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The Orange County Water District (OCWD) received honors from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) at a ceremony held in mid-August. The district was awarded the California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark award for conserving surface flows of the Santa Ana River and managing the groundwater basin in central and northern Orange County since 1933. The district was also acknowledged for its leadership in the development of visionary water reuse projects, such as the Water Factory 21 project and the Groundwater Replenishment System.
Receiving the ASCE California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark award is an honor bestowed on very few. The ASCE has a complex and detailed system to recognize outstanding civil engineering organizations and projects. An organization or project must represent a significant facet of civil engineering history, and have a special uniqueness and/or contribution to engineering technology not previously represented by any other project on record. All of the ASCE sections across California unanimously approved OCWD’s nomination.
On behalf of ASCE, Carl Nelson, Fred Meier and Bob Bein presented the award recently to the OCWD Board of Directors. Bein, former national president of the ASCE and president of local Orange County civil engineering firm RBF Consulting, addressed the board, remarking, “During my term as ASCE national president, I was privileged to travel the nation and, in fact, the world, dedicating outstanding civil engineering landmarks of the millennium, such as the Boulder Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building and the island airport in Osaka, Japan. But none of these has given me as much pleasure as being here tonight to dedicate our own home-grown Orange County Water District as an outstanding state civil engineering landmark.”
In the mid-1960s, OCWD began a pilot-scale reclamation project that developed into the now famous Water Factory 21. The project was born out of a need to protect Orange County’s groundwater basin from seawater intrusion. A semi-desert arid region that only receives an average of 13 to 15 in. of rainfall annually, yet sustains a population of approximately 2.5 million people, Orange County needed a better way to protect its groundwater basin from the ocean. Water Factory 21 was created to purify highly treated sewer water.
In October of 1976, the first purified water was injected into the coastal barrier, creating a pressurized hydraulic mound of freshwater that prevented the seawater from moving into the groundwater basin. The project was a great success and was eventually replicated in the Los Angeles area for their seawater barriers. Water Factory 21 ran efficiently for almost 30 years, protecting groundwater and replenishing aquifers from which 50% of the county’s water is drawn.
Water Factory 21 was recently demolished to make room for the new Groundwater Replenishment System (GWR System), which will use even better water technology to purify water for an expanded seawater barrier and to provide water to refill the groundwater basin. The new GWR System will be 14 times the size of the old Water Factory 21. The GWR System is a joint project of the OCWD and Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) and will begin producing near-distilled quality water in 2007. The GWR System takes highly treated sewer water currently wasted into the ocean and purifies it using the same technologies that purify baby food, fruit juices, medicines and bottled water.
Bein recognized the commitment OCWD has made to water resource efforts: “First Water Factory 21, now the Groundwater Replenishment System has led the way to doubling the safe yield of the basin and securing a sustainable seawater intrusion barrier. These are just a few of the most significant state-of-the-art water world advancements that the OCWD leadership has not only conceived, but implemented.”
The Orange County Water District is currently under review for historic recognition at the national level. Local ASCE leadership is working to secure national designation for the District. The California Historic Civil Engineering Landmark plaque awarded to OCWD will be permanently placed at the 2007 grand opening of the Groundwater Replenishment System (former home of Water Factory 21).