The San Diego County Water Authority on Wednesday dedicated its “supersized” dam at the San Vicente Reservoir, creating emergency storage equal to six months of water consumption by area residents.

As a Navy brass band played, state and county officials gathered in a tent overlooking the reservoir to dedicate the $416 million project. The original dam, built in 1943, was raised by 117 feet. The resulting increase in storage gives the San Diego region a major reserve in case of another drought.

“This vital enhancement to the region’s water storage system will protect our economy and quality of life during future droughts and water supply emergencies,” said water authority chairman Thomas V. Wornham. “This gives us the opportunity to store water for a future drought.”

“What today is about is water supply for literally generations to come,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The dedication comes as the water authority considers a move to mandatory conservation because of the deepening drought across the state of California.

“We are in the driest three years on record,” said John Laird, secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency. “We have to view this as something that could be long-term.”

He praised San Diego for taking steps to ensure its water supply, noting that not every community in California is doing so. “There are some people that are waiting for the state to help them do things,” he said.

State Sen. Joel Anderson, who began his political career on the Padre Dam Municipal Water District board, said nothing is more important to the region than water. “This is about self-sufficiency. This is about the prioneer spirit,” he said in congratulating the water authority.

Water authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton described the dam as “supersized,” noting that the project was the largest raise of a concrete dam in the United States.

The water authority also constructed a surge tank, a pump station and 11 miles of large-diameter pipeline, which together cost another $422 million, according to water authority spokesman Mike Lee.

The water authority expects it to take between two and five years to refill the reservoir to its new level, depending on rainfall, the availability of imported water and local demand. The body of water will remain closed to recreational use until it reaches the level of a new boat ramp.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.