San Diego County water
officials approve nearly $2 billion in new projects including
June 25, 2004
By: GIG CONAUGHTON - Staff
SAN DIEGO ---- With little
fanfare, San Diego County water officials voted Thursday to build nearly
$2 billion worth of new capital improvement projects.
The most important of the 22 projects are a plant that would turn
seawater into drinking water, a $103 million water-treatment facility
and a plan to create new reservoir storage space in the county.
San Diego County Water
Authority board members put off until next month deciding how they'll
bankroll the projects.
But authority engineers said the list of 22 new projects will not result
in huge increases in water bills. The authority said ratepayers will see
an additional $3.75 on monthly bills by 2016, and that the projects will
give local residents a "more reliable" water supply.
Despite the lack of fanfare Thursday, the vote was a milestone for the
Water Authority. It marked the agency's "official" transition
from an entity content to deliver water to local residents to one that
will find, treat, and ---- in the case of seawater desalination ----
even "create" usable water.
Water Authority board members have endorsed the master plan of projects
for two years, but until Thursday had never officially added them to the
agency's list of capital improvement projects.
Organized in 1944, the Water Authority has historically been a
"pipeline" agency, buying up to 95 percent of the water county
residents use each year from the massive, Los Angeles-based Metropolitan
Water District and delivering it to 23 member cities and agencies.
But after the state's last major drought from 1986 to 1992, Water
Authority leaders said they were no longer comfortable relying solely
upon Metropolitan for the region's water supply, and that future
droughts could lead to disastrous local water shortages.
Consequently, the Water Authority began to chase a deal to buy Colorado
River water from Imperial Valley farmers, a deal that would give San
Diego County its "own" water supply for the first time in
That deal was completed last year after eight years of talk, and will
eventually deliver up to 65 billion gallons of water a year to San Diego
County residents in return for about $50 million a year.
The major projects in the $1.85 billion list of improvements board
members adopted Thursday are also intended to increase the local water
A stalled plan to build a multi-million dollar desalination plant at
Carlsbad's Encina Power Plant that would turn 80 million gallons of
seawater a day into drinking water by 2013. Building the plant would
give the county its first-ever "drought-proof" source of
Water Authority officials broke off negotiations in January with the
private company that wanted to build the plant for the Water Authority
and which holds lease-rights to the plant site. The company, Poseidon
Inc., is trying to work a deal to build the plant with the city of
Carlsbad. But most observers feel the Water Authority is the only agency
with enough money and water demand to make the plant feasible.
Meanwhile, Water Authority officials have raised the specter of using
their power of eminent domain to take over the plant site in order to
build the desalination plant.
A plan to spend $103 million to build the Water Authority's first-ever
water treatment plant by 2008, which would fix a looming shortage of
water treatment capability that threatens drinking water supplies in the
county. The Water Authority has historically relied upon Metropolitan's
R.A. Skinner treatment plant for its treated water supply.
A plan to raise Lakeside's San Vicente Dam by 110 feet, which will give
the San Vicente Reservoir room to store an additional 32.6 billion
gallons of water for use during emergency shortages.
Water Authority general manager Maureen Stapleton said the vote was
anticlimactic because board members have been discussing the master plan
improvements for two years.
But she said Thursday was an official turning point.
"This is the official inclusion of the master plan into our Capital
Improvement Project," she said. "And it is the road map to
ensure water reliability for our region."
Longtime Water Authority board member Howard Williams of Vista,
meanwhile, said the agency's change in philosophy was necessary because
California's historic water sources ---- the Colorado River and Northern
California's State Water Project ---- are being taxed by drought,
population growth and environmental concerns.
"We have to be a water producer in the future," Williams said.
"We can't just sit here and say we're going to have somebody else
get us water ---- because they don't have it. So we have to find