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Orange County's Water Supply Is Ahead of the Resilience Curve

The Southern California county has long been a pioneer in water management.
December 3, 2016, 9am PST | Elana Eden
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A typical scene at Lake Mission Viejo in Orange County.

The Orange County Water District will begin expanding its water recycling program in 2017, and by 2023, aims to produce 130 million gallons of recycled water every day—enough to serve about a million people, make the area less reliant on imported water, and reduce the impacts of drought.

General Manager Mike Markus, who has been with the agency for 25 years, explained the scope and genesis of the expansion project in The Planning Report.

The district is responsible for managing a large groundwater basin, including deciding how much water to withdraw. It sells that water to retail agencies, who deliver it to the residents of Orange County.

It’s a "balancing act," Markus says, to withdraw enough water for the population while keeping the basin healthy and adequately full.

To meet that challenge, the agency has emphasized preparedness and foresight. "We built expandability into the project from the beginning," Markus says.

The county has been treating wastewater since the '70s, when it became clear that the basin was vulnerable to seawater contamination. And while California's current drought has prompted real innovation at the state level, Orange County has been piloting advanced water treatment technologies since an earlier drought in the 1900s.

Markus is also overseeing the agency's planning for future demographic changes that could affect demand for water, potential challenges to financing and funding, and even the possibility of a National Infrastructure Bank under President-elect Trump.

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Published on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 in The Planning Report
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