Rancho Santa Fe water district agreements aim to protect water rights, save money


By Joe Tash

Two agreements approved Wednesday, Oct. 29, by the Santa Fe Irrigation District are expected to clarify the district’s storage rights for water in Lake Hodges, as well as save money by partnering with neighboring water districts on maintenance projects.

Both agreements were approved on 3-0 votes by the board of directors of the water district.

The first agreement was between the city of San Diego, the San Dieguito Water District and Santa Fe. The agreement amends a deal struck back in the 1920s that gave the two water districts rights to some of the water in Lake Hodges.

Under the amendment approved by the board Oct. 29 — which had previously been approved by the two other agencies — Santa Fe and San Dieguito can collectively store up to 5,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Hodges. The two districts also split with San Diego the rights to water that flows into the reservoir from rainfall.

Santa Fe sells about 10,000 acre feet of water each year to its customers in Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch, and, historically, about 30 percent of that supply has come from Lake Hodges. The available amount of local water varies from year to year, depending on the amount of rainfall. The rest of the district’s water is purchased from outside sources, and is more expensive than local water.

The agreement was needed to clarify the two district’s water rights after Lake Hodges was connected to the regional aqueduct system as part of the County Water Authority’s emergency storage project. The two districts sued the city of San Diego in 2008 over the water rights issue, and the lawsuit was later set aside.

Since then, the three parties have been working on an updated agreement.

“It has been at the top of our priority list to resolve this issue,” said Santa Fe board President Michael Hogan. “It’s very important to the ratepayers of our district. It secures our local water rights in a way that we can better manage our long-term water supplies, and reduce our reliance on imported water.”

Maximizing the use of local water allows the district to control costs and keep rates down, said Hogan.

Santa Fe also expects to save about $70,000 per year in operating and maintenance costs for the Lake Hodges reservoir, because those costs will be shared more equitably with other agencies.

The other agreement approved by the board Wednesday involves “cathodic protection” systems, which use an electrical current to prevent corrosion of steel water pipes.

The agreement is between Santa Fe and its neighbors, the San Dieguito and Olivenhain water districts. According to a district press release, the partnership will save each district about $100,000 in capital costs, as well as small ongoing savings over the 20-year life of the contract.

The agreement arose from a tri-agency committee set up in 2013 to explore a range of partnership opportunities between the three water districts, including consolidation of key functions.

The committee identified a number of short- and long-term projects that provided opportunities for collaboration and cost-sharing, said Hogan.

“This is the first one that’s actually resulted in a mutual agreement between the three agencies that will result in cost savings,” said Hogan. “It’s a direct result of the agencies getting together to see how they can leverage assets and resources to be more efficient and control costs.”

Also on Oct. 29, the board recognized General Manager Michael Bardin’s 10th anniversary with the district, and re-appointed Hogan as the district’s representative to the board of the County Water Authority.