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11 billion gallons of water released from Hodges Reservoir

The City of San Diego said it is under a state order to keep the water level low in the lake.

SAN DIEGO — Over the past year, eleven billion gallons of water have been wasted/released from the Hodges Reservoir.

The City of San Diego said it is under a state order to keep the water level low in the lake. Water districts said the city is to blame because the San Diego Public Utilities Department failed to maintain the dam for decades.

Del Mar resident Barbara Rosario-Booras has recently seen a spike in her water bill from the Santa Fe Irrigation District. 

Rosario-Booras was shocked when she read the notice on her bill explaining why the rates were increasing.

“This price increase is due to the city of San Diego's lack of maintenance of Lake Hodges, despite our annual payments to the city for its upkeep,” the Santa Fe Irrigation District customer notice read.

San Diego owns the Lake Hodges dam, and the city's Public Utilities Department manages it.

Built in 1918, the dam’s safety rating is currently unsatisfactory.  In 2019, state regulators ordered the water level in the lake lowered.

As a result, the agency said the Santa Fe Irrigation District now has to buy more expensive water imported from outside San Diego County.  Hence the spike in Rosario-Booras’ water bill.

“They've got a contract with San Diego, and the dispute is between them.  I just wanted to know why the consumers are getting charged an increase in rates because they have a problem with the city,” said Rosario-Booras.

CBS 8 has learned over the past year that San Diego had to release 11 billion gallons of water from Lake Hodges to keep the water level low in Lake Hodges.

“Eleven billion gallons represents two full years of water use for the Santa Fe Irrigation District and the San Dieguito Water District combined.  It was let out to the ocean,” said Seth Gates, a director with the Santa Fe district.

He said all this could have been avoided.

“I think it's fair to say had there been increased maintenance of the dam, it would have extended the life of the dam.  How long?  We don’t know,” said Gates.

The city of San Diego emailed CBS 8 the following statement:

"The state Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) restricted the water level at Hodges Reservoir in 2019. Since then, the City has released a total of 40,681 acre-feet to minimize any risk to human life or property and to comply with the order from the state regulator. Public safety is the City’s primary focus in our operation of Hodges Dam. The City and the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) have also taken steps to reduce the amount of water released by transferring water to other facilities to the extent possible so that it is available to be treated for potable use. The table below details the amount of water released, water drafted by the San Dieguito Water District and the Santa Fe Irrigation District (“Water Districts”), and water transferred by the City and CWA every year since 2019. 

At over 100 years old, Hodges Dam needs to be replaced, and until that time, it is our responsibility to operate it in the safest possible manner for the protection of people downstream and consistent with agreements with the Districts and CWA. The City is currently pursuing design for a new dam, and we will have more details on how Hodges will operate during that construction later. Please note the water in Hodges is raw and not yet treated. After it goes through the treatment process, it is then potable water. "

Credit: City of San Diego

Additionally, a city spokesperson said that San Diego has been addressing maintenance of the Lake Hodges dam for decades.

Replacement of the dam could take at least a decade.  As a result, when the city gets heavy rainfall, the release of water will continue into the San Dieguito River and ultimately into the ocean.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District is currently negotiating with the city of San Diego to secure additional local water supplies at lower prices for the district's ratepayers.

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