Biggest dam project in San Diego County history is complete

Biggest dam project in San Diego County history is complete
The San Vicente Dam, east of San Diego, has been raised by 117 feet to a height of 337 feet so the reservoir capacity can be doubled to store more water in wet years. (San Diego County Water Authority)

It now may not seem like it in these drought-stricken days, but history indicates that someday rain and snow will return to California in sufficient quantity.

The state may again have enough water, maybe more than it needs in a given year.


With that in mind, the San Diego County Water Authority began work more than five years ago on the biggest water storage project in the agency's history: an $838-million expansion of the San Vicente Dam in Lakeside, east of San Diego.

The goal is to prepare the reservoir behind the dam to store surplus water in wet years for use in dry years or when the annual supply is disrupted because of an earthquake or other catastrophe.

The reservoir is connected to the water authority's two aqueducts that receive water from its two main suppliers: the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Imperial Irrigation District.

On Wednesday, just a day after state water officials called for mandatory conservation in hopes that the state can survive the current drought, the San Vicente Dam raising project was declared complete.

It will not help in the current dilemma. But the project looks long-term toward preparing the region for the classic cycle of wet and dry years.

To pay for the project, the water authority, which has 24 member agencies, sold long-term bonds, now being paid off by ratepayers.

The dam, which has been owned by the city of San Diego since 1943, is now 337 feet tall, an increase of 117 feet.

The reservoir, once it is filled, will hold 242,000 acre feet of water, an increase of 152,000 acre feet.  An acre foot is roughly enough water for two families for a year.

Nearly 200 water officials and local leaders attended the dam celebration.

The expanded reservoir capacity, said Jerry Sanders, chief executive of the Regional Chamber of Commerce, provides "a more robust safety net" against the next period of drought.

It is also another step away from being dependent on a single supplier, Sanders said, a reference to the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The dam, said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the county water authority,  has been "super-sized."