June 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: Orange County’s Finest – OCWD Provides Award-Winning Drinking Water

•  Happy Birthday OCWD: 88 Years as Orange County’s Groundwater Authority

•  Orange County’s First PFAS Treatment Plant Comes Online in Fullerton

•  OCWD Receives $100,000 Research Grant to Pilot Test Flow-Reversal Reverse Osmosis Technology

•  Registration for OC Water Summit is Open

•  OCWD Recognized Globally as Resilient Water Agency

•  PFAS Pilot Program Webinar Available On-Demand

•  Out in the Community

•  Tours of the Groundwater Replenishment System

•  Wild Secrets: Eagle Watch

•  OCWD in the News 

•  OCWD Employees

•  OC Groundwater Basin


President’s Message:

Orange County’s Finest – OCWD Provides Award-Winning Drinking Water

Congratulations to the City of Santa Ana for winning top honors at the 31st Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting event, recognized for providing some of the best-tasting and highest-quality tap water in the nation. Santa Ana received this award in the “Best Municipal Water” category during the annual competition, which is the largest and most prestigious in the world, featuring water sourced from 14 countries and 19 states.

The Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) is proud of this award as 77% of the water in Santa Ana comes from the vast groundwater basin (Basin) that we manage. The Basin is one of the largest in Southern California, providing most of the water needs for 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County. As Orange County’s groundwater authority, it’s our job to provide a reliable, safe water supply.

Through appropriate management that includes recharging the Basin using multiple water sources, OCWD has successfully increased the yield of the Basin over time. Additionally, water from the Basin is regularly monitored to ensure it meets stringent state and federal drinking water standards. Not only does it taste great, but its high quality means you can enjoy it straight from the tap.

This is a testament of the great work of OCWD’s professional staff who perform more than 400,000 analyses of approximately 20,000 water samples each year using state-of-the-art lab equipment that can detect minerals and compounds down to parts per trillion concentrations – that’s like finding one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized pools.

It's also reflective of the investments we’ve made to secure a reliable source of drinking water. Charged with providing a sustainable supply of water to our communities, it is critical that we continue to invest in major water projects that expand our supply, enhance water quality, and improve our reliability. By working together with our 19 member agencies, we are committed to making financially-sound infrastructure investments to serve the residents and businesses of Orange County today, tomorrow and for years to come. These investments not only benefit the communities we serve; they are necessary to advance our water future. 

So, with the summer in full swing, make sure you stay hydrated with our award-winning, great tasting water that you can drink straight from the tap.  When out at a restaurant and the server asks what you want to drink, say “Orange County’s Finest”.  Cheers!


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Happy Birthday OCWD: 88 Years as Orange County’s Groundwater Authority

In 1933, OCWD was created by the California Legislature to protect the county’s water rights of the Santa Ana River and manage what is now one of the largest groundwater basins in Southern California – a basin that can store billions of gallons of water, which provides 77% of the drinking water needs for most of north and central Orange County.

The Orange County Groundwater Basin provides a plentiful and high-quality source of water supply for the 2.5 million people who use and drink it every day. OCWD continues to meet or exceed all state and federal drinking water standards, while regularly evaluating new tools and technologies to further enhance our efforts to provide a sustainable water supply to our communities.

In addition to being Orange County’s groundwater authority, OCWD is proud of its efforts to bring new water supply projects and programs to the region. Whether it is expanding water reuse at the Groundwater Replenishment System, increasing stormwater capture behind Prado Dam, or exploring ocean water desalination – OCWD remains committed to improving water reliability and appropriately managing the groundwater basin for the 19 water retailers it serves.

LEARN MORE: To learn more about OCWD’s history of groundwater management and water supply initiatives, visit our history webpage.

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Orange County’s First PFAS Treatment Plant Comes Online in Fullerton

OCWD and the city of Fullerton have begun operation of the Kimberly Well 1A PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) Treatment Plant, Orange County’s first wellhead filtration treatment plant to remove perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) from local well water.

“OCWD cannot be prouder of our amazing staff that designed and deployed this state-of-the-art PFAS treatment system in record time to combat the PFAS chemicals which were released into the environment by third parties,” said OCWD President Steve Sheldon. “We worked closely with the city of Fullerton to construct this treatment facility to remove PFOA and PFOS from groundwater while continually meeting all state and federal drinking water standards. I want to commend our professional staff on a job very well done.”

The Kimberly Well 1A PFAS Treatment Plant uses an ion exchange treatment system made of highly porous resin that acts like powerful magnets that adsorb and hold onto contaminants. During treatment, contaminants such as PFOA and PFOS are removed. Construction began in November 2020 and the facility treats up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute. The Fullerton facility is the first of 25 PFAS treatment facilities being designed and constructed by OCWD in the next two years. OCWD is funding 100% of design and construction costs and 50% of operation and maintenance costs for its water suppliers like Fullerton.

“Bringing this treatment facility online is very important. It means Fullerton can increase its use of local groundwater, which is less expensive and more reliable than imported water,” said OCWD Director and City of Fullerton Mayor Bruce Whitaker.

READ PRESS RELEASE: Read more about the Fullerton PFAS treatment plant in the press release.

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

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OCWD Receives $100,000 Research Grant to Pilot Test Flow-Reversal Reverse Osmosis Technology

Building on its long history of innovation and research initiatives, OCWD received a $100,000 grant from the Southern California Salinity Coalition to study ways to expand water reuse and further improve water quality.

An 18-month pilot study will evaluate the feasibility of flow-reversal reverse osmosis (FR-RO) for municipal potable reuse at OCWD. This test will be the first time that FR-RO, a ROTEC LTD technology collaborating in the United States with AdEdge Water Technology, has been piloted for this application in the country.

The primary goal of the study is to evaluate whether FR-RO technology can create more clean water from the District’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) at two intermediate process points: microfiltration (MF) effluent, and RO concentrate. The GWRS uses a three-step purification process, consisting of MF, RO, and ultraviolet light with hydrogen peroxide, to purify wastewater to drinking water standards. If successful, recovering additional water from either point would reduce the amount of concentrate disposal that occurs during the recycled water process at GWRS, while also generating more clean water. Additionally, if FR-RO is found to be feasible and implemented at full-scale at the GWRS after the current facility expansion, OCWD could create an additional 12 million gallons of highly purified replenishment water every day, based on an assumption of 93% overall recovery.

“A big shout out to OCWD Director of Research and Development Dr. Megan Plumlee and her entire team for their ongoing R&D efforts to increase our water supply. Their latest technologies benefit OCWD’s operations, as well as the entire water industry,” said OCWD President Steve Sheldon. “Our R&D team is striving to constantly identify improvements to the water supply for our 2.5 million constituents in north and central Orange County.”

READ PRESS RELEASE: Learn more about the research grant and FR-RO pilot study in the press release.

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Registration Open for OC Water Summit

We’re back for in-person networking and live presentations during Orange County’s premier water event this fall! Registration for the 2021 OC Water Summit, which is presented by the Orange County Water District and the Municipal Water District of Orange County, is open.

Panel topics range from discussing emerging contaminants like PFAS to the need for new water supply projects. Attendees will also hear from the new Metropolitan Water District of Southern California General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. Join nearly 400 business professionals, elected officials, water industry experts, and scholars for this year’s event, "Water Breaking News" on Friday, October 15 at Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa. Renowned weathercaster Fritz Coleman returns as master of ceremonies.

TICKETS: 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 information on this year’s program.

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OCWD Recognized Globally as Resilient Water Agency

During the Global Water Awards’ virtual ceremony, the Global Water Intelligence (GWI) recognized OCWD as an agency of distinction in the “Resilient Water Agency of the Year” category.

This category highlighted the District’s innovative water supply solutions such as the GWRS, launching our proactive PFAS testing pilot, and initiating a comprehensive digital communications program during COVID-19.

According to GWI, “Defying the COVID-19 pandemic, OCWD focused on long-term objectives to strengthen the reliability and safety of Southern California’s water supply.” GWI additionally stated that “in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, OCWD implemented an extremely effective digital communication strategy to keep the public informed about the utility’s operations. This included a digital COVID-19 information centre, virtual tours of the GWRS facility to replace in-person tours and free monthly webinars.”

OCWD is proud to be recognized globally as a resilient water agency – the only U.S. agency represented as a finalist within this category – and congratulates Singapore’s Public Utilities Board for taking the top honors.  

READ MORE: Learn more about the GWI recognition and why it chose OCWD as a finalist.

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PFAS Pilot Program Webinar Available On-Demand

Missed our June webinar, “PFAS: Encouraging Results from OCWD Treatment Study – Update on Completed Project and Next Steps” or want to watch it again? It is now available on-demand! 

OCWD’s Dr. Megan Plumlee and Jacobs’ Dr. Scott Grieco provided an overview of the District’s PFAS pilot program that evaluated effective treatment technologies to remove PFAS found in groundwater. With a particular focus on adsorption-based technologies, the pilot’s objective was to determine which media are most efficient and cost-effective for removing PFAS to restore local drinking water supplies.

Working with Jacobs Engineering Inc., OCWD successfully completed more than a year’s worth of testing and data collection to measure the performance of different granular activated carbons and alternative “novel” adsorbents using laboratory methods across 10 different water retailers’ groundwaters, as well as a pilot-scale test of these media plus ion exchange resins. Our speakers also shared a preview of what’s planned for piloting additional adsorbents in the program’s second phase.

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 JUNE WEBINAR RECORDING: The PFAS pilot program webinar is available to view on the OCWD YouTube channel.

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­­Out in the Community 

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. We recently participated in the following:

  • President Steve Sheldon spoke about OCWD and increasing water supply during “Navigating the Waters of South Orange County,” hosted by the South Orange County Economic Coalition.
  • Vice President Cathy Green and Executive Director of Water Resources and Engineering John Kennedy provided an OCWD and water issues update to the Fountain Valley City Council.
  • Director Denis Bilodeau provided an overview of District operations to the Villa Park Rotary where he highlighted the OC Groundwater Basin, GWRS and the Serrano Water District PFAS treatment plant, which is currently undergoing construction.

  • General Manager Mike Markus provided a joint briefing with OC San to the Danish Consul General, Michael Pederson.
  • Mike Markus also participated in the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Laureates Roundtable at Singapore International Water Week 2021.
  • Executive Director of Operations Mehul Patel spoke after a screening of the documentary Brave Blue World, which is available on Netflix. The film’s screening kicked off The Challenge 2021, a virtual engineering design competition for high school students hosted by the AZ TriU Engineering Partnership, which includes the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. This year’s topic is "Access to Clean Water.” 
  • Executive Director of Water Resources and Technical Resources Jason Dadakis provided a presentation to the Managed Aquifer Recharge Analysis Group of the Water Network at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and representatives from the Mexico City Water Board.
  • Jason Dadakis also presented on the panel “Overcoming the USA’s PFAS Problem,” hosted by Global Water Intelligence.
  • Scientist Han Gu participated in a virtual presentation session and answered students’ questions about GWRS data and the advanced treatment process as part of the MoWa2TER NSF summer program, a joint program between Baylor University and Colorado School of Mines.

REQUEST A SPEAKER: Need a speaker for your upcoming event? Visit the OCWD Speakers Bureau webpage for more information! 

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Tours­­­ of the Groundwater Replenishment System

OCWD continues to offer virtual tours of the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) in webinar format and looks forward to inviting community groups for in-person tours this summer. Stay tuned for future announcements regarding in-person tours.

Our virtual tours feature an in-depth look at the world-renowned GWRS through a video tour of the facility led by General Manager Mike Markus. The presentations are followed by live Q&A with OCWD experts.

Public tours are generally held the first Friday of every month, virtually, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Upcoming tours will be on July 9 and August 6.

BOOK A TOUR: Registration is required for all public tours and is available through the OCWD book a tour site.

ACCESS ON-DEMAND VIDEOS: For those unable to attend a virtual tour, on-demand tour videos, led by OCWD General Manager Mike Markus and staff, are available to view through the following links: on-demand GWRS general tour or on-demand GWRS technical tour.

GROUP TOUR REQUESTS: Tours for schools and community organizations can be scheduled separately. Should you have any questions or wish to obtain more information about scheduling a tour, please contact Kira Erquiaga.

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Wild Secrets: Eagle Watch

By Dick Zembal, Natural Resources Director

In this month’s Wild Secrets column, Natural Resources Director Dick Zembal shares a bird’s eye view story about the Bald Eagle. Read his story below.

Our team was out in the Prado Basin this May with Dr. Pete Bloom and crew, banding raptor young just before they fledge, attain full flight, and leave the nest. Barn Owl babies are gangly; Redtails, if given the chance, will rip digit, maybe limb with those strong, sharp, vice-gripped talons, but not with the meat-cleaver bill, go figure; young Screech Owls are just darling, little gray fluff balls with giant eyes and tiny talons. The banding adventures were great, especially watching Dr. Pete’s eco-climber scale into the Redtail’s nest, 80 feet off the turf! But our main mission that day was to monitor the Eagle’s nest from a safe distance to determine progress. Perhaps you hadn’t heard, but there are Bald Eagles nesting in the Prado Basin!

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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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 two new staff members.

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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 May 2021.

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