Photo: Lake Cuyamaca under clear skies and Stonewall Peak in background. (Credit: April Vasquez/Unsplash)
This winter is off to a wet start across California and here in San Diego, as well. When winter storms find their way to San Diego, they change how much water we use and how much local water runoff we receive.
First, customers turn off their irrigation system and this reduces our annual revenues. But, when customer water use goes down, the amount of imported water we purchase, mostly from the Colorado River, goes down, too. This reduces our annual expenses.
What’s most important about local rainfall is that we can capture it in Lake Cuyamaca. Having our own water will reduce our need to buy imported water. Water purchases are Helix’s largest expense and account for 45% of our annual budget.
“When it rains in San Diego, Helix customers benefit,” said Helix Administrative Services Director Jennifer Bryant. “We are so fortunate that our predecessors at Helix had the foresight to build Cuyamaca Dam way back in 1885, and the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant in 1968.”
Lake Cuyamaca is located near Julian. To get there, take the 8 freeway east and highway 79 north. The surface elevation of the lake is 4,613 feet and the colder air at this elevation increases the condensation rate – the transformation of water vapor in clouds into water droplets and rainfall. That means that the average annual rainfall at the lake is more than double the average rainfall at Lindbergh Field and downtown San Diego.
“What we don’t know is if the storms will keep coming,” said Bryant.
Last winter, November and December precipitation levels in California broke records. But the rain stopped and January to March were the driest January to March period ever recorded.
“We’re hopeful,” said Bryant. “That this winter will be different.”