Addressing the San Diego region’s limited local water supplies with innovative ideas is something the San Diego County Water Authority has become known for. Using expertise gained from decades of successful planning and projects, the Water Authority is developing strategies to reduce the future cost of water that sustains the economy and quality of life across the county.
Those efforts are ramping up in early 2021, following a Water Authority Board decision to continue assessing the potential for a new aqueduct to transport San Diego’s low-cost, high-priority water supplies from the Colorado River to San Diego County. About 50 percent of the region’s current water supplies are from this independent source, and it is the region’s lowest base-cost supply.
The water conveyance project would only be implemented if it’s more cost-effective than the current system, which requires paying the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to deliver San Diego County’s independent water supplies. A viable project would reduce the cost of water and increase supply reliability, improving affordability of safe, clean water for San Diego County residents. Plus, in the long-term, it would give San Diego ratepayers more control over costs.
The Water Authority is the long-term water planning agency for metropolitan San Diego County and the region’s wholesale water provider, serving 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy in partnership with its 24 retail member agencies, which provide supplies to homes and businesses across the region.
The first phase of the Regional Conveyance System Study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s high-priority Colorado River water the county.
The second phase focuses on a detailed economic analysis of the two water conveyance route alternatives and further exploring partnerships that could provide significant benefits to an array of stakeholders and potentially reduce the cost of project development. At the end of Phase B, the agency’s 36-member board – representing all 24 member water agencies – will decide whether to continue with regional conveyance planning.
“These issues are complex and the decisions never easy, but the Board chose to keep all water supply and delivery options on the table in light of future uncertainties,” said Gary Croucher, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “I look forward to learning from Phase B and working with the Board to decide on next steps when that study phase is done.”
Today, half of the San Diego region’s water supplies are from two landmark 2003 water conservation agreements known as the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. Conserved water from the QSA is transferred to San Diego County from Imperial Valley using a pipeline that is owned by MWD, which owns the only facilities available to transport Colorado River water to San Diego County. The cost of using MWD facilities to deliver San Diego’s QSA water has increased 30% over the past five years, so water leaders are looking to save costs on delivering this critical water supply.
The Water Authority’s agreement with MWD to deliver the water lasts until 2047, so the Water Authority is working to develop conveyance alternatives that manage future cost and risks. “While 2047 may seem distant, major water infrastructure projects take decades to develop, plan and build,” said Croucher. “By advancing to Phase B of the conveyance study, the Water Authority is taking prudent steps to ensure long-term water supply reliability for the region.”
Phase B will help address questions about mitigating short-term rate impacts of a project, the benefits of potential partnerships and funding opportunities, developing a finance plan and the requirements of existing agreements, as well as explore with MWD options for long-term water deliveries to the San Diego region using MWD facilities.
Water Authority staff will also begin the process of engaging more formally with stakeholders on potential mutually beneficial partnership projects identified in Phase A, including joint-use projects in the Imperial Valley, public-private-partnerships, bi-national projects, renewable energy projects, regional operational storage projects, Salton Sea-related projects, and partnerships with tribes, federal and state governments, and member agencies.
For more information, visit www.sdcwa.org/colorado-river-supplies-management.