Orange county goes green


As individuals, many Orange County residents help fulfill the mandate to be environmentally conscious by recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans, employing strategies to reduce domestic water consumption and making personal transportation more fuel-efficient. In the Orange County governmental structure, similar and often little known practices are being followed by departments and agencies that are adopting procedures to protect the local environment. The ecologically-aware programs of five county agencies provide examples of programs designed to protect natural resources and reduce wasteful practices.

Much of the work done by Orange County departments and agencies to protect and enhance the environment is not generally known and its significance is unappreciated. With this report, the Orange County Grand Jury will focus on the initiative and innovation being shown by some portions of county government with the intent to encourage other agencies to adopt similar practices.

From the northernmost reaches of Orange County to the southern and eastern regions that abut neighboring counties, a number of governmental agencies are devising ways to protect natural resources, finding cleaner ways of doing their jobs and creating groundbreaking strategies to accommodate a growing population.

Water and Sanitation Districts
During the Middle Ages, alchemists sought the magic formula that would turn a base metal such as lead into gold. They failed, of course. But in a 21st Century version of alchemy, engineers and scientists at the Orange County Water District (OCWD) and their partners at the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) are turning filth-laden liquid sewage into drinkable (potable) water.

Much of the reconverted water is pumped into the ground along a 60-inch diameter pipe to strengthen the natural barrier against intrusion by seawater into the precious lake of clean water that lies beneath parts of northern and central Orange County. That underwater basin has been the historic source of water that played a key role in Orange County’s dynamic growth in the last century. Use of the purified water from the water district’s Fountain Valley plant as a barrier against seawater intrusion means that the huge groundwater basin will continue its role of providing drinkable water to much of Orange County.

The Groundwater Replenishment (GWR) system created by OCWD and its Sanitation District partner is the largest water-purification project of its kind in the world. It takes highly treated sewer (waste) water from the OCSD—instead of discharging it into the ocean— and purifies it to nearly the quality of distilled water. Some of the GWR reclaimed water also is sent through the water district’s pipelines to percolation ponds where it blends with natural groundwater supplies and replenishes the underground supply. OCWD officials say that the district is committed to decreasing Orange County’s dependence on imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. The GWR system reduces the county’s reliance on uncertain and more expensive imported water supplies.

With its labyrinth of pipes and tanks, the water purification facility in Fountain Valley provides a drought-proof, locally controlled reliable water supply serving more than 500,000 Orange County residents per year. More than 100 species of wildlife are found on OCWD lands, and the district cooperates with environmental organizations to preserve the animals’ natural habitat. In addition, there are recreational opportunities such as river trails for horseback riding, bicycling, jogging and hiking, and several of the recharge basins are stocked for sport fishing.

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