After that, San Diegans made a collective wish: Never again.
In 1996, the San Diego County Water Authority struck a landmark deal to buy water from farmers in the Imperial Valley in southeastern California, which marked the start of the region’s divorce from Los Angeles.
Over the next two decades, the agency undertook a series of large – and expensive – infrastructure projects aimed at establishing more diverse water sources, more places to store it, and more ways to move it around. the count.
In 2010, the authority lined the Imperial Valley’s canals with concrete to prevent water from seeping into the earth and struck a deal to recover the water saved by the process, or roughly 26 billion gallons per year. The authority completed the San Vicente dam elevation in 2014, adding more capacity to the San Vicente reservoir in the largest water storage increase in the county’s history.
Then there was the long, difficult gestation of a seawater desalination plant, the largest in the United States, and now the envy of desperate communities along the coast, despite environmental concerns. Since 2015, millions of gallons of seawater have flowed through the billion dollar facility in Carlsbad every day, where it is filtered into something that tastes like a bottle of Evian, not of the Pacific Ocean.
Across the county, restrictions and conservation efforts have resulted in per capita water use falling by half over the past three decades.
The next big task? Expand the region’s so-called pure water programs, once derisively dubbed “tap toilets,” because they purify gray water to make it drinkable. Today, these programs are considered one of the most promising avenues, not only in San Diego but throughout the state. (The neighboring Orange County system is often cited as a gold standard.)
San Diego has provided a roadmap for others who are now scrambling for water, said Toni Atkins, who is the interim president of the California Senate and who previously served on San Diego City Council. And she is proud of it.