The Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) 92nd annual technical exhibition and conference (TEC), held Sept. 24 at McCormick Place in Chicago, has honored the Orange County Water District (OCWD) as the Utility of the Future Today (UotFT). This award celebrates the achievements of water utilities that transform from the traditional wastewater treatment system to a resource recovery center and who provide leadership in the overall sustainability and resilience of the communities they serve.
“The Orange County Water District is extremely proud of this new designation,” said OCWD President Vicente Sarmiento. “Our agency has pioneered groundwater management for more than 80 years and water reuse for nearly 40 years. OCWD’s Board of Directors and staff take on the water challenges of today and prepare to meet the region’s water demands for generations to come. Solid science and state-of-the-art technologies guide our decisions.”
Like many California water agencies, OCWD realized long ago that they must prepare for a future replete with a shrinking source of water and an ever-growing population. To meet the challenges of groundwater depletion and unreliable surface water supplies, plus the more recent problem of seawater intrusion from the Pacific Ocean, OCWD in partnership with the Orange County Sanitation District, created the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). Launched in 2008, the GWRS is the world’s largest advanced water purification project of its kind. The system purifies wastewater and provides 100 million gallons of near-distilled quality water each day. The GWRS has been replicated in both Singapore and Australia as well as several U.S. cities and is considered the gold standard for both indirect and direct potable reuse projects.
Utility of the Future Today designation was launched in 2016 by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), WEF, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the WateReuse Association, along with input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).The consortium of awarding agencies have indicated that 43 utilities across the United States have been recognized this year that recover resources from wastewater, engage in their community, form unique partnerships, and build an internal culture of innovation. A total of 118 utilities have been recognized since the program started.
“Each of the Utility of the Future Today honorees represent a transformational approach to utility management that results in a ripple effect of benefits,” said WEF Executive Director Eileen O’Neill. “We are delighted to celebrate their impact and proud to recognize their leadership in water sector innovation.”
Numerous Orange County water agencies depend on the GWRS for up to 77 percent of their water demands including: Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster and Yorba Linda.