Orange County Water District earns Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award

By on January 23, 2018

California Governor Jerry Brown recently recognized the Orange County Water District (OCWD) and 12 other California entities with 2017 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards (GEELA). The award is presented to individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable, voluntary contributions to conserving California’s precious resources, protecting and enhancing our environment, building public-private partnerships and strengthening the state’s economy.

GEELA, the state’s highest environmental honor, was established in 1993. The annual Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is administered by the California Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California State Transportation Agency, the California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, the California Government Operations Agency, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and the California Health and Human Services Agency.

“We thank Governor Brown and the GEELA committee for this award honoring OCWD’s commitment to environmental education,” said OCWD President Denis Bilodeau. “Our primary mission is to provide water reliability to more than 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County, but this cannot be done without public support. Moving important water policies and infrastructure projects forward requires the backing of an informed and engaged public that understands and appreciates how water works. Having the public’s vested interest in sustaining water supplies for generations to come has been a key element to OCWD’s successful implementation of groundwater management policies and the building of a water recycling project for drinking water purposes in Orange County.”

GEELA recipients were chosen from five categories and one subcategory including Climate Change; Automobile Dealer Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Promotion; Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship; Environmental Education; Sustainable Practices, Communities or Facilities; and, Waste Reduction. Awards are presented for voluntary achievements that culminated in 2016.

“This year’s GEELA recipients are demonstrating exceptional leadership in addressing some of our most significant environmental challenges,” said California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez. “Whether it’s fighting climate change, conserving our water supplies or reducing waste, they inspire us with their creative and collaborative approaches. Their success expands our view of what is possible. Collectively, they are proving that a healthy environment is inextricably linked with a vibrant economy.”

OCWD received the award for environmental education because of three major educational initiatives the agency undertook in 2016 that enhanced its existing educational programs. OCWD was one of three honorees is the Environmental Education category.

The first initiative was to further the advancement of education about water reuse. OCWD co-created the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS)–the world’s largest water reuse project of its kind —with the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD). Together they led efforts with WateReuse California to pass legislation that allows for the bottling of advanced purified water for educational purposes. OCWD uses this tool to illustrate the benefits of recycling and to gain support of GWRS-like projects in California and throughout the U.S. to combat water shortages and detrimental climate change effects.

The second initiative was the opening of the water agency’s visitor center called the H2O Learning Center. The district promotes facility tours and a speakers’ bureau program that includes multi-lingual brochures, a social media campaign and animated presentations. These enhancements help to better educate the public about the challenges of providing reliable water and the agency’s role in the solutions.

The third initiative was the district’s 20th Children’s Water Education Festival in part to inspire students of all ages to pursue water-related education and careers and to help create innovative solutions around water issues. OCWD also created a program that supports Next Generation Science Standards and hosted the 10th Orange County Water Summit to stimulate industry stakeholders to seek creative solutions for global water problems.

Other water related honorees of the 2017 GEELA awards included the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC). Under the management of AEG Facilities, the LACC was recognized for a sustainability program that has reduced waste, conserved water and cut the center’s carbon footprint.

Also honored were Lystek International Limited (Solano County) for a process that has transformed municipal wastewater sludge into a nutrient-rich biofertilizer that revitalizes soils and increases crop yield. San Francisco International Airport (San Mateo County) was recognized for its Strategic Triple Bottom Line Sustainability Program, which has cut carbon emissions, conserved water and reduced energy consumption. And, Terranova Ranch (Fresno County) earned the GEELA for pioneering and expanding the practice of on-farm groundwater recharge – thee intentional flooding of fields with captured floodwater to replenish depleted aquifers.