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California water districts confront the state’s continuing drought

Special districts across the nation are using sophisticated technologies to tackle real-world challenges. Our National Innovation Showcase puts a spotlight on these efforts.

In drought-stricken California, for example, the Soquel Creek Water District (SqCWD) is using purified wastewater to replenish groundwater on the state’s central coast. SqCWD, which gets 100% of its water from underground wells, provides drinking water to more than 40,000 residents in Santa Cruz County. The district launched its $140 million sustainable water project after electromagnetic imaging confirmed that seawater intrusion threatened to contaminate its drinking water wells.

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IIJA Funding Update

Rules for new broadband and cybersecurity grant programs included in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) are coming out slower than expected, says Center for Digital Government funding expert Joe Morris. But these and other IIJA funding streams ultimately represent a significant opportunity for special districts to update important technologies, Morris told district leaders in a May presentation to the Special Districts Program Advisory Board.

Morris says support for technology is woven throughout the IIJA, which provides $1.2 trillion to modernize infrastructure for transportation, energy, water and wastewater, telecom and environmental resilience. Besides specific funding programs for cybersecurity ($1 billion over four years) and broadband internet expansion ($65 billion), the IIJA includes support for technology modernization within multiple sector-specific funding streams.

Potential opportunities include:

  • Strengthening cybersecurity protection for operational technologies
  • Implementing data analytics to streamline critical operations
  • Deploying intelligent asset and field service management systems
  • Adopting digital construction planning and design platforms

Risks Abroad Should Shift Priorities at Home

Christopher Krebs, former director of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), urged special district leaders to prioritize cybersecurity improvements in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Speaking on a live Special Districts Program webcast, Krebs recommended that districts accelerate timelines for deploying multifactor authentication and other cyber-protection measures to counter increasingly dangerous global threats.

Krebs warned that critical service providers like community water and power utilities could face particular danger from foreign adversaries seeking to cause disruption. He also pointed to a joint CISA/FBI alert in March about possible threats to satellite communications networks commonly used by water districts, power providers and other critical infrastructure operators to connect remote facilities.

Read more here.

Join Our Board

The Special Districts Program is designed for special districts by special districts. Our advisory board — a diverse group of officials from special purpose government entities across the United States — helps us live up to that promise by defining the program’s mission and shaping our events and written content throughout the year. We’re seeking a few new board members to fill vacancies. Sound interesting? Get in touch with program director Omar Sandoval to learn more.

District Spotlight: Fighting Drought with Data

California water districts are stepping up their deployment of smart water meters in an effort to give customers better tools to manage water use.

“We are trying to get our customers over the ignorance-is-bliss mentality to the knowledge-is-power mentality,” says Nelsy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which provides water to 1.4 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The district has installed smart meters on about 19,000 homes and businesses so far. Its board is scheduled to decide in September whether to expand the program. Smart meter initiatives also are underway at the Alameda County Water District and Marin Municipal Water District, which also serve Bay Area communities.

Smart meters send wireless signals in real time so residents and utilities can track water use hourly, daily or weekly, making it easier to hit conservation targets and detect leaks.

Read more here.