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Water Authority prepares for first level of Shortage Contingency Plan

Avocado trees are watered at a grove in Bonsall, June 3, 2021.
Guillermo Sevilla
Avocado trees are watered at a grove in Bonsall, June 3, 2021.

The San Diego County Water Authority is preparing to activate a voluntary conservation of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan in support of Gov. Gavin Newsom's efforts to sustain California's water supply after two record-dry years.

The agency's 36-member board of directors will decide at its formal monthly meeting on Oct. 28 whether to activate the drought response plan, following Wednesday's recommendation by staff.

While the agency claims the San Diego region continues to have long-term water resilience and reliable supplies due to decades of conservation efforts and ratepayer investments, Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl said it's critical to advance statewide efforts to combat drought.


"This is an all-hands moment," Kerl said. "We are fully supportive of the governor's efforts and fully engaged in helping residents and businesses do their part each and every day."

On Tuesday, Newsom extended his drought emergency declaration to cover the entire state and asked the State Water Board to ban wasteful practices such as using potable water for washing driveways and sidewalks. In addition, the governor directed water suppliers to implement Water Shortage Contingency Plans, which are responsive to local supply-demand conditions.

The Water Authority's contingency plan is designed for situations in which the agency's supplies have been reduced. Previous versions of the plan have been activated twice before — once in 2007 and again in 2014. While the region isn't currently facing supply reductions, Kerl said the recommendation to go to Level 1 — its first step in the contingency plan — sends a signal that voluntary conservation efforts are necessary, and it gives local retail water agencies flexibility.

San Diego County's per capita water use is down nearly 50% since 1990.

County water authority says San Diego's supply is stable

"While we are hopeful that a wet winter will take the edge off this current drought, we need to recognize that may not be the case," Kerl said. "The entire American West is facing hot and dry conditions not seen in our lifetimes, and the realities of climate change mean we need to prepare for this as the new normal.


"We have resources to help as every resident and business owner takes this call seriously and looks for ways they can take meaningful actions to prevent water waste," she said.

At Level, the Water Authority will enhance regional outreach and education to promote conservation. The agency offers tools to make the most of every drop at

Resources include:

  • Efficient landscape classes for residential and professional landscapers;
  • Rebates for indoor and outdoor water-saving devices;
  • Rebates for turf replacement; and
  • Water-use checkups for homes and businesses that include water-saving recommendations.

The Water Authority is also developing a program to increase installation of low-flow toilets in low-income communities and is looking for opportunities to help the parts of the state that are suffering from extreme water shortages.

The authority has groundwater stored in the Central Valley that could be exchanged or sold, and it is seeking partners that could benefit from increasing water production at the Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.