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Orange County Water District (OCWD) was awarded the 2003 Ruth Anderson Wilson Award by the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) for its collaborative efforts in a program that removes arundo donax from the Santa Ana River watershed.
The arundo removal program improves the environment in the watershed, while providing more water to Orange County's groundwater basin. Arundo donax is a non-native, abundant bamboo-like grass that can grow to be 25 feet tall and grows up to 10 inches per day, shutting out native vegetation and consuming enormous amounts of water.
The Santa Ana River watershed, stretching from San Bernardino to Orange County, has 8,000 to 10,000 acres of arundo in need of removal. To date, about 1,500 acres have been removed, starting at the top of the watershed. Arundo creates a severe fire hazard and can cause bridge damage during flood events. By removing arundo, the natural habitat can be restored that supports local fauna and saves water. Eight thousand acres of arundo uses 20,000 to 30,000 acre-feet (about 10 billion gallons) of water, which is enough water for 100,000 people per year.
"OCWD recognizes the importance of its natural resources and that plants, people and animals depend on the Santa Ana River," said Denis R. Bilodeau, OCWD board president. "Our mission is to provide groundwater for 2.3 million people at the lowest reasonable cost, and in an environmentally responsible manner."