The politics of water can perhaps be boiled down into two key issues: how to keep water rates low and how to find inexpensive sources of fresh water. Those issues are generally addressed at the administrative and political level.
The Otay Water District is the second largest in the County behind the City of San Diego and there are a total of 24 water districts in San Diego County.
The Otay Water District serves about 213,000 people in a 125 square mile range. It covers neighborhoods in Spring Valley, La Presa, Rancho San Diego, Jamul, eastern Chula Vista and eastern Otay Mesa along the international border with Mexico. Their annual budget is about $90 million. Because they are a public utility, they are revenue neutral. Your sewer bill pays for the costs to run the Otay Water District.
The Otay Water District is sub-divided into 5 Divisions and each has a director. Voters elect the directors and they then represent your interests when it comes to water rates, taxes to pay for maintenance, upkeep & building as well as any laws that come up regarding water. They serve four year terms.
Districting Is Historical, Not Logical
Water districts were created long ago. Districts sprung up, shut down or combined with other districts. Water districts mostly came about when a few residents got together and said, “Hey, let’s create a water district and start importing water.”
General Manager, Mark Watton, gave me a brief history of water in San Diego County. During the late 18000’s Colonel Ed Fletcher, Elisha Babcock and others once wandered the backcountry looking for dam sites. They developed a water supply that you can read more about in The Journal of San Diego History.
The Otay Water District began as an idea in 1955 when a plumber, a civil engineer, an attorney, a newspaper publisher and two owners of large tracts of land gathered for lunch at Christie’s Restaurant in Chula Vista. They put in a few thousand dollars to create the Otay Water District. Its first headquarters was located at 427 Third Avenue in downtown Chula Vista.
In 1962, the Otay Water District and the La Presa County Water District combined. Then, La Presa dissolved officially in 1969.
During the 1970s and 1980s, you could still pick out discrete water districts, but if you fly over San Diego today, the districts have mushed together. You have to know which street goes with what district.
The Otay Water District is its separate entity. For emergency purposes, they do have interconnections with other districts so that if there is some kind of failure, another water district can step in. The Otay Water District could, for example, work with the Sweetwater Authority, Helix Water District and City of San Diego, if necessary. They also often share equipment, but the different water districts don’t have any sort of regular collaboration.
Want to make things even more confusing?
Enjoy Your Water Cocktail
Otay’s water comes from many different imported sources
The Otay Water district has to get its water from somewhere since it has no natural water streams, aquifers or indigenous water of its own. Otay’s water must be recycled or imported. San Diego County, in general, has no aquifers, so even if we wanted to, there’s nothing to tap in terms of indigenous water.
Mostly, the Otay Water District purchases water, but it doesn’t just buy from one single source. The district purchases its water from San Diego County Water Authority, Helix Water District, the City of San Diego and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). (Each of those entities, by the way, have their own boards and managers.) Plus, the MWD imports its water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River.
Don’t forget also that the Colorado River is owned and operated by many different entities.
The Otay Water District must import about 31,000 acre feet, which is 85% of the water need for the district. They then get another 15% of their water from the recycling treatment facility — where raw sewage is turned into clean water and then used for irrigation in East Chula Vista.
To deliver water services, Otay has hired a total of 140 employees who work at the treatment plant, conduct operations and work at the administrative offices.
Districts Do More Than Just Potable Water
Otay Water District has a recycling plant and takes care of sewage
Otay Water District manages the import of potable water, but they also maintain a sewer service and they have their own recycled water facility. Most people still feel uncomfortable with drinking recycled water taken from sewage, so Otay delivers their recycled water only to golf courses, playing fields, public parks and roadside landscapes in eastern Chula Vista.
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