July 2021

OCWD Board Members


Stephen R. Sheldon

First Vice President

Cathy Green

Second Vice President

Tri Ta

Denis R. Bilodeau, P.E.
Jordan Brandman
Nelida Mendoza
Dina L. Nguyen, Esq.
Kelly E. Rowe, C.E.G., C.H.
Bruce Whitaker
Roger C. Yoh, P.E.

General Manager

Michael R. Markus

In This Issue:

•  President’s Message: Ensuring Water Reliability, Every Day

•  Join Us for the In-Person OC Water Summit in October

•  OCWD Talks Drought, Water Supply in July Webinar

•  Virtual Tours & Speaking Engagements Continue

•  GWRS Update: Final Expansion Construction & Annual Report

•  OCWD Board Approves Policy to Assist South Orange County Agencies During Water Emergencies

•  Wild Secrets: Slither 'n Hiss

•  PFAS Update 

•  North & South Basin Quarterly Update

•  OCWD in the News 

•  OCWD Employees

•  OC Groundwater Basin


President’s Message: Ensuring Water Reliability, Every Day

Thank you to Orange County Water District’s (OCWD; the District) staff for doing an outstanding job to provide a safe, reliable water supply for the 2.5 million people we serve. Water management is complex and ever-changing, but our mission remains constant.

As Board President, it is my top priority that we remain leaders on critical water issues that impact the supply and quality of our water. For decades, we’ve successfully developed new, high-quality water supplies to fill the Orange County Groundwater Basin, we continue to meet all state and federal water quality standards, and we’re always evaluating new opportunities to ensure long-term supply reliability for our communities. Here are a few updates I’d like to share with you:  

Combating Drought, Every Day: Recurring drought is a feature of California’s climate and OCWD plans and prepares for these types of ongoing dry conditions by continuously creating new water supplies. As Orange County brings additional water supplies online, we not only benefit our county, but also the entire state by being less dependent on imported water from Northern California. From expanding water reuse, increasing stormwater capture, and evaluating ocean desalination, projects like these are critical to ensure we have a diversified and locally-controlled water management portfolio.

GWRS Final Expansion: Construction continues on the world’s largest indirect potable reuse project. Since 2008, the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) has produced over 1 million acre-feet, or more than 350 billion gallons of “new” water. The facility is undergoing a final expansion that will increase treatment capacity to 130 million gallons per day when it is complete in 2023 – enough water to serve 1 million people daily.

Addressing PFAS in Orange County: While water providers are not responsible for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) detected in our groundwater supplies, OCWD is doing everything in our power to address the issue – from launching the nation’s largest pilot treatment program, designing and constructing several dozen treatment facilities, to advocating for what’s right and holding the responsible parties accountable. In June, OCWD made history by bringing the county’s first treatment plant online in the city of Fullerton, with additional plants expected to be operational this fall throughout the county. This is a costly effort caused by third parties, but our staff is doing an amazing job finding treatment solutions and constructing PFAS plants in a timely manner.

We’re working hard to protect Orange County’s water supply from PFAS contamination and believe that a water utility that properly disposes of residuals containing PFAS, in a manner consistent with applicable laws, must not be held liable for current and future costs associated with PFAS cleanup. To protect our ratepayers, OCWD strongly encourages Congress to vote no on H.R. 2467 unless it is amended to exclude public water and wastewater agencies from PFAS liability. We believe it is inappropriate to treat public agencies cleaning up the problem in the same manner as the polluters who caused the problem.

Whether we’re tackling recurring conditions like drought or new challenges such as PFAS, OCWD remains committed to finding solutions to advance water reliability for the region.


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Join Us for the In-Person OC Water Summit in October

The 2021 OC Water Summit is back, and better than ever! Join OCWD and the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) for its premier water conference on Friday, October 15 at Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa.

This year’s event, "Water Breaking News," will include networking, discussions and presentations featuring the latest and most critical water issues facing the region. Join nearly 400 business professionals, elected officials, water industry experts, and scholars for this year’s event. Renowned weathercaster Fritz Coleman returns as master of ceremonies and attendees will also hear from the new Metropolitan Water District of Southern California General Manager Adel Hagekhalil.

Individual tickets are $130 and include breakfast, lunch, self-parking, and summit materials. Tables of eight are $1,600 and include sponsorship benefits.

EVENT INFORMATION: Please visit our website for more information on this year’s program.

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OCWD Talks Drought, Water Supply in July Webinar

From innovative storage programs and new supply projects to diversifying water supplies and ensuring long-term supply reliability, attendees of OCWD’s July webinar heard from Southern California water leaders on their priorities, programs, and projects that combat drought and ensure reliability and resiliency.

Moderated by Southern California Water Coalition Executive Director/CEO Charley Wilson, panelists included Dan Denham, deputy general manager, San Diego County Water Authority; James Bodnar, water transfers and exchanges program manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Mike Markus, general manager, Orange County Water District; and Paul Cook, general manager, Irvine Ranch Water District.

OCWD’s monthly webinar series on emerging and newsworthy topics are a great way to learn about all things water. Hear from OCWD experts and District partners as they discuss important programs and projects that impact your water supply and get your questions answered. Whether you are an elected official, water industry professional, researcher, consultant, student, or community member, there is something for everyone. Webinars last approximately one hour and are free to attend.

VIEW WEBINAR RECORDING: The July webinar is available to view on the OCWD YouTube channel.

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­­Virtual Tours & Speaking Engagements Continue

To continue educating the public, and offering the convenience of a virtual format, OCWD is continuing to host virtual tours of the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) through an interactive, behind-the-scenes look at the world-renowned facility. All virtual tours showcase a video tour of the facility led by General Manager Mike Markus, followed by live Q&A with OCWD experts. Public tours are generally held the first Friday of every month at 10:00 a.m. and last approximately one hour.

Upcoming tours will be on August 6 and September 10. Advance registration is required and can be made by visiting the book-a-tour webpage.

Customized tours are also available and perfect for school and community groups who need flexibility on dates and times. To request a custom group tour, please contact Kira Erquiaga.

For those unable to attend a scheduled virtual tour, OCWD continues to offer on-demand tour videos through the following links: on-demand GWRS general tour or on-demand GWRS technical tour.


Requests for Presentations

As part of its commitment to forge and maintain long-term, positive, and proactive relationships with members of the local community and greater water industry, and to be transparent about its operations and programs, OCWD board members and staff speak regularly before groups and at events. 

Virtual presentation options will continue to remain available. Visit the OCWD Speakers Bureau webpage for more information.

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GWRS Update: Final Expansion Construction & Annual Report

Final Expansion Construction

A joint project of OCWD and the Orange County Sanitation District (OC San), the GWRS is the world’s largest potable water purification system. The facility is undergoing its third and final expansion to treat all the reclaimable secondary effluent from OC San and increase treatment capacity from 100 to 130 million gallons per day – enough water to serve for 1 million people! Construction of the final expansion is approximately 50% complete and is expected to be operational in 2023.

Key construction elements include expanding GWRS’ three treatment facilities (microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light with hydrogen peroxide), constructing new conveyance facilities at OC San’s Plant No. 2 located in Huntington Beach, and rehabilitating an existing pipeline between Plant No. 2 and the GWRS. To bring the secondary effluent, or new source water, to the GWRS, OCWD is rehabilitating 15,000 feet of an existing 66-inch reinforced concrete pipeline that runs along the Santa Ana River. This part of the project also includes construction of a new pump station and two flow equalization tanks to help bring water from Huntington Beach to Fountain Valley.

Join GWRS Program Manager Sandy-Scott Roberts for an insider’s look in this Final Expansion construction video.

Annual Report

The GWRS Annual Report, which examines the GWRS operation and performance for calendar year 2020, has been published. The report provides an update on a variety of GWRS-related operations including the groundwater monitoring program and groundwater quality, advanced water purification facility performance, barrier injection facilities, and much more.

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OCWD Board Approves Policy to Assist South Orange County Agencies During Water Emergencies

For most south Orange County (SOC) agencies, nearly 100% of their drinking water supply is imported from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and these agencies don’t benefit directly from the Orange County Groundwater Basin which provides 77% of the drinking water for most of north and central Orange County. Building on its history of being a good neighbor and allowing water to be moved to the southern part of Orange County as the District has previously done, OCWD’s Board of Directors adopted policy principles regarding when the District could assist SOC agencies during imported water shortages.  

OCWD is working with its interested water retailers and the south Orange County-based Moulton Niguel Water District (MNWD) to develop a program to provide water supplies during emergency events and/or shutdowns of the imported water system. Any program that is created will not adversely impact OCWD’s operations, will comply with the OCWD Act, and will be financially beneficial to the District.

The following policy principles were adopted in July 2021 to guide this effort.

  • OCWD will explore and look to develop a new program to assist SOC agencies during periods when needed imported water is unavailable.

  • OCWD will periodically meet with SOC agencies to determine what their possible emergency water supply needs could be.

  • Any proposed new actions to assist SOC agencies will be coordinated with the possible extension of an existing SOC Phase I Emergency Services Agreement.

  • MWD indirectly benefits from OCWD actions to assist SOC during shortages of the imported water system, therefore, MWD will be requested to participate in any capital expenses that relieves pressure on its imported water system.

  • OCWD staff will work collectively with the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), its water retailers, and interested SOC agencies to develop any new programs that could be recommended to the OCWD Board.

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Wild Secrets: Slither 'n Hiss

By Dick Zembal, Natural Resources Director   

In this month’s Wild Secrets column, Natural Resources Director Dick Zembal shares his encounters and insights, all about the slithering reptiles that live amongst us, snakes. Read his story below.

Earlier this month on July 16, we recognized World Snake Day – an opportunity to celebrate snakes and raise awareness about these slithering reptiles. My last outdoor encounter with a snake was in my own backyard two weeks ago. Pursuit and capture were my immediate response but probably should not be yours if you never learned to properly identify snakes. The differences between a seriously venomous snake and a non-venomous snake in Southern California are striking (pun intended). However, that is not to say that non-venomous snakes never strike because many do, but the result of being struck by one of them is nowhere near as dire. Any snake can be handled if done so properly but the methods of handling are very different for some. However, please understand that nobody recommends that you handle any snake encountered in the outdoors.

The snake I most recently encountered was a two-foot gopher snake, one of the most common Orange County suburban snakes. Gopher snakes are usually slender but bulkier with age, two – four feet long, with a tail that narrows to a point but sometimes blunted. Color varies, but generally yellow, tan or cream with dark brown or black blotches on the back and sides, and round pupils. These are great animals to have in one’s yard. As the name implies, they eat many gophers along with other small mammals, occasional reptiles, and birds.

The walk to a good vantage point was a brief 20 minutes. We set the spotting scope and watched the Eagle nest for a few hours, distanced by several hundred meters. Highlights were few, mostly the adult’s head, but still exciting. The adult was sitting higher in the nest than it had been… had the egg hatched? Our question was answered when an eaglet head popped up briefly. We wandered off on a short break and the second adult flew up from one of the west ponds and circled overhead; Bald Eagles are impressively huge when experienced that closely! The brooding adult may have witnessed its mate’s flight, so it left the nest, then dove on a Redtail perched too close. The Eagle with its 7-foot wingspan, dwarfed the hawk. This was likely the beginning of a nest exchange, the regular swap of brooding duties. When the returning bird neared the attending adult, it was clearly the larger. Female Bald Eagles can be 30% larger than their mates and do most of the incubating.  Both male and female adult Bald Eagles have a striking white head and neck, and exceptionally large hooked, yellow bill.

A recent news clip announced that Bald Eagle populations have quadrupled in the lower 48 states since 2009! From a low of 417 nesting pairs in 1963, there were 71,400 pairs in 2019. This follows decades of protection, banning Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in 1972, and conservation efforts that included egg swapping and eaglet fostering on the Channel Islands. The female of the pair nesting in Anaheim Hills beginning in 2018 hatched on Santa Rosa Island in 2013. Female 85 and many other eagles in Southern California today owe their survival to management efforts that included captive breeding, hatching eggs in an incubator, otherwise doomed to failure from shell thinning, a biproduct of DDT ingestion and accumulation with fish-consumption, and then swapping the replacement, dummy eggs with eaglets that were safely hatched in a facility.

Read More…

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PFAS Update 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are chemicals that are prevalent in the environment and were once commonly used in many consumer products. They are part of a larger group referred to as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Due to the prolonged use of PFOA and PFOS, the chemicals are now being detected in the environment, including water sources throughout the United States. PFAS have been detected in the Orange County Groundwater Basin. Despite playing no role in releasing PFAS into the environment, we must find ways to remove it.

OCWD provides regular PFAS updates to community stakeholders to inform them of the proactive measures that the District and retail water agencies are taking to address PFAS in the Basin and continues to participate in important dialogues and research initiatives with people across the country on developing long-term solutions. Recent updates include:

  • OCWD began operating Orange County’s first PFAS treatment plant in the city of Fullerton.

  • ACWA recognized the District’s PFAS pilot project as an exemplary program and OCWD received ACWA’s Clair A. Hill Agency Award for Excellence.

  • A webinar on the District’s Phase I completion of the pilot treatment study was presented where staff provided an update on the 14 different types of treatment media, including granular activated carbon, ion exchange, and novel alternative adsorbents, that were tested to remove PFAS from water.

  • The PFAS pilot program, now in its second phase, will test even more novel adsorbents just emerging into the marketplace to further evaluate which methods are best suited for treatment applications and continue to validate results from the first phase.

  • To protect our ratepayers, OCWD strongly encourages Congress to vote no on H.R. 2467 unless it is amended to exclude public water and wastewater agencies from PFAS liability. OCWD believes that a water utility that properly disposes of residuals containing PFAS, in a manner consistent with applicable laws, must not be held liable for current and future costs associated with PFAS cleanup.

PFAS INFORMATION: For the latest information or to sign up for our email updates, please visit OCWD’s PFOS/PFOA Resources page.

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North & South Basin Quarterly Update

OCWD manages and protects the Orange County Groundwater Basin that underlies north and central Orange County, from which 19 cities and water agencies draw their water supply. OCWD implements a proactive groundwater and surface water monitoring program to protect the quality of the Orange County Groundwater Basin and ensure the water it provides meets or exceeds state and federal drinking water standards.

Industrial chemicals have impacted areas in the northern and southern parts of the groundwater basin; North Basin (near Fullerton, Anaheim, and Placentia) and South Basin (near Santa Ana, Tustin, and Irvine). OCWD is proactively seeking ways to clean up the pollution in a united effort with local and national regulatory agencies.

READ QUARTERLY UPDATE: OCWD has published its July 2021 update on activities in and around the North and South Basin sites. OCWD will continue to update stakeholders as the need arises.


OCWD in the News

OCWD continues to be recognized for its leadership in the water industry.  Below are the District’s recent media highlights and industry publications that feature OCWD and the GWRS:

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OCWD Employees

New Hires

The District’s employees are its most valuable resources. OCWD is committed to recruiting the best and enriching their lives so that they may grow within the water industry and the District family. This month, we welcome one new staff member.









Employee of the 2nd Quarter

Senior Communications Specialist Crystal Nettles was named OCWD’s Employee of the 2nd Quarter! Among many great accomplishments over the years, Crystal was recognized for her tireless work on planning and implementing the annual Youth Environmental Summit (YES), which transitioned from its usual two-day in-person event to a week-long virtual event in response to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to rebranding YES and expanding the event to five days, Crystal responded to the needs of schools, teachers, and students by seamlessly creating an event that could be used in the current virtual learning and education format.

Working with more than 20 environmental organizations, and OCWD departments, staff and Board, Crystal created an event that allowed schools to watch daily live presentations, as well as on-demand videos that teachers and students could watch according to their schedule. More than 60 live, interactive and on-demand educational presentations were available during the week and the event also offered take-home activities that corresponded with the presentations. Crystal worked diligently to create an event that drew more than 6,600 students from over 90 Orange County schools. In addition, Crystal solicited sponsorships from 21 organizations to help underwrite the cost of this award-winning program.

In planning and implementing this event, Crystal worked many long hours, always demonstrating a calm and highly professional demeanor. Praised highly by the teachers who participated, and due to Crystal’s leadership and strong organizational skills, the event was a success. To close out the event, Crystal also led the development of a recap video featuring highlights from this year’s YES.

Congratulations, Crystal!

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OC Groundwater Basin

View the infographic below to see the groundwater basin’s storage, recharge, and pumping levels, through end of June 2021.

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