Photo: Reverse osmosis cannisters at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant (Source: Treatment Plant Operator Magazine).

On Monday, Governor Newsom issued a state of emergency proclamation for 41 of California’s 58 counties in response to worsening drought conditions and water shortages. All of the counties are in northern and central California. Why not Southern California? That’s a good question, and we wrote this article to answer it.

Why Not Southern California?

A state of emergency was not proclaimed for Southern California because we are not experiencing water shortages, and that is because we have additional water supplies.

Colorado River
While northern and central California rely exclusively on the snow that falls in the Sierra, the Colorado River provides southern California with snowmelt from the Rockies in Colorado, the Uinta Range in Utah and the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

In 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority, the wholesale water supplier for the San Diego Region, and Imperial Irrigation District agreed to transfer 200,000 acre feet of Colorado River water to the San Diego region annually. That’s enough water for 400-600,000 homes and Imperial Irrigation District has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River.

Local Water Storage
Residents and businesses in the San Diego region funded — through their water bills — the construction of Olivenhain Reservoir and the raising of San Vicente Dam. We can now store enough water within the region to meet six months of demand. And, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California built Diamond Valley Reservoir near Hemet to store a six month water supply for all of Southern California.

Water Conservation
Helix, the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan launched water conservation programs in the 1990s. Today, San Diegans use half the water we used 30 years ago.

Your Helix water bills also helped fund the construction of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which is the largest desalination plant in the U.S. It converts Pacific Ocean water into 50 million gallons of drinking water every day. A second desalination plant is the planning phase in Orange County.

Potable Reuse
The Groundwater Replenishment System in Orange County recycles wastewater, purifies it and adds it to the groundwater to provide the region with a drought-proof water supply. Now, Helix is partnering with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and the County of San Diego to develop a similar project to provide up to 30 percent of East County’s water. The city of San Diego’s Pure Water Project will be even larger. Oceanside and Los Angeles are also building water purification facilities.

What About Helix Customers?

Helix just released its draft 2020 Urban Water Management Plan for public comment and review. This document supports the district’s long-term planning efforts to ensure that we have enough water supplies to meet existing and future water needs.

“We are prepared and in a good position,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. “Over the last few decades, our customers paid for investments in diversified water supplies to protect us during dry periods and emergencies. Our customers have also become more efficient in how they use water.  Those efforts have paid off as we anticipate having enough water for our customers, even after five dry years.”

Graph shows that the combined regional water supply provided by local water agencies, the San Diego County Water Authority and MWD exceeds demand through 2045.

Graph: Helix Water District’s 2020 draft Urban Water Management Plan projects that the district will continue to have access to more water supplies than needed to meet demands.

What About Water Use Restrictions?

Helix has a Water Shortage Contingency Plan, but because we are not experiencing water shortages, we are not activating the plan. What is in effect are Helix’s Permanent Water Efficiency Measures, which are on our website:

A. Do not wash down paved surfaces, including but not limited to sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts or patios, unless required for public safety or sanitation.

B. Eliminate runoff from irrigation on to hardscape, streets, structures or adjacent properties. Water waste caused by overspray from sprinklers or low head drainage is prohibited.

C. Do not water for at least 48 hours after rain.

D. Do not water turf on public street medians.

E. Use recirculated water in ornamental fountains and water features.

F. Wash vehicles using a hose with a positive shutoff nozzle and a bucket, and avoid washing vehicles during hot conditions when additional water is required.

G. Restaurants and other food service establishments may serve water upon request only.

H. Hotels, motels and other commercial lodging establishments must offer guests the option of not laundering towels and linens daily


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