When I started my term as Board Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority in October 2016, California was mired in drought but the San Diego region had sufficient supplies regardless of the weather.
Thankfully, just a few months later, epic rain and snow significantly improved water supply conditions statewide, but not before validating our long-term strategy to develop a drought-resilient portfolio of water resources that protect the region during dry times. In fact, we had enough water to store 100,000 acre-feet of water for the future — a testament to regional foresight, coordination, hard work and investments by ratepayers.
Being able to assure residents and businesses that we had sufficient supplies to sustain our economy and quality of life was the biggest accomplishment of my two-year term as chair, which comes to an end on Sept. 30.
Several other highlights come to mind:
• We marked the first and second anniversaries of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant. During the most recent drought, the plant helped the San Diego region pass the state’s stringent water supply stress test, and in 2017 it was named the Membrane Facility of the Year by the American Membrane Technology Association and the American Water Works Association.
• Also in 2017, the Water Authority was recognized by the nation’s largest statewide coalition of water agencies for innovation and excellence in water resources management with its addition of supplies from the Carlsbad Desalination Project. The 2017 Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence was presented at the Association of California Water Agencies’ Spring Conference in Monterey.
• Our $1.5 billion Emergency & Carryover Storage Project, built to protect the region from droughts and catastrophic disruptions to imported water supplies, was awarded the engineering industry’s most prestigious global honor in 2017 — the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
• The Water Authority secured several significant victories in lawsuits against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. One key ruling by the state Court of Appeal was that the Water Authority is entitled to approximately 100,000 acre-feet more water annually from MWD than MWD had calculated under its water rights formula. Another big win was the determination that MWD had illegally overcharged San Diego ratepayers tens of millions of dollars a year. In addition, the court ruled that MWD breached its contract with the Water Authority, which required MWD to set legal rates.
• We launched a signature outreach and education program called Brought to You by Water to remind us all that everything we love about San Diego — from its thriving economy to our unmatched quality of life — is fueled by safe and reliable water supplies from the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.
I’m also delighted to report that in June, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved some of the smallest rate increases in the past 15 years thanks, in part, to our successful litigation against MWD.
New board leaders will take the helm in October, and I have every confidence they will serve as faithful stewards of this vital regional agency. Just like I did two years ago, they will build upon the contributions and accomplishments of so many directors, staff members and stakeholders who continue to make the Water Authority our region’s trusted water leader.
Mark Muir chairs the Board of the San Diego County Water Authority