President’s Message—Safe and Reliable Water in the Western United States

I was truly honored to appear on behalf of the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) recently in Washington D.C. to testify before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.  I spoke about a very pressing issue—the provision of a safe and reliable water supply in the western United States. 

As a leader in water recycling and groundwater management, OCWD was invited to discuss the traditional and truly innovative projects and programs it has implemented that have helped our region to better weather drought and that have created a long-term reliable water supply for the 2.5 million people it serves in north and central Orange County.  

Since, 1933 OCWD has taken pride in advancing the development of sustainable water supplies to address a growing population and precipitation pattern changes. In the late 1980s, OCWD recognized that to preserve our region’s economic and social vitality, the challenges of our groundwater depletion, seawater intrusion and unreliable surface water supplies demanded an innovative solution. OCWD, with the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), implemented the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS)—which still retains the status of the world’s largest advanced water purification project of its kind.

If it were not for Congress to have authorized a $20 million Title XVI grant for the GWRS in 1996, the project would not have been built, nor could we have leveraged additional state funding. This pioneering technology approach is returning dividends to other water agencies that can implement such projects with certainty that benefits will be delivered in sustainable water supplies.

OCWD is a supporter of legislation currently pending before the subcommittee, H.R. 1162, that would reinvigorate the Title XVI water recycling program, authorizing $500 million dollars in competitive grants assistance and, for the first time, increase the ceiling on project assistance to $30 million. We hope that the subcommittee will move in short order to approve H.R. 1162 so that many more projects like the GWRS may be built.

Together with OCSD, we have also met the challenges of changing meteorological conditions that affect our water supply. We have designed a solution that delivers long-term water security for our region that is being replicated throughout the arid and semi-arid regions of our nation and the world.

I also had the opportunity to inform the committee about how OCWD, for decades, has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to capture more stormwater behind Prado Dam to minimize the loss of stormwater to the ocean and maximize what is put into the groundwater basin.  Additional efforts with the Corps include increasing water supply reliability and flood control management through advanced forecasting tools such as Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) that allows improved forecasts and new tools to be used by water managers for water operations. Increased forecast ability (longer lead time) will allow the Corps and OCWD to update operations at Prado Dam to improve water supply reliability in a changing climate, thereby reducing demands on imported water and saving energy.

OCWD will continue to collaborate with the subcommittee and share information in the interest of providing water reliability for all. Innovation, along with state and federal support, are the reasons why the District’s projects and programs are in place.

The Orange County Water District appreciates the opportunity to testify before Congressional and state committees to share information, new research, best practices, and lessons learned.   

About the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife

The Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife is part of the House Committee on Natural Resources and is responsible for overseeing the agencies that manage America’s water resources, hydropower development, and federal transmission lines. To view the full testimony, please visit


Vicente Sarmiento, Esq.