President’s Message — The Year in Review

My final message to you as Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) president begins with a sincere thank you to staff, my colleagues, and legislative and water industry professionals I’ve worked with throughout the years.

I will be taking on the role of mayor of the city of Santa Ana in January and Santa Ana Councilmember Nelida Mendoza will take my place at OCWD to serve on the city’s behalf as a District board director.

The District board of directors has recently chosen Stephen Sheldon to take my place as OCWD board president. Those newly voted to serve as first vice president and second vice president are Cathy Green and Tri Ta, respectively.

My gratitude and admiration go to Director Cathy Green, who served as first vice president, and Director Stephen R. Sheldon, who served as second vice president during this past year. I want to also congratulate Cathy and Tri on their successful re-election efforts to retain their OCWD positions.

Now, let’s look at the year in review. The coronavirus turned us on our heads in 2020. We went from a very social society, collectively, to one where elbow “hellos,” social distancing and masks became the norm. We had to learn how to Zoom and nearly every office meeting, class and gathering that could, went virtual. This protected us, our neighbors and our loved ones.

The Orange County Water District maintained COVID-19 restrictions while continuing to provide its services, education and transparency.

I’m proud to say that we’ve already received five awards for our actions taken for staff and the public in response to the pandemic and to further our educational programs virtually.

In addition, this year, we completed six construction projects, including the Mid-Basin Injection (MBI): Centennial Park project in Santa Ana that recharges more water into the ground from our world-renowned Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). I’m happy to report the MBI project scope was able to include improvements that were made to Centennial Regional Park and the Heritage Museum of Orange County for the public to enjoy.

We also started construction on two PFAS treatment systems, and we began construction of the final phase of the GWRS, which will create an additional 30 million gallons per day of ultra-pure recycled water for the region.

Our award-winning Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory received its lab certification renewal in 2020. And, it both analyzed samples and provided data for the OCWD PFAS Pilot Study to determine the best method to remove PFAS from our water supplies. The OCWD Pilot Study is the largest such program in the nation.

We are financially sound. OCWD maintained its AAA credit rating from Fitch. We’ve received an outstanding number of grants and loans that bring a savings that we pass along to our local groundwater suppliers which can be passed on to the general public.

We haven’t missed a step regarding our legislative engagements with members of congress, state and federal officials, and leadership in agencies of interest to the District. All of these contacts have continued virtually. In addition, we received the coveted Association of California Water Agencies’ 2020 Outreach Recognition Award for outstanding efforts in helping ACWA accomplish its legislative goals.

Our staff’s efforts to frequently inform the public on water issues through social media, newsletters, articles, webinars, virtual tours, and more are also to be applauded, as well as our school programs, such as the Prado Wetlands virtual field trip, that provides educational opportunities to disadvantaged communities.

The District is committed to providing a safe, reliable water supply for everyone we serve. We provide approximately 77% of the water to a diverse population of 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County and we advocate for water solutions that benefit all of our service area.

I invite you to learn more about the year 2020 through OCWD’s eyes in our annual video.

I wish you and your loved ones a safe, healthy and happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!

Vicente Sarmiento, Esq.