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San Diego: A Model of Water Conservation

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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California is in the midst of its worst drought on record. Four years into the drought, and big swaths of the state are in exceptional drought, the worst category. Snow water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack was only 5 percent of its historical average on April 1. That’s the lowest since record-keeping of the snowpack started in 1950. It's getting scary in the Golden State.

As a result of the drought, all regions in California are implementing water conservation measures. San Diego stands out as a model when it comes to water conservation: In June of this year, the San Diego region reduced urban potable water use by about 26 percent compared to June 2013. That is after a 30 percent decrease in May compared to May 2013.

June is the first month the State Water Resources Control Board required compliance with conservation targets set for each local water agency. Earlier this year, the state mandated targets for local water agencies between 12 to 36 percent below 2013 levels. They are in effect through February 2016. In February, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order for a 25 percent statewide reduction in urban water use.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s board of directors in May issued an ordinance restricting irrigation of ornamental landscapes to two days a week across the region, and increased regional conservation and outreach efforts by $1 million. The increased funding for regional conservation and outreach efforts will be spent on projects such as increasing advertising for the regional campaign When in Drought, or enhancing a smartphone app that allows users to report water waste.

The board also established local urban and agricultural supply reductions due to decreased water deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, plus set penalties for local agencies that go beyond their allocated use. The MWD approved a 15 percent decrease in water supply to the Water Authority starting July 1.

San Diego has made investments in projects to insure the region has reliable water supplies. One of those projects is the Carlsbad Desalination Project, the largest seawater desalination project in the Western Hemisphere. A $1 billion project, it is expected to produce 50 million gallons of water a day beginning this fall.

The Water Authority has implemented a number of other measures beyond promoting water conservation or building a desalination plant. Some of the measures include:


  • The use of hydraulic systems to pump water between reservoirs at certain times to support the power grid and insure water is available to the region if there is ever an interruption in supplies.

  • The use of over 28,800 acre feet of recycled water within the Water Authority’s area of service.

Per capita water use in the San Diego region has decreased by 31 percent since 1990 and by 24 percent since 2007, due to the Water Authority’s heavy promotion of water conservation. Regional potable water use in the region was 12 percent lower than in 1990 even though the population in the county increased by 700,000.

During that period, over 300,000 jobs were added to the area, and the county’s annual gross domestic product increased by 80 percent, proving water conservation is not bad for the economy.

Image credit: Flickr/peasap

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman