President’s Message—Anniversaries Mark Years of Reliable, High-quality Water

The California Legislature created the Orange County Water District (OCWD; District) in 1933, giving it broad powers to manage the Orange County Groundwater Basin and protect the county’s water rights to the natural flows of the Santa Ana River. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the agency that safeguards and provides the majority of the drinking water supply in north and central Orange County.

The Groundwater Replenishment System, which OCWD co-created with the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), provided enough new water to get us through the recent five-year drought unscathed. This year marks a GWRS milestone as well—its 10-year anniversary.

It’s a good time to celebrate and reflect on OCWD’s accomplishments over the many years, which can be summed up in one phrase: A long tradition of innovation.

OCWD was the first in California to create its own groundwater management plan (1989). Governor Brown and the California Legislature called upon OCWD to offer its expertise when they were developing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA), an historic act that required groundwater sustainability plans for all California groundwater basins for the first time.

OCWD is also known as a leader of modern stormwater capture. It installed a large rubber dam in 1992 and another in 1993 that inflate during rainstorms and divert Santa Ana River water into recharge basins in Anaheim and Orange where the water percolates into the large groundwater basin. In addition, the District forged a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to capture stormwater at Prado Dam, to be used during later dry periods.

When OCWD builds for efficiency, it does it well and sometimes it does it big. The District created the largest constructed wetlands on the West Coast of the United States—the Prado Wetlands—to naturally remove nitrate contaminants from the Santa Ana River flows at a cost substantially lower than that of conventional man-made treatment.

In 1977, Water Factory 21 was the first wastewater reclamation plant in the world to use reverse osmosis to treat wastewater and drinking water. It paved the way for OCWD’s top innovation, the co-creation of the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). Located at OCWD headquarters in Fountain Valley, the GWRS is the world’s largest advanced water purification project for potable reuse and supplies 30 percent of the water put back in the Orange County Groundwater Basin.

Since coming online in 2008, the GWRS has produced more than 245 billion gallons of ultra-pure water. Today, the Groundwater Replenishment System provides 100 million gallons per day and when its final expansion is completed in 2023, it will provide enough water for 1 million people.

Both Water Factory 21 and the GWRS blazed the water reuse trail and their worldwide impact in making potable reuse a reality from a technical, policy and social standpoint is and continues to be groundbreaking. Coming soon, the GWRS will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most wastewater purified to drinking water standards in a 24-hour period.

You are invited to join OCWD and OCSD in celebrating the GWRS 10-year anniversary and the attempt to set a new Guinness World Records title for the most wastewater recycled to drinking water in 24 hours on Feb. 16 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Winter Fest. It’s a free event for the community and features a snow slide, snow play area, food, music, tours, and more.

For additional information about the District or the GWRS, visit and view the District’s history page, its new corporate brochure and GWRS brochure.