SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — While rain is usually a very welcome sight for officials who oversee the City of San Diego's drinking water supply, Monday's storm will, at least in part, not provide its usual benefits.
That's because the Lake Hodges Dam is in such bad shape, it's not capable of holding its regular supply of water, meaning much of the runoff from this storm may have to be released.
“It’s not ideal to have to do this release when you’re talking about conservation and use of this water because it’s a precious commodity," said Lisa Celaya of the city's Public Utilities Department.
Lake Hodges Dam, built in 1919, is currently undergoing millions of dollars in repairs after several issues were discovered earlier this year. For safety purposes, state regulators mandated that San Diego lower the water level in the reservoir to 275 feet, about 18 feet below normal. That meant shutting down the lake's summer recreation season early, with no 2023 opening date yet known.
The rainy season's first storms, which were smaller than Monday's, still lifted the level enough that water had to be released into the San Dieguito River in November. Celaya told ABC 10News there is a good chance this storm will also trigger a water release.
Professor Zhi-Yong Yin, an expert in water issues at the University of San Diego, says it is a disappointment that so much potential drinking water will have to go to waste.
“It’s free, right? So the main thing is if we don’t keep the water, of course, we’re going to lose it to the ocean," he said.
While Yin points out that reservoirs only provide around 10% of San Diego's drinking water, the rising cost and increasingly limited supply of water from Northern California and the Colorado River make using rain even more important.
“We’re in the middle of a drought, so we really want to keep any available water to us as much as possible,” Yin said.
Celaya says plans are being drawn up to replace the Lake Hodges dam, but that will likely take at least a decade to come to fruition. In the meantime, they have no choice but to keep repairing the current dam and follow state safety regulations.
“This will be an ongoing issue with any rainfall until the point in time where we replace this dam...we’re trying to minimize any impact and ensure that we do keep whatever water we can in our system to be the most effective,” she said.
San Diego has nine reservoirs. The dams at four of them are now rated by the state as "poor condition": Lake Hodges, Lake Murray, El Capitan, and Lake Morena. Estimates to complete the projects to rectify the issues suggest the cost could be $1 billion.