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Southern California is facing its toughest drought in 1,200 years. And while San Diego County’s water costs are 26% higher than its surrounding metropolitan counties, the region is also decades ahead in terms of water storage and supply. Through diversified water sources, conservation, and a nationally renowned desalination plant, San Diego County has been able to stave off water supply issues for the foreseeable future. Many of these efforts have taken place in Escondido, where advanced water recycling initiatives have been setting precedents for other drought-stricken cities. In fact, Escondido has been quietly leading San Diego County on climate change efforts, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the County for its performance and progress on its Climate Action Plan (CAP).
Escondido earned a 97.5 score, the highest in the County, on the 2022 Climate Action Plan Report Card
Escondido’s overall score is based on its direction to increase climate equity, green infrastructure, and food availability
Escondido joined the Clean Energy Alliance to bring Community Choice Energy to the City’s resident and local businesses in 2023
“Not only is Escondido leading in water conservation, but the quality of our water is also noteworthy,” said Christopher McKinney, City of Escondido Head of Water Utilities. “Our advanced water treatment plants ensure our drinking water meets or exceeds all state and federal health standards for water quality as noted in the 2021 Water Quality Report. We also took a more ambitious approach to incorporate new and more stringent quality control processes over the last two years, making the Escondido Water Quality Lab one of only two California labs already compliant with new accreditation standards.”
Escondido has a long history of acting fast on water woes. When the city was incorporated in 1888, the influx of families moving to the area quickly pressured the water supply. Within a year, local farmers formed the Escondido Irrigation District to ensure both residents and the booming agricultural sector had steady water access. By building the 15-mile Bear Valley Dam, Escondido was ahead of its time in engineering.
Eighty years later, the City of Escondido acquired the Escondido Mutual Water Company, marking the beginning of a sustained period of water infrastructure. This era provided the basis for much of what Escondido relies on today for water supply. The City’s latest efforts in water have revolved around innovative wastewater treatment solutions to bolster the region’s agriculture amid climate change. Escondido, and San Diego County as a whole, has invested significant energy and resources into meeting new water measures, such as:
Household water restrictions regarding irrigation, landscaping, and recreational water use
Customer-request-only water conservation regulations at restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces where food and drink is served
Converting agricultural land from untreated water sources to treated water sources
“Escondido has a long history of being ahead of the curve on sustainable practices,” said Jennifer Schoeneck, City of Escondido Deputy Director of Economic Development. “Our proactive and comprehensive strategy to water conservation has made our city an enviable locale for innovative companies and new and novel water-saving solutions.”
Escondido’s Methods of Sustainability
Innovative water-saving techniques and the companies that spearhead them are originating in Escondido thanks to the city’s agricultural sector and commitment to regenerative practices. The city takes a multifaceted approach when it comes to water conservation and its methods have proven effective.
The City is home to several water treatment companies. AgTech and clean-tech startups choose Escondido for its rich agricultural sector, proximity to San Diego, and business-friendly environment.
Aquacycl, a woman-owned and -operated wastewater treatment technology company, helps food and beverage companies save money on their sewer discharge by breaking down 80-90% of wastewater and converting it to energy.
Escondido-based SmartCover Systems’ groundbreaking monitoring technology helps wastewater utilities avoid sewage spills and reduce maintenance costs. Since 2005, SmartCover Systems has prevented thousands of sewage spills across the country and saved utilities companies millions of dollars.
Agricultural Water Recycling
The City of Escondido is nearly ready to put its new water filtration system to work for farmers. Expected to be finished in 2023, the water filtration system would take more of the water that is already treated to the recycled water standard and further treat it so that it is usable for agriculture irrigation in Escondido.
The plant will solve a billion dollar problem in Escondido and support growers and farmers who have been facing water shortages for years. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Eric Larson, Executive Director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said the recycled water program will not just reduce the cost of water — perhaps by about 40 percent — but will also produce a reliable, drought-proof supply.
Escondido offers several water-wise workshops, classes, programs, and contests for residents to implement drought-tolerating landscaping. Even little ones can get in on the fun. Since 1991, fourth graders in the Escondido water district have participated in an annual poster contest, giving local students the opportunity to illustrate the value of the city’s water resources.
Residents and businesses who invest in water-saving solutions, from efficient washing machines to toilets, can get some of their money back through a variety of rebate programs.
“We take regenerative practices seriously in Escondido,” said Escondido City Manager Sean McGlynn. “Shifting towards water and energy independence, zero waste, and clean technologies is a top priority for the City. Thankfully, with so many innovative water companies and infrastructure in our community, we are able to confront these challenges head-on and continue Escondido’s legacy as a leader in climate action.”