President’s Message—Setting Groundwater Management Standards
Sometimes, we are just thankful that things go well, and we don’t have to think about all the behind-the-scenes effort to reliably bring us a quality glass of water when we turn on the faucet. But for those inquisitive minds, I’m going to share with you how the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) has helped to set standards for groundwater management that benefit those living in the District and beyond.
Orange County’s groundwater basin is the largest non-adjudicated basin in urban Southern California, which means that the basin’s groundwater pumping rights have not been divided up by a court of law. This requires the Orange County Water District to be creative in managing the pumping of groundwater to maintain reliability for all member agencies and to protect the integrity and health of the basin by using incentives and deterrents.
OCWD board and staff participate in state, national and international boards and committees and expert panels both to learn and to provide valuable information that could affect the governance and legislation of similar programs and to freely share ideas and innovations that could spur cost-effective and energy-efficient alternatives. Why do they invite us? Because OCWD is an innovator and authority on the subject of groundwater.
The Orange County Water District is the first water agency in California to prepare a groundwater basin management plan (1989). The plan was developed to protect and enhance groundwater quality, protect and increase the sustainable yield of the basin in a cost-effective manner, and increase the efficiency of District operations.
The District was called upon to assist Governor Brown and the California Legislature in developing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, which requires groundwater sustainability plans for the first time. This invitation acknowledged OCWD’s renowned expertise and proven track record of groundwater basin care and management that has provided reliable, high-quality water from the Orange County Groundwater Basin since 1933.
We have helped set additional standards. One of the largest sources to replenish the Orange County Groundwater Basin is the Santa Ana River (SAR). By the time the SAR reaches Prado Dam, it contains treated wastewater discharged by upstream communities such as San Bernardino, Riverside and Corona. The SAR has historically been a primary source of replenishment to the groundwater basin and from 1994-2004, OCWD invested more than $10 million to perform the Santa Ana River Water Quality and Health (SARWQH) Study to assess any potential public health risks associated with SAR recharge.
An independent Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) appointed by the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) provided ongoing review and guidance throughout the SARWQH Study and concluded in 2004 that use of the SAR to replenish the Orange County Groundwater Basin was safe [https://www.ocwd.comhttps://www.ocwd.com/wp-content/uploads/sarwqh-final-nwri-panel-report-2004-1.pdf]. Based on the recommendations from the SAP, OCWD has maintained an ongoing Santa Ana River Monitoring Program that proactively assesses both surface water and groundwater quality and adapts to the changing conditions in the SAR under periodic review by a successor NWRI Independent Advisory Panel.
During that same 10-year study, OCWD was among the first ever to investigate soil aquifer treatment to understand water quality improvements in passage of water through unsaturated soil and aquifer materials—the findings of which are beneficial internationally. Enhanced understanding of groundwater flow paths and residence times derived from the study can be used to develop an early-warning groundwater monitoring system that could be useful in the event of a toxic spill reaching the groundwater.
OCWD has already used its monitoring skills to detect the size and movement of two sites of groundwater contamination that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. You can read about the current status of groundwater cleanup efforts on the District’s website and there’s an article about the Nov. 14 North Basin open house that took place in Fullerton in this issue.
OCWD continues to improve its methods and work together with our member agencies to ensure the long-term reliability and quality of the groundwater supply. As a global leader in groundwater management, it will continue to help shape policy and collaborate with others in an effort to promote sustainable practices and water reliability.