March 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: Managing our Vast Groundwater Supply

•  OCWD Nominates Director Green for ACWA Vice President

•  Serrano Water District PFAS Treatment Recognized by ASCE-OC

•  Youth Environmental Summit Update

•  Save the Date: OC Water Summit Set for October 15 at Grand Californian

•  AWWA Water Science Spotlight Features OCWD's Megan Plumlee 

•  Recording Available for Salinity Management Webinar: Putting Southern California’s Water Supply on a Low-Sodium Diet 

•  Out in the Community

•  Tours of the Groundwater Replenishment System

•  Wild Secrets: Birds are Heralding - Here Comes the Spring

•  PFAS Update

•  OC Groundwater Basin


President’s Message: Managing our Vast Groundwater Supply

I want to give a shout out to our very own Chris Olson, director of engineering, and Ben Smith, senior engineer, for their dedicated work that garnered OCWD the American Society of Civil Engineers-Orange County Branch (ASCE-OC) 2020 Outstanding Water/Wastewater Treatment Project of the Year Award. This was for the Serrano PFAS Water Treatment Plant Project. Along with Director Denis Bilodeau and Senior Engineer Ben Smith, I had the privilege to attend the virtual awards ceremony and accept the award on behalf of the District. Thank you, Chris and Ben, and everyone else who worked on the Serrano PFAS Project.

In honor of National Groundwater Awareness Week held earlier this month, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on Orange County’s most valuable water supply: the Groundwater Basin.
The OCWD Basin is one of the largest coastal basins in Southern California providing 77% of the drinking water for most of Orange County.

OCWD works diligently to manage the groundwater supply that our 19 cities and water districts rely on and ensures that the water is of the highest quality for the 2.5 million people who use it for their everyday needs.

As part of its groundwater management program, OCWD maintains one of the world’s most advanced aquifer recharge systems to replace the water that is pumped from wells belonging to local water districts, cities and other groundwater users. The District uses a variety of sources to recharge and replenish the groundwater basin including water from the Santa Ana River, natural rainwater and stormwater such as from the rains earlier this month, imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and advanced purified water created from the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). 

Read More…

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OCWD Nominates Director Green for ACWA Vice President

The Orange County Water District Board of Directors voted unanimously to nominate and endorse OCWD First Vice President Cathy Green as a candidate for Vice President of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)—the largest state association of public water agencies in the nation.

“It is an honor to receive the support from my colleagues on OCWD’s board,” said Director Green. “As a longtime public servant in Orange County, I have worked to enhance water management, water quality, and water supply diversity and reliability to sustain our communities and our economy. Through the ACWA Vice President position, I hope to aid in advancing statewide water issues to further California’s progress in ensuring safe, affordable and reliable water for all.”

Director Green has been a member of the OCWD Board since 2010, where she has led efforts to develop several projects and programs that are being duplicated by water agencies worldwide. The most notable project is OCWD’s award-winning Groundwater Replenishment System, the world’s largest water recycling project, now undergoing its third and final expansion to increase its water treatment capacity to 130 million gallons daily – enough water to serve 1 million people annually.

READ PRESS RELEASE: For more information, read our press release.

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Serrano Water District PFAS Treatment Plant Recognized by ASCE-OC

Orange County Water District and Serrano Water District were recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers-Orange County (ASCE-OC) for their work on the Serrano Water District PFAS Treatment Plant. Featured as an outstanding project during a virtual program on March 18, the award highlights the agencies’ proactive efforts to remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from groundwater supplies. 

“Behind all great projects are great people,” said OCWD President Stephen R. Sheldon. “I would like to recognize Director of Engineering Chris Olsen, Senior Engineer Ben Smith and the many dedicated staff who made this critical water quality project possible. The District remains steadfast in our mission to protect and manage the Orange County Groundwater Basin because of the daily efforts of our employees. Although PFAS contamination was caused by chemical manufacturers, and not by water agencies, we are doing an outstanding job of swiftly responding to this issue and implementing effective solutions.”

The District initiated focused efforts to address PFAS following a lowering of the state’s health advisory levels for two legacy PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), in February 2020. The state’s action prompted Orange County water agencies, such as SWD, who pump water from the Basin to take dozens of wells out of service and rely on more expensive imported water for their primary drinking water supply. OCWD will design and construct 10 PFAS treatment plants, including SWD’s, with the goal of getting plants online within two years to fully utilize the Basin again.

READ PRESS RELEASE: For more information, read our press release

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Youth Environmental Summit Update 

OCWD is proud to present the Orange County Youth Environmental Summit (YES), coming up on April 19 through Friday, April 23, 2021. This year’s virtual program will educate third, fourth and fifth grade Orange County students about water and the environment. Through a series of interactive and immersive presentations taught by dozens of well-known and respected experts and organizations, students will learn about a variety of topics during the week.

REGISTRATION: Registration for YES is still open! Interested teachers and presenters can learn more and submit an application by March 31 at

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Save the Date: OC Water Summit Set for October 15 at Grand Californian 

Mark your calendar for the annual OC Water Summit, this year titled “2021 Water Breaking News.” It will take place at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at the Disneyland Resort on October 15, 2021. Renowned weathercaster Fritz Coleman returns as master of ceremonies.

Join business professionals, elected officials, water industry experts, and scholars to take a closer look at the challenges, solutions and competing interests in shaping local, state, national, and international water supplies.

The OC Water Summit is presented by the Orange County Water District and the Municipal Water District of Orange County. We look forward to seeing attendees in person this fall.

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

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AWWA Water Science Spotlight Features OCWD's Megan Plumlee 

OCWD Research Director Megan Plumlee, Ph.D., P.E., was recently featured as part of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Water Science Author Spotlight. Having recently published an article in AWWA Water Science, Megan Plumlee answered questions from the publication’s editor-in-chief about the research article titled, “Real-Time Reverse Osmosis Monitoring for Antiscalant Dose Selection in Advanced Treatment of Wastewater.”

Throughout the article, Megan shares information on what drew her to water research, the various research programs and initiatives OCWD’s Research Department is leading and discusses her perspectives on future challenges for research at the intersection of science, engineering and public health.

We are proud to have Megan lead the OCWD Research Department and represent the District on a local, statewide, national, and even international level.

READ ARTICLE: A link to the AWWA Water Science article can be found here.

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Recording Available for Salinity Management Webinar: Putting Southern California’s Water Supply on a Low-Sodium Diet

Our March 30 webinar, “Salinity Management: Putting Southern California’s Water Supply on a Low-Sodium Diet” highlighted salinity management initiatives in Southern California, the Santa Ana Watershed, the Orange County Groundwater Basin, and the Groundwater Replenishment System.

Thank you to our speakers Warren Teitz, Resource Development Team Manager at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Mark Norton, Water Resources & Planning Manager at Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, and Greg Woodside, Executive Director of Planning and Natural Resources at Orange County Water District.

VIEW RECORDING: Missed it or want to watch it again? The Salinity Management webinar is posted 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:

  • • Executive Director of Operations Mehul Patel, Executive Director Water Quality and Technical Resources Jason Dadakis and Executive Director of Planning and Natural Resources Greg Woodside spoke during on-demand sessions at the 2021 WateReuse Symposium.
  • • Executive Director of Engineering and Water Resources John Kennedy gave an overview presentation of the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) to the Diablo Water District.

  • • Distribution and Injection Well Supervisor Justin McKeever and Director of Recharge and Wetland Operations John Bonsangue provided a technical presentation entitled “Practical Approaches to Maintaining Injection Well Efficiency” to the Southern Nevada Chapter of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (AEG).

  • • Recharge Planning Manager Adam Hutchinson provided a presentation entitled “Orange County Groundwater Basin Managed Aquifer Recharge Program for Santa Ana River Flow” during a panel program put together by the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center.

REQUEST A SPEAKER: Need a speaker for your upcoming virtual event? Visit our 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.

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.

Virtual tours are generally held the first Friday of every month and are open to the public. Upcoming public tours are on:

  • April 2 – 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
  • • May 7 – 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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: Birds are Heralding - Here Comes the Spring

In this month’s Wild Secrets column, Natural Resources Director Richard Zembal tells us about the different types of birds you may find in your neighborhood, or even in your backyard. From hummingbirds to hawks, these birds love to make an appearance around this time of the year. Read his story below.

By Richard Zembal, Natural Resources Director

The days are getting longer, our first warm spell is upon us, a harbinger of wildflower fields and birdsong – Spring has sprung. A colleague recently relayed his children’s excitement watching a bat hunting through their yard. Well, Hummingbirds are displaying in my yard, raptors are screaming, wheeling and dealing overhead, birds are nesting – our favorite time of the year has begun. The bird show in my Orange County backyard is likely also playing out in yours.

Divebombing Hummingbirds

The Hummingbird display you are most likely to encounter is that of a male Anna’s or Allen’s Hummingbird. Males of both species have striking red iridescent chin feathers that are more orange in the Allen’s which also has an orange chest and undertail. These bright feathers show boldly when a perched male’s song attracts a female, rousing him into full display. The big show includes diving over a perched female which the Allen’s starts with a pendulum flight, sliding back and forth in the air in front of her with wind buzzing through its feathers as it swings. The dive display of the Allen’s produces a high, humming whistle; that of the Anna’s, an explosive buzzy squeak at the bottom of his 100-foot arc within inches of the female’s head. I heard the Anna’s “pop” and thought, it sounds like the alarm note of a California Ground Squirrel, one of our local hawk’s favorite foods.

Orange County Hawks

There are three species of raptors, or birds-of-prey, who are locals in my Orange County neighborhood: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk. Red-tails sport a 4-foot wingspan and are the largest of these three. Although not as abundant as they once were, they are still seen often because they are so big. Adults sport that red tail, soar on outstretched wings, and call exuberantly when they are in full breeding display. The call is a high-pitched raspy scream that my son could duplicate until his voice deepened in middle school. These screaming, aerial acrobats can be seen diving, rolling in midair, sometimes locking talons, cartwheeling, and tumbling dramatically toward the ground.

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.

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

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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 February 2021.

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