Presidential Permit allows Otay Water District to build a cross-border water project

By on June 21, 2017

Otay Water District (OWD) was recently granted a presidential permit to build an approximately four-mile potable water pipeline at the International Boundary between the United States and Mexico in San Diego County. The new pipeline would connect OWD with a desalination plant in Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico.

The increasing need for new potable water supplies in Mexico and San Diego County has spurred the plans for the proposed Rosarito plant and for OWD’s $30 million Otay Mesa Conveyance and Disinfection System Project to provide a new drought-proof water supply to its customers. The district currently provides water service to more than 223,000 people. The projection is for the district’s population to increase to more than 308,000 by 2050.

The Presidential Permit specifically authorizes OWD to “construct, connect, operate, and maintain cross-border water pipeline facilities for the importation of desalinated seawater at the International Boundary…” The Rosarito plant could potentially produce water to meet up to two-thirds of the District’s projected water use by 2024.

Multiple steps in bringing the Rosarito plant online and in transporting desalinated water to OWD have already been completed and others are in process. The project has undergone environmental reviews as required by the California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Policy Act. A biological permit has been obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The District also applied for, and is awaiting, a permit from the California Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water. This permit ensures that water imported from Mexico’s desalination plant will meet the same water quality drinking standards as water from regional lakes as well as that from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and from the City of San Diego’s Pure Water Program.

The Otay Mesa Conveyance and Disinfection System Project will be the first cross-border project of its kind to import water to the U.S. from Mexico. OWD currently maintains the only two existing presidential permits for water crossings along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Otay’s other cross-border pipeline allows Mexico to transport and import Colorado River apportionment water to Mexico through the U.S. facility to Tijuana.

When the Rosarito plant is completed it is expected to produce up to 100-million gallons of water a day. The facility will become operational in two phases. The first phase would make 50-million gallons or more of desalinated water available daily to the Tijuana/Rosarito region in 2019 or early 2020. An additional 50-million gallons a day is expected to be made available by 2024 with up to 30 percent of that water available to the District.

OWD continues its efforts to reduce its dependence on traditional water supplies from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by diversifying its water resources. Mark Watton, OWD general manager, has acknowledged the diversification effort saying, “Although there are still several hurdles to overcome, receiving the presidential permit for this project (the Rosarito facility) is a giant leap for the District and its customers so we have more control over our local water supply. Desal water from Rosarito would be a closer and highly reliable source water.”