President’s Message – A Year for Perfect 20-20 Vision

The year 2020 conjures up the idea of a year of perfect vision in the water community and our obligation to always look forward for the benefit of those that we serve. As our Orange County Spanish forefathers would say, “Siempre Adelante.” In many of my previous messages, I have discussed the visionary and courageous water programs and projects that this agency has implemented over the preceding 87 years. Many of those efforts have been recognized the world-over as models for public health, resource sustainability, financial thrift, and environmental stewardship. 

No doubt, we here at the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) are parochial in the sense that our mission is water, water, and more water. However, we might also take a moment to think about what indirect benefits are provided by the effective management of that important medium.  I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s on the playgrounds of Santa Ana. I remember running, riding my bike and playing ball in this city that I love. But I also remember feeling the famous Southern California smog burn in my chest and smog days where our teachers kept us inside during recess. In the 1970s we also saw the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, burning on the nightly news. The American people had enough.

Environmental restoration work exploded on the scene; cars became cleaner, hazardous waste sites were identified and restoration began. Water treatment plants were upgraded and rebuilt in virtually every community. During the 1970s, while other communities were busily upgrading their wastewater facilities to secondary treatment standards, we here at OCWD went beyond that and even beyond the next step tertiary processes and built the first ever indirect potable reuse treatment plant for groundwater replenishment in 1976. That Water Factory 21 facility was the predecessor to the District’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), which is celebrating its 12th anniversary. The GWRS will produce enough water to serve the needs of 1 million people starting in 2023 when its final expansion is complete.

Young national leaders are now challenging Americans to consider a sweeping new vision for the future that encourages renewable energy and dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels for the benefits of air quality and climate stability. We here at the District are water experts and cannot weigh in on the pros and cons of those big ideas, but we can say this:  By effectively managing the water supply and its quality, by doing our best in that critical aspect of our lives, we leave open the opportunity for others to do important environmental work elsewhere.

OCWD's mission is to provide a reliable, high quality water supply in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner. In doing so, you can bet that we will continue to be at the forefront to determine and address contaminants of emerging concern such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), research new cost-effective and viable technology like better membranes used to produce GWRS water, and explore alternative water supplies.

We all are in this together and if we take our personal gifts and technical vocations seriously, the whole community can prosper. As the old adage says, “All of us are smarter than any of us.” 

We really do love what we do here at the Orange County Water District and will be looking forward in the new year with a 20-20 prescription.