Improvements to the watershed on the portion of Chollas Creek along Market Street and across from the Euclid Avenue Transit Center will begin later this year. — Howard Lipin
North County avocado farmers irrigating their groves with all recycled water. Residents of the southeast San Diego working-class neighborhood of Encanto enjoying a revitalized Chollas Creek, a respite in a sea of concrete. And dozens of homeowners cashing rebate checks in return for tearing out thirsty lawns.
Those are but a few of the potential benefits from ongoing local programs in line for a shot of about $10 million in fresh cash coming from a recently signed statewide drought relief package, according to the San Diego County Water Authority.
The largest piece of the drought package will raise about $472.5 million by accelerating the sale of voter-approved bonds and plowing those revenues into regional projects, some of which have been waiting for funding to materialize.
The goal, said Sen. President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, “is to invest in projects that help us get the most out of every drop.”
The better-late-than-never recent storms have brought an improvement in California’s bleak supply outlook, but reserves remain at historically low levels and there is little confidence that a snow-packed March Miracle will come to the rescue.
Gov. Jerry Brown said he could not pinpoint how much new water will be generated by the legislative package, answering with the obvious: “The more we have, the better it is … We really don’t know how bad the drought is going to be over the next year or two.”
In San Diego County, water managers welcomed the funding as an important investment.
“The obligation is on us to prepare for the future,” said Kimberly Thorner, general manager of the Encinitas-based Olivenhain Municipal Water District.
Olivenhain is part of the North San Diego Regional Recycled Water Project — a consortium of North County water and sewer districts working to expand a plumbing network to distribute recycled water. It is in line for $3.45 million. The total cost is closer to $40 million.
“People don’t stop flushing their toilets in a drought,” Thorner said.
The consortium, which also includes the cities of Escondido and Oceanside, is working on plans to eventually produce about 6,805 acre feet of recycled water — enough for 13,600 homes per year.
“You keep chipping away at it,” Thorner said. “And it’s local water. That’s very important.”
The county water authority itself will receive a boost for its own recycled water campaign.
The authority is working with the San Diego County Farm Bureau on a pilot program designed to irrigate a small amount of agricultural land, possibly avocados, with nothing but recycled water. The authority plans to use $50,000 of a larger state grant for that project.
The goal, said the water authority’s Lori Swanson, is to help farmers stung by high water costs and reduce demand for water imported from outside the region.
That project will build on a current undertaking by the authority that involves researching how much potable water, and at what level of treatment, can be used on avocados without curtailing production. That study is a year away from completion, Swanson said.
The average one-acre avocado grove needs about four acre feet per year to produce 5,000 pounds.
Another nearly $500,000 is being granted to the county authority to continue encouraging turf replacement by offering rebates. Since Dec. 19, 2012, the cash-for-grass program has paid for 125 completed turf replacements that total 188,740 square feet. Of those, 118 were residential properties and seven were commercial. The county has awarded about $268,000 drawn grants provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources.
Another $500,000 grant will be steered to the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, which is working to restore and enhance segments of Chollas Creek near Market and Euclid avenues, across from the Transit Center.
“The creek itself is a real disturbed watershed,” said Sharon Hudnall, development officer for the Jacobs Center.
The money will be used as part of a $5 million concerted effort to slow creek flow to prevent flooding and erosion, reduce sediment buildup, remove invasive species and help restore habitat with drought-resistant plants and trees. All of those will lead to cleaner water in the creek, which is part of the state’ broad objectives, she said.
But the project offers another benefit — that is improving the quality of life for a working-class neighborhood lacking green space, Hudnall said.
“We want to create a healthy restored environment in a highly urbanized setting. If the creek is taken care of, it can be a valuable community asset,” she said. “All of this is costly, especially for a community that doesn’t have a lot of funding.”
Several other regional programs are also in line for grants:
$2.1 million to the Water Reuse Research Foundation for advanced studies on safely purifying wastewater to extend supplies.
$1.9 million to the Rural Community Assistance Corp. for pipelines, wells and storage tanks at various locations.
$980,000 to the county of San Diego to reduce pollution along the Santa Margarita River watershed.
$521,000 to the San Diego River Park Foundation to conserve cold water streams, cut pollution and limit sediment buildup, concentrating on Boulder Creek, which drains into El Capitan Reservoir.
The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation is a non-profit foundation that operates on the premise that residents must own and drive the change that takes place in their community for it to be meaningful and long-lasting. JCNI explores new pathways to change through entrepreneurial relationships, hands-on training, and the creative investment of resources.