Following a vote of the people, the City of San Diego entered the municipal water supply business in 1901 when the City bought the water system from a private company. More than 100 years later, San Diego's water infrastructure has become one of the most complex in the United States. Today, the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department serves more than 1.3 million people populating more than 200 square miles of developed land.
In addition to our three water treatment plants, San Diego maintains and operates more than 3,302 miles of water lines, 49 water pump plants, 90-plus pressure zones, and more than 200 million gallons of potable water storage capacity in 32 standpipes, elevated tanks, and concrete and steel reservoirs.
Located in the semi-arid desert region of the southwestern United States where rainfall can vary from practically nil one year to plentiful the next, local water availability has always been an issue. On average, San Diego must import nearly 90 percent of its water from other areas, specifically northern California and the Colorado River.
The need to import water emerged in the 1940s when the increased presence of the United States Navy leading up to and into World War II, and the subsequent population boom thereafter, quickly overwhelmed local supplies. As a result, San Diego and other local water distributors formed the San Diego County Water Authority for the express purpose of purchasing Colorado River water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and conveying it to San Diego County.
In addition to supplying more than 280,000 metered service connections within its own incorporated boundaries, San Diego conveys and sells potable water to the City of Del Mar, the Santa Fe and San Dieguito Irrigation Districts, and the California American Water Company, which, in turn, serves the Cities of Coronado and Imperial Beach and portions of south San Diego. San Diego also maintains several emergency connections to and from neighboring water agencies, including the Santa Fe Irrigation District, the Poway Municipal Water District, and Otay Water District, the California American Water Company, and the Sweetwater Authority.
Potential water supply offsets such as conservation and water reclamation have only recently entered the water supply picture, but even the most optimistic projections credit those offsets with no more than 20 to 25 percent of total demand. San Diego will therefore continue to rely heavily upon imported water for its water supply needs far into the foreseeable future.
The Public Utilities Department receives no revenues from sales or property taxes, operating solely on funds from rates and service charges. In accordance with the provisions of the City Municipal Code, these funds are administered in an enterprise account, separate from the City of San Diego's General Fund.