Escondido farmers, habitat and conservation lovers and San Diego Zoo Safari Park visitors got some good news this week as the San Diego County Water Authority announced that $7.5 million in state water grants were awarded locally.
“The city of Escondido received a $2 million grant for recycled water,” San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson said at the group’s E Valley Parkway office. “They’re already doing the work, and will be taking recycled water from the sewage treatment plant to farmers on the east side for their avocado and citrus trees.”
Three local San Diego County Water Authority grants — along with 10 others across the county — were awarded through the final round of the Integrated Water Management (IRWM) process authorized by 2006-voter approved Proposition 84.
“These grants will help our region meet goals for water conservation and expanding drought-proof water supplies,” said Mark Stadler, San Diego IRWM program manager. “By working together, all of the agencies and non-profit groups involved are making big investments in the region we call home.”
The $31.1 million approved for 13 county projects will be paired with other funding sources to advance more than $190 million in projects, SDCWA officials said.
The Escondido ag project will construct a new microfiltration/revers osmosis advanced treatment facility with a capacity of two million gallons per day. Water treated at the facility will be blended with water from an existing recycled water plant and distributed to farmers in the eastern and northern areas of Escondido, according to SDCWA officials.
This represents an economic boon for local farmers. Recycled water made possible by the new facility will allow growers to save at least 20 percent on water costs, according to Escondido director of utilities Chris McKinney. “Recycled water will represent long-term cost savings for Escondido’s agricultural community,” he said.
The County of San Diego Agriculture, Weights and Measures department does not break out statistical information by city. However, based on county figures, The Escondido General Plan in 2012 said the area featured 75 to 100 active agricultural operations.
With rising home values and continued development, that number has dropped in the last few years. However, most farming takes place in the eastern and northern stretches of the area and most consists of remaining citrus and avocado operations along with nurseries, eggs and egg products. Notable egg production around Harmony Grove os now defunct with a giant housing development taking its place. .
Safari Park meet Lake Hodges
The other two local SDCWA projects receiving state funding were the Hodges Reservoir Natural Treatment system at Del Dios, just outside Escondido as well as The San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
The city of San Diego operating Lake Hodges received $2.9 million to create a biolfiltration wetland at Hodges Reservoir to improve water quality. Currently, water must be treated heavily at Rancho Santa Fe water treatment facilities before going to Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach water customers.
The wetland also will provide habitat and species conservation benefits, according to county water officials, in addition to recreational opportunities.
The Zoological Society of San Diego received a $2.9 million grant for drought response and public outreach. This project will save 72 acre-feet per year of potable water through increased conservation and recycled water use. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons of water, equivalent to the amount of water a family of four uses in a year.
Conservation will be achieved through reduced landscape irrigation by replacing turf grass with water-wise landscaping and upgrading the existing wastewater treatment plant. The Zoological Society also will expand its water conservation effort at the Safari Park and online.
Other significant county projects receiving state funding included Groundwork San Diego’s Conservation Home Makeover in the Chollas Creek Watershed, the SDCWA’s Regional Drought Resiliency Program, The Water Conservation Garden’s Ms. Smarty-Plants Grows Water-Wise Schools and Padre Dam Municipal; Water District’s Advanced Water Treatment plant.