Every ratepayer in the San Diego region is an investor in a reliable water supply, and today, our investments are paying off. Even if drought grips this region, or the state, we have access to enough water to meet our needs.


We were not always in this solid position. In 1991, after four years of drought, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California threatened to increase water delivery cutbacks  to the San Diego region from 31 percent to 50 percent. Managing drought is always challenging, but the real issue was that Metropolitan was our only water supplier.

Luckily, the drought ended before the 50 percent cutback started. However, the cities and water districts serving the San Diego region – including Helix Water District – vowed never to be in such a vulnerable position again. Over the last 25 years, we’ve collaboratively invested in, and developed a diversified and reliable water supply.

Imported water arrives to San Diego County via the San Diego County Water Authority, our region’s water supplier. SDCWA secures and delivers water to 24 cities, municipalities and water agencies, and its 36-member board of directors is made up of representatives from those 24 member agencies. Helix board members hold two seats on SDCWA’s board, helping to shape regional water policies


When SDCWA first looked for a new reliable water source, it turned to its water-secure neighbor in the Imperial Valley, the Imperial Irrigation District.

IID happens to have some of the largest and oldest water rights in the entire southwest. IID receives 3.1 million acre feet of Colorado River water annually – more than Arizona and Nevada receive together each year. Additionally, IID’s Colorado River rights predate California’s and even MWD’s water rights. This means that IID’s water is last in line to receive water supply cuts.

An acre-foot is 325,900 gallons – roughly enough water to submerge a football field one foot deep, or enough water to supply 2.5 single-family households of four for a year.

Looking for a secure supply, SDCWA began negotiations with IID in the early 1990’s to create large-scale, farm-to-urban transfers. In 2003, IID, Coachella Valley Water District and SDCWA signed the Quantification Settlement Agreement.  The QSA agreement allows SDCWA ratepayers to pay for on-farm conservation programs in Imperial County and allows IID to transfer the conserved water to San Diego. Last year, SDCWA received 160,000 acre-feet of water from this agreement, providing almost 35 percent of our regional water supply. This amount ramps up to 200,000 acre-feet per year in 2021 and the agreement lasts until 2078.


Another benefit of the QSA is that it allowed for the transfer of water from lining porous canals in IID and CVWD. Prior to these canal linings, earthen canals lost millions of gallons of water each year to soil seepage. SDCWA financed the lining of 23 miles of the All American Canal in IID canal and another 35 miles of the Coachella Valley Canal in CVWD.

In return for the projects, SDCWA delivers to member agencies 80,000 acre-feet of this conserved water annually for the next 110 years. This is enough water to provide 15 percent of SDCWA’s annual water demands.


In addition to looking for reliable sources, SDCWA wanted a diverse portfolio of water sources. This way if there is a shortage in one water source, other sources may supplement our needs.

Being a coastal community, SDCWA looked towards ocean desalination as a local, drought-proof water supply. In 2015, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad opened, producing 56,000 acre-feet per year or 10 percent of our region’s annual water supply.


Finally, through regional conservation programs, we use 25 percent less water today than we did in 1990, even though our population grew over 25 percent. This is thanks to almost 30 years of regional conservation programs that encourage residents to install efficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, faucets, irrigation systems and climate appropriate landscapes.

Water we conserve is water that we do not have to annually purchase or transfer. This makes a big difference; SDCWA’s regional conservation programs conserve about 90,000 acre-feet of water each year. This is about one and a half times the amount of water  the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant produces; to produce or transfer the same amount of water would be very expensive. Since this plant cost over $1 billion to construct, you can see savings.   


We have come a long way since 1990 when MWD was our sole supplier. By 2020, MWD will only provide 11 percent of SDCWA’s water supply.

With the new water transfers, local supplies,  desalination and a water use efficiency, San Diego shines as a model for long-term water reliability and sustainability. We have more access to water than we currently use. This is water for our homes and landscapes, businesses and industries and water for our growing regional needs.  

For the benefit of our region, our local leaders ensured our future by securing reliable water supplies. Through your water rates and the rates of every water customer in San Diego, we have water.

Use it as you need to, use it wisely and be proud of the future we now have.

As a member agency of the Water Authority, Helix Water District is committed to continuing to secure a sustainable water supply for our customers. To learn more about the steps and actions we are taking, visit hwd.com/sustainable-utility/