President’s Message – Virtually Stronger!

Whoever thought the COVID-19 pandemic would bring our country to a standstill didn’t count on the resourcefulness of American businesses and agencies like the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District). District employees, and many more like us, have figured it out and have learned to enhance our duties and connection with our communities.

Each year pre-pandemic, OCWD would host about 4,000 visitors onsite and make about 60 presentations in the community and at industry-related events. We haven’t slowed down. To connect with the community during these unprecedented times, we created virtual learning opportunities such as a video tour of the Groundwater Replenishment System led by General Manager Mike Markus. In the short period of two months, it has been viewed more than 1,200 times. The video is also shown during new monthly virtual tour webinars and features a live Q&A. Attendees from our nation and across the globe have joined the tours, which began in June.

Board members and staff remain sought after as speakers at events such as the WateReuse California Virtual Conference. And, OCWD launched a monthly Water Webinar series on a number of industry-related topics. Moving forward, we will continue this outreach and implement even more virtual tours and educational offerings.

District programs and projects continue at a robust pace. Last month, the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) hit the milestone of 320 billion gallons of water produced. As part of the GWRS Final Expansion, construction crews excavated soil to make room for the future location of 12 new microfiltration cells. Recharge operations staff completed the dewatering and cleaning of multiple basins, using bulldozers to level portions of the Santa Ana River to increase groundwater percolation and recharge, and to prepare for the upcoming storm season. The District’s PFAS Pilot Study is in full swing and we plan to have treatment plants online within two years.

In May, OCWD was awarded a Certificate of Achievement in Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association. It was the 12th straight year the certificate was awarded to the District and is a testament to the diligence and precision of the District’s finance and accounting departments.

Water Quality and Laboratory department staff continue to perform all required monitoring and testing for the Producers, GWRS, as well as programs supporting the District’s management of the groundwater basin.  All testing related to the Environmental Protection Agency’s multi-year Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 4 program has now been successfully completed for the retail water agencies served by OCWD..

And, hydrogeology staff is currently measuring groundwater levels in hundreds of OCWD monitoring wells throughout the basin to generate groundwater level contour maps of the three major aquifer systems. In the coming months, staff will also implement the Sunset Gap Seawater Intrusion Investigation Project to help monitor seawater intrusion.

This is in addition to the creative ways that staff members are performing their day-to-day duties while following social distancing, mask-wearing and other COVID-19-related restrictions. It includes restructuring entire departments, like our Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory. Lab staff is divided into two groups that work on a 6-day rotating schedule. Each group is at the laboratory three days on/three days off to reduce the number present onsite by 50%. They otherwise work virtually from home.

We take our commitment to the public and to the state of California seriously. You can count on us to always be here, fulfilling our mission to provide top-quality and ample groundwater to 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County, and ensuring that challenges to our efforts are met and mastered with continued ingenuity.

Vicente Sarmiento, Esq.