Investing in a route out of drought Q&A

Water efficiency is no longer a wish-list item or an afterthought – it is a reality that Californians must face together. On Oct. 19, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as water saving efforts continue to fall short of the state’s voluntary targets.  

This month, we sat down with the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) Board Director Bruce Whitaker for a Q&A about regional efforts to mitigate drought, the use of reclaimed water and what the future holds for Southern California’s water infrastructure. Whitaker is also SAWPA’s Vice Chair/Commissioner, serves on the One Watershed One Water (OWOW) Steering Committee and is the Mayor of Fullerton, California.  

Q&A with Bruce Whitaker 

OCWD Board Director Bruce Whitaker

Q: With Governor Newsom recently declaring a drought emergency, it seems more important than ever to help educate consumers. What does drought mitigation mean to you? 

A:  To me, drought mitigation means reducing water use to the greatest extent possible. If we can curtail water waste and the overuse of water, it can make a big impact here in Southern California. The idea is to reduce now for the longer term.  

Q: Tell us about the drought mitigation efforts that OCWD and other Southern California regional groups have initiated during your tenure.

A: Drought mitigation in the long-term means making sure we have resiliency. We need to be able to provide adequate amounts of water to meet requirements. We need to make sure that when you turn on the tap or fire up a fire hose, that clean, safe water comes out. That means that we want to have multiple sources in our water supply. We try to have as many opportunities as possible to help augment our supplies – especially in the very populous area that we occupy.  

For example, the OCWD operates the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), and we are in the middle of a final expansion of that now. It is effectively a new source of water. We recycle runoff and used water, and then we get a second use of that valuable resource.  

OCWD is also very active in the Santa Ana River Conservation and Conjunctive Use Program (SARCCUP), which allows for storage that can be accessible to other areas if they develop shortfalls of water supplies. 

We have been making use of federal government support through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which has allowed us to come up with funds to augment and increase water storage and our ability to impound water to be able to recharge our reservoirs and recharge basins. This helps us build insurance against a low water supply.  

Q:What are the key public misconceptions about recycled water?

A: OCWD works very hard in our communication efforts to combat misconceptions about recycled water and change the public perception of it. Our water, when it comes out of the GWRS, is ultra-pure. The nature of ultra-pure water is corrosive to stainless steel pipes, so we actually have to add back in minerals and normalize the PH. Otherwise, we could have infrastructure issues.  

People should have no concern about the safety of this water. I like to say that water is the most renewable of all our resources.  

Q:  How is OCWD investing in local and sustainable water supplies?

A: We serve 19 cities and water agencies that in turn serve 2.5 million customers.

We are blessed here at the Orange County Water District to have a wonderful aquifer that underlies two thirds of Orange County – the northern and the central portions of the county. 

This low-cost source of water is naturally purified. We have recharge basins that we own and operate in the cities of Anaheim and Orange which are adjacent to the Santa Ana River. Mother Nature has a great purification plan, and we make the best use we can of that natural resource.  

Q: What ways can the public help with drought mitigation? 

A: Stop watering non-essential turf. A couple of years ago, we were all encouraged to go xeriscape with our lawns. For the average residential use of water, more than half is used for landscaping purposes.  

Many agencies and local water providers offer incentives for water-efficient appliances such as water saving toilets, faucets, showers and more. We do a lot to encourage reduced use and that is working. In the past 20 years in California, we have had substantial population growth, yet the amount of water we are using is about the same as it was 20 years ago.  

Keep the conversation flowing by following us on social media and sharing your water-saving strategies! 

Facebook: @SoCalTapWater 

Twitter: @SoCalTapWater 

Water efficiency is no longer a wish-list item or an afterthought – it is a reality that Californians must face together. On Oct. 19, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as water saving efforts continue to fall short of the state’s voluntary targets.  

We all must find ways to step up water use efficiency efforts in our daily lives by being more mindful about indoor and outdoor use. This month we are breaking down how to practice mindfulness when it comes to your water use efficiency. By adjusting your daily water use habits, together, we can make positive impacts on protecting our local and state water supplies. 

See where you can save  

Take a deep dive into examining your where water is most overused in and around your household or business. Is it your landscape, kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room? Do you have any leaking faucets or pipes on your property? Identify the primary source of water usage to guide how you will step up efficiency in the areas that need immediate attention.   

Set intentions for your new habits  

When building a new habit, it is important to set goals for what you intend to accomplish through your actions. Check out the questions below and write down your answers on a note pad or sticky note. When you’re done, display the note near a sink or shower to stay reminded of your water efficiency intentions.  

  1. What is one thing I can do to save water in the morning?  

(Example: Turn off the water while brushing my teeth; place a bucket to catch water in the shower while the water warms up to use for plant irrigation.)  

  1. What is one thing I can do to save water in the evening?  

(Example: Run the washing machine only when it is completely full; soak fruits and veggies in a bowl of water instead of washing them under running water.)  

Listen to Mother Nature 

“One of the best ways to be efficient with your watering is to pay attention to the weather,” said Rob Whipple, water resources specialist for Western Municipal Water District. “If it has rained, shut off your irrigation system for a week or so – that way, you will not overwater your landscaping.”  

Whipple also recommends tuning into the time of year and practicing seasonal water use adjustments by using weather-based irrigation controllers and cutting minutes and days off of irrigation schedules. In Southern California, the rainy seasons typically begins this month and continues into March.  

“As we move into fall and winter, the best practice is to cut your irrigation system way back or shut off your system altogether for the season,” Whipple said.  

Tap into efficient tools  

It is simple to know which option is better for the environment when it comes to tap or bottle. Millions of si

Now is the time to consider investing in water-efficient tools, appliances and upgrades for your home or business. If you want to invest in water-wise appliances for your property, water-efficient washing machines and toilets are the best options to save H2O and lower your monthly bill. However, you do not have to spend large amounts of money on upgrades to start saving today.  

“Install a smart timer on your irrigation system and replace your sprinkler heads with water-efficient nozzles,” Whipple said. “These are small but mighty ways you can keep your monthly bill low, save water and still make sure your landscapes look great!” 

Western Municipal Water District offers enhanced residential and commercial rebates for their customers through their Rebate H2O program. In addition, Western provides a variety of free and low-cost programs to help customers save more. Most water districts offer similar programs – contact yours to find rebates you can put to use in your own home. 

Reflect on what water means to you  

Pause, reflect and enjoy a big sip of water. A large part of being mindful is connecting to your personal “why.” Too often, we take for granted the water we have access to from the simple turn of a faucet. Take time to cherish water! Reflect or meditate on what having access to clean, reliable, and safe water 24/7 means to you.  

Want to take this a step further? Start a gratitude list that is just about water. Write down a list of reasons you are grateful for water and reflect on how water improves your daily life.  

By pairing new habits with knowledge, we can protect our most precious resource – water. Keep the conversation going by following us on social media and sharing your water-saving strategies! 

Facebook: @SoCalTapWater 

Twitter: @SoCalTapWater 

Tap Water Scare Tactics  

This Halloween season we are tapping into the truth about tap versus bottled water. Water scare tactics are being used to sway the public into buying bottled water, but they simply aren’t true.  

Don’t let these tap water scare tactics spook you from making use of the high-quality, safe and clean H2O available straight from your faucet. Let’s debunk the myths about tap water safety – tap water is actually held to much higher standards than bottled water. 

Tap scare tactic #1: Bottled water is specially sourced.  

Though your bottled water may advertise that it was sourced from a famous mountainside or beautiful river, that bottled is oftentimes – you guessed it – just tap water. That’s right, water bottle brands are selling you what you already have at home for a 100% price markup. Don’t let bottled water marketing fool you into buying what you already have, straight from your faucet.  

Tap scare tactic #2: Bottled water is better for my health.  

The marketing behind bottled water is strategic and creative. From colorful branding to promises of health benefits, the bottled water industry knows how to attract consumers. But here’s the truth: drinking bottled water can actually expose you to toxins from microplastics that may have infiltrated the water during manufacturing. This is a process that tap water does not use and thus avoids any contamination from BPA’s and other plastic toxins.   

Tap scare tactic #3: Bottled water is more regulated than tap water.  

Local water agencies and authorities are guided by, and comply with, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. These two Environmental Protection Agency guidelines position public health and environmental safety as top priorities. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires all public water systems to notify customers annually regarding the quality of the water they receive. Does your bottled water company do that? Most likely, the answer is no.  

Tap scare tactic #4: Bottled water is better for the environment.  

It is simple to know which option is better for the environment when it comes to tap or bottle. Millions of single-use plastic bottles become pollution each year as a result of bottled water not being properly disposed of. When you rely on tap water instead of bottled water to quench your thirst, you have the opportunity to fill up a reusable water bottle and can save hundreds of plastic bottles from becoming pollution.  

For all the latest tips, hacks and truths on SoCal tap water, follow us on social media:

Facebook: @SoCalTapWater

Twitter: @SoCalTapWater 

Whether it’s an earthquake, wildfire or other disaster, Southern California households know that emergency situations can arise without warning. It’s always important to be ready – and what could be more vital than access to drinking water? While our communities may go for many years without a disruption in potable water service, every household should prepare for the possibility by having an emergency supply of water on hand.  

Preparedness is everyone’s job, and that’s why the California Department of Public Health advises each household to have a three-day Emergency Supply Kit. During the first few hours or days following a disaster, essential services may not be available, and people must be ready to act on their own. ​ 

Clean drinking water may not be available in a disaster scenario, if there is a disruption to the systems that keep water flowing to the tap. Your regular water source could be cut-off or compromised through contamination. That’s why as part of emergency preparedness, each family should plan to have an adequate supply of water on hand.  

It might surprise you to learn that you don’t need to pay for bottled water to build your own emergency supply. Tap water is safe, clean and provides great value over bottled water. Here are some tips for storing your own supply of water to be ready in the event of a disaster.

How much water should I store? 

As a general rule, you need at least one gallon of water per person per day for each member of your family. This is considered a minimum level for drinking and sanitation. Be sure to store enough for at least three days for all members of your household, according to  

As a rule of thumb, store more water than you need so that you don’t run short in an emergency. In the relatively warm climate of Southern California, you may want to double this amount because high temperatures can increase your need for water – especially if a disaster occurs during the summertime. 

What’s the best way to store water? 

There are several ways you can make sure your emergency water supply stays fresh and safe for consumption. To prepare your own containers of water, you can purchase food-grade water storage containers to store tap water. A warehouse store is a good place to find large containers, which are also available through online retailers.  

For those on tight budgets, it may not be necessary to spend money on containers. The California Department of Public Health suggests storing water in clean plastic containers such as milk jugs or large soft drink bottles. Before filling with chlorinated water, thoroughly clean the containers with dishwashing soap and sanitize the bottles by cleaning with a solution of one teaspoon of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach to a quart of water. As an alternative, you can buy commercially bottled water and store it in the sealed original container. 

Be sure to store your water supply in a cool, dark place. Avoid locations near a window or stove; many households opt for storing water in a closet or outdoor shed. Make sure the containers are sealed tightly to avoid leaks. 

Rotate your supply 

Part of emergency preparedness is ensuring that your supplies are in good condition. This includes water, which should not be stored indefinitely due to the risk of contamination.  

Plan to replace your home-bottled supply every six months with fresh, clean tap water. Check the condition of your water containers and replace, if necessary. If you purchased commercially bottled water, always use it by the printed expiration date. 

Other emergency supplies to have on hand 

Once you have your water supply stocked up, it’s time to turn your attention to overall emergency preparedness for you and your family. Water is just one of the supplies that every household should have on hand during a disaster. As a best practice, every household’s Emergency Supply Kit should include water, food, a First-Aid kit, a flashlight and hygiene items – to name a few. For a full list, visit  

Cheers to National Water Quality Month

What better month to tap into specifics about the quality of your drinking water than August, which is National Water Quality Month? SoCal residents and businesses alike can always feel confident about the quality of their water, because their tap water is always fresh, clean and readily available. That’s the objective of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) and our member agencies. Let’s take a deep dive into what it means to have high-quality water and the benefits it adds to our lives. 

Water quality is a priority.   

Water agencies are guided by two acts that always place public health and environmental safety as top priorities. Water Quality Month dates to the 1970s when two very important congressional acts were passed to protect our water resources. First, in 1972, the Clean Water Act focused on pollution control and made dumping high amounts of toxic materials into bodies of water illegal. In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed to further protect the water designated for drinking use both under and above ground.   

Water quality is a guarantee.   

SAWPA’s member agencies adhere to both federal and state strict standards for water to ensure that your tap water is always clean and safe. They are also continuously investing in improved water infrastructure and supporting public policies that protect water sources.   

Water quality is transparent.   

It is no secret here how water is sourced, treated, tested, and delivered. Your water agency tests the water delivered to your home or business hundreds of times annually to ensure that what you receive from your tap is always top quality. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires all public water systems to notify customers annually regarding the quality of the water they receive. For questions about your water agency’s water quality report, visit their website or contact them to receive a copy.  

Water quality is a blessing.   

Water is the source of all life. It fuels our families, animals, agriculture, the economy, and more. Without clean, high-quality water, our daily lives would look very different. We are fortunate to live in a country and state that values water quality and takes it very seriously. So, pour a refreshing glass of tap water and cheers to your high-quality SoCal H2O. 

🎶 Summertime and the livin’ is easy! Fish are jumping and the water bill is high! 🎶  

Who doesn’t love summertime in Southern California? If we had to take a guess, we would say your water meter. SoCal summers bring us sunbathing at the beach, surfing swells, lazily lounging poolside and soaking in loads of sunshine. Nevertheless, the season is also accompanied by drought and significant water shortages. 

As we enter into an exciting summer of reemerging into the world after a year of social distancing, water conservation should be a priority. When we all make simple and small changes at home, we can make a major difference collectively. Every drop counts!  

Check out these handy water-wise tips for conserving: 


In the bathroom:  

  • When warming up your next shower, place a bucket under your tub or showerhead faucet to collect the water that often gets wasted. That collected water can be used to water house plants or your garden. Consider it your indoor rain barrel!   
  • Limit time and water use when you shower this summer. An easy way to manage your water use in the shower is to use water wisely, and only when needed. If you take extra time to lather shampoo and conditioner in your hair, turn off the shower while you do so.   
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving your face. Instead fill up a cup of water before you begin brushing or shaving and use the cup for rinsing. This small trick will save gallons!   

In the kitchen:   

  • Only run the dishwasher when it is full. Pack your dishwasher to the brim with a full load of cups, silverware and plates before running it. 
  • If you need to wash large pots, pans or cooking sheets, do not continuously run water over them. Instead, allow these items to soak in soapy water for an extended period and then scrub.   
  • Place those pesky dropped ice cubes into small house plants instead of kicking them under the fridge or tossing them in the sink. The cube will melt and soak right into the soil of your house plants to keep them hydrated!  


In the yard, garden and driveway:   

  • Go native and drought-tolerant with your landscape design. By selecting plant species that are native to our dry region, you can save water, money and time on irrigating by sporting a garden full of plants that can survive through periods of drought.   
  • Water your yard and garden in the evenings and mornings to avoid high evaporation times such as midday and the afternoon. The soil will be able to retain more moisture during the cooler temperatures of the mornings and evenings. 
  • Mow high! Turn the notch up on your mower a little higher during the summer to help shade the soil and prevent evaporation.    
  • Sweep – don’t spray – the next time you want to clean off pavement around your home. Spraying your driveway clean not only wastes water but could spread automotive fluids in your driveway into the natural landscape and waterways. Keep it simple and sweep your driveway instead.   
  • Skip the weekly car wash and opt for less frequent washes to save money and water this summer.   

The Water (Re)cycle

Here’s a water truth that likely doesn’t swim across your mind too often: The water we use for all our daily needs and activities is the water that has always been on our planet. From rain, rivers, oceans, lakes, springs and aquifers – the water that Earth has given us is the water we will always have.  

Water resource planners, engineers and specialists have tapped into innovative strategies to keep our water supply flowing strong and steady. For decades, water agencies have been treating and recycling used water which plays a crucial role in making the most of the water we have available. For states like California that are prone to droughts and a population reflecting increasing demands on available water supply, this is an essential and sustainable approach to meet the demand for water.  

Recycling water for reuse is drought resistant, ecofriendly and sustainable. It allows Southern California water agencies to be less dependent on often more costly water sources such as imported water. It also supports local water infrastructure by helping to offset capacity issues.  

When water is used and rinsed down drains, showers, tubs and toilets it becomes wastewater. In short, wastewater is used water that contains waste. The wastewater drains through underground pipes and sewers, collected by wastewater agencies and delivered to a water recycling facility for treatment.  

By separating solid materials from the wastewater, settling of particulates, filtration and treatment processes, the wastewater is cleaned and ready for non-potable reuse. The cleaned, treated and recycled water is regularly tested to ensure it meets and exceeds state and federal standards.  

Recycled water is non-potable meaning it is not intended for human use. We do not ingest, drink or clean with recycled water. However, recycled water takes on a variety of other roles in our lives. 

Where is recycled water used? 

  • Outdoor landscape irrigation at public parks, schools, roadway landscapes, golf courses and cemeteries  
  • Agricultural use to water crops and plants  
  • Industrial uses at manufacturing plants  
  • Air conditioning units 
  • Car washes 
  • Street cleaning  
  • Decorative fountains  

Where is recycled water NOT directly used? 

  • Drinking water 
  • Showers and baths  
  • Cooking  
  • Residential toilets  

Your water: From source to tap

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) and our water agency partners ensure that accessing safe, reliable H2O is as easy as a turn of the tap. High-quality, potable water (drinking water) is always available to your home or business at any time you need it.   

Whether you are turning on your shower for a morning wake-up, setting up the sprinkler to water your garden on a sizzling summer afternoon or guzzling a cold glass of H2O after a challenging workout, water is always there for you. While accessing water is a breeze, your water’s journey from source to tap is quite complex. Before it reaches your pipes, your water travels through a labyrinth of treatment and delivery infrastructure. Let’s explore how! 

Your water is sourced.  

Imported Water 

Water experts and planners in the 1960s saw an opportunity to provide the Golden State with water security for the future and an infrastructure project that would be the first of its kind in the United States according to the California Department of Water Resources. The State Water Project was born. The California State Water Project is a water storage and delivery system formed of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and power and pumping plants. The project supplies drinking water to more than 27 million Californians and irrigation to more than 750,000 acres of farmland.  

The State Water Project extends from Lake Oroville in Northern California all the way south to Riverside County. Water is pumped over 700 miles through pipelines, tunnels, canals and power plants to distribute water to agencies throughout California. Southern California also receives imported water from the Colorado River aqueduct that brings fresh water from parts of the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.  

Local Water 

Water in Southern California is also sourced through groundwater. Groundwater is exactly what it sounds like, water from the underground. Groundwater is stored in aquifers and basins hundreds of feet beneath the surface we walk, drive and live on. SAWPA and our partner agencies know the supreme value of groundwater because it utilizes local water sources and reduces the demand for importing water from Northern California and the Colorado River. This process is more locally sustainable in the face of emergencies and less costly than purchasing water from far away.  

Your water is cleaned and treated.  

Water treatment supports public health and ensures that it is safe for use at your home and business. Treatment includes a four-part process.  

  1. Coagulation: The first process of water treatment involves some fancy terms: coagulation and flocculation. Coagulation is the process of adding chemicals with a positive charge to the water that neutralizes the negatively charged particles in the water. The positively charged chemicals neutralize and then bind with the particles. When the chemicals bind, they form larger particles called floc. 
  1. Sedimentation: The floc then begins to settle to the bottom of the tank in a process known as sedimentation. Sedimentation of these particles aid in the process of removing them and pushing the water on top to continue through the process of cleaning and treating the water.  
  1. Filtration: The clear water on top of the tank then passes through multi-layer filters and screens to remove dust, parasites, bacteria, viruses and chemicals. 
  1. Disinfection: Finally, the water is disinfected to kill any pathogens left in the water.  

Water is put to the test.  

Your water agency tests and treats water thousands of times per year to ensure it meets the highest water-quality standards in the world. Testing of your water is done on-site at operational facilities as well as in labs. The quality of your water is governed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires all public water systems to notify customers annually regarding the quality of the water they receive. 

Water is delivered right to your faucet. 

Delivery time! Water delivery infrastructure allows for the water to show up right to your home or business. Your water agency pumps water from a reservoir which often sits on a hill or high point and pumping stations. Because of its heightened location, the reservoirs can use gravity to flow water through pipes to reach your tap. Pumping stations use engines and pressure to deliver water straight to you.  

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) and its water partners celebrate the month of April each year because it is home to Earth Day on April 22, 2021 and Arbor Day on April 26, 2021. While these environmental holidays are only two days of the month, SAWPA chooses to celebrate them every day by spreading awareness about the importance of protecting the natural environment and the invaluable resources it provides. Why? Because we have no planet B!   

Protecting our planet encompasses a variety of actions including caring for our ecosystems, plants and trees; reducing, reusing and recycling waste; minimizing effects on air quality and, of course, preserving our water sources. As a regional leader in water, SAWPA demonstrates the significance of preserving our watershed through strategic planning, regional partnerships, conservation programs and educational opportunities for our communities. 

What exactly is a watershed?  

A watershed is an area that collects rainwater and snowmelt and naturally drains it. Like a funnel, all of the water that falls into the watershed eventually flows out into a larger body of water such as a lake, river or ocean. In our case, it is the Santa Ana River and its tributaries that make up the Santa Ana River Watershed.   

SAWPA’s vision is a sustainable Santa Ana River Watershed that provides clean and reliable water resources for a vibrant economy and high quality of life for all while maintaining healthy ecosystems and open space opportunities.  

To maintain this vision, all of us must do our part to protect the Santa Ana River Watershed. Protecting the watershed begins with daily habits at home. Let’s dive into five game-changer habits that can make a big splash in the protection of the Santa Ana River Watershed and the environment.   

Five simple ways to protect the Santa Ana River Watershed:  

Observe how you can conserve: Conserving water is a major way to help sustain our local watersheds. Three easy ways to start conserving water include: limiting your shower time and opting not to take full baths frequently; turning the faucet off while you brush your teeth and washing fruits and veggies in a bowl filled with water instead of continuously allowing water to flow over them and down the drain.   

After your pet does its duty, do yours: Picking up your pet’s waste is not just the neighborly thing to do but also protects the environment. Pet waste is a pollutant and human health hazard. When it is left on the ground, it eventually breaks down and washes into the water supply, which ultimately pollutes rivers, creeks, the ocean and you guessed it – our watershed.   

Create memories outdoors, not waste: Whether lounging at the beach or enjoying a picnic by the river, left-behind litter is a problem. Trash and debris left outdoors get washed away or blown into our watershed and endanger the plants and species that call it home. While recreating outdoors, always make sure to properly dispose of all of your trash. 

Back away from the heavy fertilizers: We all love vibrant gardens and landscapes – they add charm and beauty to our neighborhoods. However, the harsh chemical-laced fertilizers that we use to grow lush plants get washed into our water system over time. Stay away from fertilizers with heavy chemical contents and choose DIY homemade solutions from products you already have. Composted eggshells, coffee grounds and banana peels make for a thriving garden and keep these items out of our landfills. It’s a win, win!   

Keep HHW out of the H2O: Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) includes common household products such as household cleaners, automotive fluids, paints and more. HHW products are often labeled with words including warning, danger, caution, poison, flammable or corrosive. These items cannot be poured down our drains or placed in the trash for disposal because they are environmental hazards. Instead, make quarterly or biannual trips to your local solid waste facility where these items can be turned in and disposed of safely. 

At the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, we celebrate our water workers every day. And what better month than Women’s History Month to highlight our gratitude for our female water workers who bring clean, safe water straight to our home every single day? 

Did you know that women represent just one in five workers in our industry? That number is small but mighty and continues to grow. This month, we’re highlighting three all-star female water workers who are passionate about what they do. 

Let’s dive into water industry work through the experiences of Heather Dyer, Leighanne Kirk and Lyndy Lewis. They encourage other women to tap into the exciting opportunities of the water world – whether it’s through environmental science, engineering and project development, operations and field work or administrative assistance, the water industry is flowing with opportunities.

Heather Dyer, CEO/General Manager at San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMD)

Heather Dyer 

CEO/General Manager at San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMD)

As CEO/General Manager for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMD), Heather Dyer’s role involves developing strategies to ensure Southern California can count on a reliable and resilient water supply for the next 50+ years. She focuses on long-term planning efforts, especially in the age of climate change. 

A Seattle, Wash.-native, her passion for the water industry began when she traveled from Seattle to Alaska to work with a salmon cannery. That’s where her hunger to protect natural habitats, species and environmental factors for wildlife was born. Flash forward to 2010, when Dyer teamed up with the water industry through her work as a fisheries biologist and regulator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

“The first thing that gave me a foot in the door with the water industry was that I cared about the resources and the people and became directly involved in helping solve complex environmental problems related to water supply projects,” Dyer said. 

That particular environmental problem was the protection of the Santa Ana Sucker, one of only a few fish native to Southern California. The number of Santa Ana Suckers has been threatened by outside factors and habitat loss. Dyer explained that there are impacts from water supply projects to the natural resources of a watershed but that those impacts can be adequately offset through habitat conservation activities. She moved to Southern California to fulfill the Endangered Species Act for this region’s projects. Through this work, she formed a special partnership between U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Southern California water districts to provide strategic tactics for the protection and conservation of the Santa Ana Sucker. 

“I have worked with regional agencies including SAWPA through collaboration on the Santa Ana Sucker conservation team – the team was already looking for ways to protect that species, and the water agencies were looking for a viable path to receive federal and state permits to remove surface flow from the river system,” Dyer said. 

Dyer is currently the only female General Manager of a water district within the district partners of SAWPA. She regards this as an honor and also knows that her background being rooted in environmental protection and conservation of endangered species makes her unique in the water world. 

“The most striking difference between myself and other water agency general managers was that I was an endangered species biologist and a former regulator. It was an amazing step that our board was open to the idea of someone like me with a background in environmental science and conservation to lead this agency and its long-term planning efforts,” Dyer said. 

Dyer expressed true gratitude to all her colleagues throughout the watershed for their outpouring of support as she took on the title of GM in December 2019. She also offers advice to those who are considering a water career. 

“My first recommendation is to find your passion. The water industry is a very broad field that is full of diverse opportunities that people otherwise would not know about,” Dyer said. “So, you’ve got to get out there, get to know people and find your niche. Step into the future with intention and locate a job that you would do for free. Then figure out how to get paid for it.”

Leighanne Kirk 

Principal Water Resources Specialist at Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD)

As a Principal Water Resources Specialist, Leighanne Kirk assists the Water Resources and Facilities Planning departments with special projects. Her projects include the largest grant-funded project that EMWD has ever been awarded – a $45 million grant (with a total program cost of $90 million) called the Perris North Basin Groundwater Contamination Prevention and Remediation Program. She also works on the Santa Ana River Conservation and Conjunctive Use Program, which is a multi-agency and multi-benefit partnership aimed at providing regional groundwater storage. 

“Both of these projects provide great value to EMWD’s water supply portfolio and long-term water supply reliability for the Inland Empire.” Kirk said. “I am proud to be part of such groundbreaking initiatives to bring local and reliable groundwater supplies to the region.” 

Along her water journey, Kirk has crossed paths with many female water workers across all levels who have inspired her. Kirk also offers advice to young people seeking a career in the water industry: 

“There are always job opportunities opening up in the water industry and sometimes you may have to take on a different role to get your foot in the door,” Kirk said. “Don’t pass on opportunities that you are afraid of but that you feel is the right move for you and your career. Accept these challenges and follow your instincts – you won’t regret it.” 

EMWD offers several workforce development opportunities including a college internship and two apprenticeship programs for electrical and mechanical maintenance. EMWD also partners with other agencies including the Western Riverside Council of Governments and CivicSparks which feature fellowship programs. In addition, EMWD’s partnership with Riverside County Workforce Development, California Family Life Center, and ResCare Workforce Services allows them to offer the Youth Ecology Corps Program for young adults with a high school diploma who are interested in water industry job opportunities. Visit to learn more.

Lyndy Lewis 

Principal Engineer and Regulatory Compliance at Western Municipal Water District (WMWD)

Lyndy Lewis began her water industry career 16 years ago. She explained that the water industry found her, not the other way around. Today, Lewis works at Western Municipal Water District (Western) as a Principal Engineer with a focus on regulatory compliance. 

“When I graduated from college, I met a gentleman who worked at the water and power department of my hometown.” said Lewis, “I applied for a position there, not fully aware of the possibilities ahead but it was the door that opened up my whole career.” 

Lewis’ current position is in water compliance. Water compliance teams act like watch dogs and ensure that Western’s projects and operations fully comply with state and federal standards so that customers receive safe, reliable, high-quality water 24 hours per day, seven days per week and 365 days per year. 

“My team and I work to secure permits and oversee the air quality, drinking water quality, wastewater quality and hazardous waste elements of operations and make sure that everything complies with the ever-changing federal and state standards,” Lewis said. “In fact, California has some of the highest standards for drinking water in the world, so I take great pride in helping Western ensure we are always meeting or exceeding these standards for our customers.” 

Along the way, Lewis has met several women who inspired her, including Jayne Joy. She is a mentor to Lewis and currently is an executive officer at Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board. Both women hold a background in chemical engineering. 

“Jane was so knowledgeable and eager to help. Her confidence inspired me to speak up, ask questions and make my voice heard. Jane is a very genuine person who wants to see everyone shine and succeed. Her influence has greatly inspired my career path and guided my efforts along the way,” said Lewis. 

Lewis believes that the confidence she has learned from mentors encouraged her to stay involved and follow her passion. She also explained that the water industry is a tight-knit, community-oriented industry that provides an essential service and helps protect public health. 

“I love what I do and part of that is being an example to my daughters. I dream that one day they grow up to be passionate about what they do,” Lewis said. “I believe that passion helps to build confidence in the next generation of leaders.”

%d bloggers like this: