Water

How Are We Doing?

The Water indicator received a mixed rating this year; this was due an increase in individual consumption and use of water coupled with an increased awareness and uptick in water reuse and conservation programs. On average, San Diego County residents used more water in 2021 than in 2020. The drier conditions in 2021 and 2022 alarmed Governor Newsom and the State Water Board to urge California residents to reduce their water use. An increase in water barrel distribution and rebate programs provided by the San Diego County government resulted in rain barrels being more accessible for residents in the unincorporated county area. Residents’ interest in storing and repurposing rainwater is an encouraging sign as reservoirs across the region continue to sustain varying water levels.

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Upturn in water reuse/saving and increased water use

Daily residential water consumption in San Diego County increased by 7.1% from 84 gallons per capita in 2020 to 90 gallons in 2021. Residential water use remains below the 2011 pre-drought levels, which at its peak in 2007 reached 119 gallons per capita. California missed 2021 state water conservation targets, prompting the Governor to respond with an Executive Order in March 2022, which declared a state of emergency over increased drought conditions. It is possible that the compounded stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and global news have occupied the minds of residents greatly, drawing attention away from the ongoing drought conditions.

The County of San Diego administers a rain barrel installation program for the residents and communities in the unincorporated county area. The rain barrel data is collected as a part of the County of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and create opportunities for the unincorporated county communities to be involved in sustainability initiatives. The County set a goal to distribute 3,200 barrels by 2030 and they surpassed that goal in the first year of running this program; distributing 4,366 barrels. 

San Diego region residents interested in purchasing rain barrels can visit the Solana Center website for information on potential rebates and installation instructions.

Map of Reservoirs in San Diego County

 

There are 24 reservoirs in the county storing local and imported supplies of water. This map shows the most recent available water levels for the reservoirs. Click on each reservoir on the map to view a pop-up displaying more information about each of the reservoirs.  

Increased use of desalination and water recycling technology have enabled the region to add alternative water sources to diversify our water supply in the 21st century. The San Diego County Water Authority has sought to decrease the region’s reliance on water from the Metropolitan Water District, which serves parts of the Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernandino, and Ventura counties. Still, the region remains heavily reliant on water from the Colorado River. 16 of the 24 San Diego County reservoirs draw water from the First or Second Aqueduct, which branch off the Colorado River Aqueduct. Water purchased and conserved from the Metropolitan Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, and the All-American and Coachella Canals all originate from the Colorado River. The region’s strong reliance on water sourced from hundreds of miles away remind us that water conservation continues to be critical for the region’s quality of life. 

As a result, our region must continue to work collaboratively and creatively to implement transformational solutions to continue diversifying and ensuring we have a resilient water supply. One methodology is the “One Water” approach to water management, being bolstered by San Diego Coastkeeper, which prioritizes multi-benefit solutions, community health, and environmental resilience. One Water incorporates a variety of green infrastructure projects, stormwater capture, wastewater recycling, and habitat restoration practices that work together to reduce pollution, bolster water supply, and improve environmental and community health

Why is Water Important?

High quality of life means the region boasts a thriving economy and a healthy environment accessible to all in the community.

  • Economy: Clean water is crucial to human and environmental health, but it’s also a large driver of a healthy economy. In 2018, “Every $1 invested in water infrastructure results in a $1.80 increase in the region’s gross regional product." Maintaining strong, safe water transportation infrastructure is key to maintaining long-term regional resilience. Over the past two decades, diversification efforts have helped the San Diego region significantly reduce its reliance on purchasing water from the Metropolitan Water District from 95% in 1991 to 40% in 2018, and a projected 2% by 2035. Research also suggests that decreased yields of crops due to climatic and irrigation issues can result in a loss of gross revenue and an increase in production costs.
  • Environment: Conserving water ensures that water remains in our watersheds and that wetland environments and other critical ecosystems in the region remain healthy. Conserving water also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Transporting and purifying water consumes energy. According to the Water-Energy Nexus study by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC) at the University of San Diego, cities that import water had a higher total energy intensity than cities that imported less water. Conserving water and increasing renewable energy supply can reduce the emissions coming from our water systems.  

    Local organizations like San Diego Coastkeeper are developing new frameworks and partnerships for enhancing regional water supply through the lens of increased climate resilience. Their integrated management approach, “One Water,” prioritizes multi-benefit solutions, community health, and environmental resilience. This approach incorporates a suite of green infrastructure projects, innovative stormwater capture, wastewater recycling programs, and habitat restoration practices that provide benefits such as pollution reduction, increased water supply, and improved community and ecosystem health. As part of this work, San Diego Coastkeeper put together an educational video on the benefits of, “Integrated Water Management as a Pathway for Climate Resilience.”

  • Equity: California’s climate has historically been marked by long droughts and severe floods, with stark regional differences in water availability and demand. As our climate changes, water challenges throughout California have increased over time. One of these challenges is ensuring that all individuals have access to, and awareness of, measures to improve water quality. Rising costs of water can hurt low-income communities that may not have the means to replace appliances with more water-efficient models. The San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative (Climate Collaborative), through a project funded by The San Diego Foundation, developed content to highlight case studies on projects and best practices in advancing equity around water use, stormwater, and water quality. Read more about water and equity in San Diego in their StoryMap, Advancing the Nexus of Water and Equity.

Want to learn more? Watch the Voice of San Diego's San Diego 101 video on how the region is working to keep up with the demand for water and buy its way out of potential water shortages. San Diego 101 is a series from Voice of San Diego made to educate San Diegans about some of the most important issues that shape our region.


Regional Response

Policies

Although in 2021 Governor Newsom called on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, the Governor responded with an Executive Order in March 2022 when the state failed to reach the 15% conservation goal. Local water agencies were asked to increase restrictions. The City of San Diego adopted stricter water restrictions in June 2022 to conserve water and design strategies for drought adaptation. 

In August 2022, Governor Newsom released “California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future”, outlining how the state can adapt to a drying climate. California can expect water supplies to decrease by 10% by 2040. Fortunately, data forecasts and reports like the California Water Resilience Portfolio allow us to ensure water will be available for our communities and future generations. 

Projects

Pure Water San Diego is the City of San Diego's phased, multi-year program that will provide one-third of San Diego's water supply locally by the end of 2035. This program will use proven water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water. The 10 projects in Phase I are set to be completed by 2025. 

Project SWELL by San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego is an environmental education program that engages K-6 San Diego students with local water issues and climate science. Students take part in hands-on activities and create projects such as these water conservation projects. Some students showcased their projects at a county-wide science innovation showcase for San Diego middle school students.

Partnerships

The San Diego County Water Authority, along with the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego, has developed an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP), a set of long-term plans for water quality and supply reliability. In 2022, the IRWMP received $5 million for four drought projects that serve underrepresented communities. The Chollas watershed is an example where the IRWMP is helping local nonprofits like Groundwork San Diego in the protection of watershed’s resources.


 

What Are We Measuring?

We measure residential water use per capita, reservoir water levels, and water supply sources of San Diego County using data from the San Diego County Water Authority. In addition, we measure rain barrels distributed by the San Diego County Government.

Learn more about the data.