By Jim Madaffer | Guest Editorial
A welcome rainstorm in mid-October provided the first significant relief from months of very hot and dry weather — and then the weather turned hot and dry once again. That cycle is a reminder of two important facts of life of San Diego County:
On average, we get about 10 inches of rain a year — far less than what we need to sustain our $220 billion economy and 3.3 million people.
With continued investments in water supply reliability and water-use efficiency, we can continue to thrive in this amazing place.
As we look toward the rainy season, it’s worth taking stock of why we have sufficient supplies for 2019, regardless of the weather.
Water managers measure rainfall from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, what we call the “water year.” Water year 2018 just ended, and it was the second-driest in San Diego dating back to 1850, with just over 3 inches of rain at Lindbergh Field. In terms of water supply for the region, that barely registers — and it’s a reminder that we haven’t had enough local water supply to meet local demands for more than 70 years.
Another key factor in the water supply-demand equation is heat — and yes, local temperatures have been significantly higher than normal for nearly five straight years. In many months, the average daily maximum temperatures have been more than 4 degrees above the long-term averages.
Higher temperatures, coupled with a flourishing economy, put upward pressure on water use. Thankfully, the San Diego region continues to embrace water-use efficiency. In fact, cumulative regional municipal and industrial potable water-use over the past three-plus years was 17 percent below base year 2013 levels.
Water resource stewardship is part of the region’s legacy going back decades. Not many people remember it these days, but we sponsored the original state legislation in 1991 to require low-flow toilets, a standard that has saved countless billions of gallons worldwide. And the Water Authority continues to offer water-use efficiency resources at WaterSmartSD.org.
While we embrace WaterSmart living, we also have executed strategic plans to withstand dry spells and emergencies such as earthquakes. An array of investments, including the Claude “Bud” Carlsbad Desalination Plant and a landmark conservation-and-transfer agreement in the Imperial Valley, mean we have ample water for projected demands in 2019 and beyond.
While the U.S. Drought Monitor classifies San Diego as a region of “Severe Drought,” that does not reflect water supply conditions. We don’t need extraordinary conservation measures right now, but rather a continued commitment to use water efficiently. That’s because we have made — and we continue to make — the investments necessary to fuel our economy and quality of life even when dry spells last for years.
—Jim Madaffer is board chair of the San Diego County Water Authority.