San Diego County Water Authority board members and staff tour the Olivenhain Dam after the award presentation. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Diego County Water Authority celebrated Tuesday its award for the world’s top civil-engineering project — a network of dams, pumps and pipelines that can protect the region’s water supply for six months.

The $1.5 billion Emergency & Carryover Storage Project received the 2017 award from the American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this year, beating out the iconic new One World Trade Center in New York and the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2 in Mumbai, India, among other projects.

On Tuesday a plaque was officially unveiled at the remote Olivenhain Dam, one of the four key parts of the project. The plaque will ultimately be mounted at the top of the dam.

Norma Jean Mattei, president of the 150,000-member, Virginia-based engineering society, said the award recognizes innovation, originality and vision.

The official plaque.

“The water authority planned for the future, making an investment that ensures the public’s health, safety and welfare in case of disaster,” Mattei said.

The 318-foot tall dam — the tallest built using a new concrete construction process  — nearby Lake Hodges pump station, 11-mile San Vicente Pipeline and newly raised San Vicente Dam can together store six months of water supply in case the region is cut off from Colorado River aqueducts.

The project was fully completed at the beginning of the recent drought. “The timing could not have been more fortunate,” noted Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the water authority.

Mark Muir, chairman of the water authority, thanked San Diegans for supporting the project over a 25-year-period. “A special thank you to our ratepayers who have invested a significant amount of money in this project,” he said.

Mattei said it’s somewhat sad that few of the 3 million people protected by the project with ever see it because of the remote locations of the dams and pipelines.

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Chris Jennewein

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