Water Authority’s guiding vision emerged in 1991 after several years of drought. The Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California had cut water deliveries to San Diego County by 31 percent and was on the verge of slashing Water Authority supplies by 50 percent before “Miracle March” rains tempered the reduction. Business and community leaders recognized the region’s near-total dependence on MWD was a threat to the region’s economy and quality of life of its residents, and they demanded a new approach to improve reliability of the region’s water supply.

In response, the Water Authority launched a long-term strategy to increase supply reliability by diversifying water sources and making major investments  in the region’s infrastructure. It helped craft the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in 2003 and embarked on a multi-billion dollar Capital Improvement Program that has substantially increased the region’s ability to move and store water by adding and expanding facilities. In addition, the Water Authority has promoted conservation measures such as low-flow toilets, weather-based irrigation controllers and water-efficient landscaping that helped reduce regional water consumption by about 30 percent between 2007 and 2012.

By 2020, the Water Authority aims to meet just 30 percent of its demand with water from MWD, down from 95 percent in 1991. Beyond that, the Water Authority Board is evaluating the prospects for desalination plants at Camp Pendleton and Rosarito, Baja California. As part of its long-range planning process, the Water Authority also is considering a large conveyance system to Imperial County for importing its long-term transfer supplies from the Colorado River.

The Grand Jury report urged the Water Authority to continue investigating desalination options at Camp Pendleton and to expand its Emergency Storage Program. “The comprehensive strategy pursued by SDCWA is necessary for County water independence,” it said.

The Water Authority will formally respond to Grand Jury recommendations by August 13.