San Diego County Water Authority

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San Diego County Water Authority
Wholesale Water Supplier overview
FormedJune 1944 (1944-06)
HeadquartersKearny Mesa, San Diego

The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) is a public agency serving San Diego County, California as a wholesale supplier of water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The Water Authority's mission is to provide a safe and reliable supply of water to its 24 member agencies serving the region's 3.2 million residents and its $218 billion economy.[citation needed]

The Water Authority was formed in 1944 by the California State Legislature, and operates under the County Water Authority Act,[1] which can be found in the California State Water Code.[2]


The following agencies purchase water from the Water Authority:


Since 1944, the San Diego County Water Authority has pursued its mission to provide the region with a safe, reliable water supply.

This role links the Water Authority with the first Spanish missionaries and soldiers who arrived in the area in 1769, swiftly realized the local water supply was small and erratic, and began "developing water" (as water industry officials call it).

The Spaniards constructed a dam across the San Diego River and linked the resulting reservoir with the Mission San Diego de Alcala via a six-mile aqueduct.

"Old Mission Dam was the first irrigation and domestic water system ever built by Europeans in the Far West," writes historian Kevin Starr in “Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s.”

The Old Mission Dam, which still exists in Mission Trails Regional Park, was the first water development project in San Diego County. Development accelerated greatly in the second half of the 19th century. Private companies erected six major dams on local rivers between 1887 and 1897. All six stand today, providing water for residents.

"By the end of the last 19th century, San Diego County could accurately be described as one of the major focal points of dam construction in the world, and by 1923 every major drainage system in the county included at least one reservoir," writes geographer Philip Pryde in his book, “San Diego: An Introduction to the Region."

Despite some temporary shortages, this system of local reservoirs provided sufficient water for the county until World War II, when a vastly expanded military presence practically doubled the population in six years.

Enter the San Diego County Water Authority, which was created June 9, 1944, by an act of the state Legislature as a public agency to administer the region's Colorado River water rights. Water from the river first arrived in the new San Vicente Reservoir in November 1947.

When the Water Authority began operations, it was concerned solely with securing a reliable imported water supply and then delivering it to the San Diego region. The agency did this by working with the Navy and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to construct the first two pipelines linking San Diego County and the Colorado River Aqueduct, which is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

After the second pipeline was completed in 1952, the Water Authority itself installed three more pipelines, giving the region five large-diameter pipelines that extend north-south throughout the county. These pipes are kept filled with water from the Colorado River and from Northern California, via the State Water Project.

In addition to importing water and selling it to its member agencies, the Water Authority always has been active in state and federal legislation and issues that impact water supply.

For example, in the 1940s, the Navy had planned to construct Pipeline 1 to ensure it would have enough water for its local installations. But after World War II ended, the project was canceled to save money.

Representatives of the Water Authority and other water agencies joined with local Navy officials to urge a reversal of the decision. Congress finally agreed and voted to build the pipeline (with costs to be repaid by the Water Authority and MWD).

A similar struggle was necessary to get Pipeline 2 constructed in 1952.

Water Authority officials, including then Board Chairman Fred A. Heilbron and General Counsel William H. Jennings, joined by Water Authority and MWD Director Harry Griffen, were part of the historic statewide effort to gain approval of the Burns-Porter Act authorizing the State Water Project. The State Legislature approved the act in 1959; California voters authorized funding a year later.

Water sources[edit]

The water authority derives its water from local and sources outside of its jurisdiction.[3] The majority of the water mostly comes from the Colorado River, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.[4] By 2017, the Colorado River supplied more than two thirds of the water used in the San Diego region.[5] Much of the water that comes from outside of its region goes through pipes controlled by the Metropolitan Water District.[6] The water authority plans to diversify its water sources, which includes transfers from sources in Imperial County, desalination, and water recycling.[7]


  1. ^ "County Water Authority Act (as of January 1, 2010)" (PDF). San Diego County Water Authority. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  2. ^ "Water Code - WAT". California Legislative Information. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Water Sources". Public Utilities: Water. City of San Diego. 2002. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  4. ^ Rivard, Ry (20 April 2015). "Where San Diego Gets Its Water – and Where it Goes". Voice of San Diego. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  5. ^ Smith, Joshua Emerson (11 April 2017). "River that supplies most of San Diego County's water is most endangered in U.S., report says". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  6. ^ Rivard, Ry (10 October 2017). "The Water Authority's Latest Fight Is in Its Own Backyard". Voice of San Diego. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
    "San Diego County Water Authority Files Lawsuit Against MWD". KPBS. San Diego. City News Service. 13 April 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Water Supploes". San Diego County Water Authority. 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
    Fudge, Tom (13 February 2018). "San Diego Pursues Drought-Proof Water Supply". KPBS. San Diego. Retrieved 4 May 2018.

External links[edit]