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A Water-Wise Orange County Is Within Reach

A Water-Wise Orange County Is Within Reach

Is it possible to conserve our way out of California’s relentless drought? Garry Brown, chief executive officer of Orange County Coastkeeper, says it is – if we adopt new habits in the near term and embrace innovative water treatment technologies in the long term.

“Although this is one of the most extreme droughts we’ve had in California history, it’s not out of the ordinary. We have to get used to living with drought,” Brown said. “Here in Southern California, we’re seeing less of a water-supply issue than a water-allocation issue. That’s because the Metropolitan Water District and Orange County Water District have invested in long-term conservation for years. Orange County is home to one of the largest and most state-of-the-art water-recycling facilities in the world, producing 100 million gallons every day, which soon will grow to 130 million gallons a day. Nonetheless, residents must also do our part.”

Brown says education is the key to not only responding to the current drought but also becoming a water-resilient county.

Orange County Coastkeeper has modeled a 2.5-acre Coastkeeper Garden at Santiago Canyon College in Orange. This unique, sustainable garden hosts plants from six native habitats in southern California as well as drought-tolerant plants. Since the Coastkeeper Garden opened in May 2013, nearly 20,000 have toured it. Visitors have learned how to transition from water-wasting to drought-defying landscaping – without losing color to adorn their backyards.

And this is the kind of education that produces action, Brown says.

We can end California’s long-term relationship with droughts through conservation. At home, you can start off by using less water outdoors. Besides replacing water-guzzling plants with native and “California-friendly,” drought-tolerant plants, substituting concrete in your backyard with water-permeable ground cover can deliver long-term benefits. When we do (finally) welcome rain, the ground cover will absorb it, rather than losing it to storm drains.

Then head indoors and replace older showerheads, toilets and faucets with water-efficient, low-flow models. Be sure to check with your water utility first, as many offer customer incentives.

Next, be open-minded about innovative adaptations to local groundwater replenishment systems in the future. Orange County is already testing technologies to accelerate the water reuse and recycling process. In fact, Brown says “Orange County has been one of the water recycling leaders in the state and country since the 70s.”

Brown wants to see Orange County continue this kind of leadership. That’s just one of the reasons Orange County Coastkeeper pursues state advocacy as vigorously as consumer education. He outlines four things we can support to help spur Southern California’s transformation as a water-resilient area:

Transition to drought-tolerant landscapes only. “In years we have limited rainfall, it’s absurd that we use 60 percent of our county’s drinking water outside the home,” Brown asserts. “A majority of this water is used on landscaping, especially grass lawns. If we change to colorful, drought-tolerant landscaping year-round, we could save water, increase groundwater and prevent harmful runoff.”

Embrace innovation. Orange County’s groundwater replenishment system already is the world’s largest water purification system for indirect potable reuse. This process produces high-quality water that meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water standards. And tests are underway to explore direct potable reuse, which would create a new water source Orange County could count on.

Restore contaminated aquifer systems. Although the natural, central aquifer under Orange County is very well managed, other aquifer systems need clean up. These remedial efforts could put an additional 13-million-acre-feet of water storage into Southern California’s aquifer system. Until they’re restored, all that water is lost to ocean runoff. 

Less reliance on imported water. Orange County imports approximately 48 percent of our water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Relying on these distant watersheds to quench our thirst and recharge groundwater is energy-intensive and expensive. Plus, the Delta is an environmentally sensitive area and home to water-dependent threatened and endangered species. Rather than relying on this water as a primary water source, the goal would be to use it as a secondary water source for replenishing storage. Coastkeeper is working with California’s legislative and environmental leaders to find better ways to source, route and deliver water throughout the state.

“If we tackled these four things, Southern California could be far more sustainable,” Brown said. “And if we used technology to keep our aquifers full without relying on imported water, Orange County could be totally sustainable.”

Orange County, are you ready to be water wise? To learn more, visit Nonprofit Central to find organizations working to protect our valuable natural resources.

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