Interview With Vicente Sarmiento


Vicente Sarmiento is no stranger to Santa Ana.

Councilmember Vicente Sarmiento and his family have lived in and around Santa Ana since 1965. He attended John Muir Elementary, Sierra Elementary, and Willard Intermediate Schools. Councilmember Sarmiento now lives in a 1929 historic home in the Saddleback View neighborhood, three blocks from where he grew up. Among his many accomplishments, Councilmember Sarmiento was reappointed by the Santa Ana City Council to serve on the Orange County Water District (OCWD) Board in December 2016. He previously served as a OCWD Board Member from January 2013 to February 2015.

We met with him one afternoon to ask about his role with the OCWD, how it benefits the community of Santa Ana, and what residents could do to help preserve our water resources.


What is the Orange County Water District?

The Orange County Water District (OCWD) was formed in 1933 to protect the region’s 270-mile groundwater basin, which is Orange County’s largest source of drinking water. I am proud to be serving on the OCWD’s board of directors, which plays an important role in overseeing the extensive planning and investments required to address our short- and long-term water supply challenges.


As a board member, what do you believe is the most important function of the OCWD?

The main function of the OCWD is to manage and protect the groundwater basin by (1) capturing surface water and recharging the groundwater basin to replenish the aquifer, (2) monitoring the quantity and quality of the groundwater to protect it from contamination, and (3) purifying treated wastewater and reusing it for irrigation and potable water supply. The OCWD is continually finding ways to improve the efficiencies in our recycling systems and recharge activities to reduce costs and make water consumption more affordable for residents.


How does your involvement with the OCWD benefit Santa Ana?

As a board member representing the Santa Ana community, I keep the city’s best interests in mind when making important decisions that impact costs and availability of water for our residents. I also make decisions on projects that directly benefit Santa Ana, like the Mid-Basin Injection Project. This project supplements and elevates the level of Santa Ana’s groundwater, which in turn reduces our energy costs to pump the water for residents to use.


Much of the state has experienced its wettest 3-6 month period on record. What are the immediate and long-term effects of this rainy season and does this mean we are no longer in a drought?

The extraordinary rainfall and snowpack has certainly boosted reservoir levels and we’re seeing vast improvement in water supply conditions throughout much of the state, particularly in Northern California. While this has started replenishing local groundwater basins, our reserves are still far lower than they were at the beginning of the drought. It takes time to replenish groundwater to a level that will meet future demand.


Therefore, this record wet season emphasized the importance of improving how we capture precious rainfall and runoff. We plan to expand stormwater capture projects to decrease the amount of runoff lost to the Pacific Ocean via streams, rivers and storm drains. This captured stormwater can then be used to recharge our water basin for future use and lower our reliance on higher cost imported water.


Weather is cyclical and so are droughts. “Is the drought over?” is the wrong question. We should be asking “are we managing our water resources in a sustainable manner for the long term?” We say yes, through efficient groundwater remediation, better stormwater capture, and continued water conservation. The conservation practices we learned during the drought can, and should, stay with us all.


Santa Ana’s residents have proven to be the most efficient water users in Orange County. What more can they do to prevent future water shortages?

I am proud of what we have been able to achieve as a community. Our conservation efforts have enabled us to meet the water use reduction targets mandated by the State of California. But as I mentioned earlier, we must continue to make water conservation a part of our daily lives. Water is precious, let’s not waste it.


How does Santa Ana’s water fees compare to other cities in Orange County?

Our water fees are in the midrange compared to all other cities and water districts in the county. We are focused on reducing the increase of wholesale water pricing and improving our efficiencies to keep water affordable for Santa Ana residents. In addition to water usage and servicing, your dollars also pay to help maintain and upgrade the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure so it keeps running reliably and efficiently.


Other cities boast grassy ‘green’ medians, while Santa Ana’s are brown. Why don’t we rely on reclaimed water to irrigate our medians?

We receive recycled water through the OCWD’s recycled water distribution system, which consists of two separate pump stations, two reservoirs and approximate 37 miles of pipelines. OCWD’s current infrastructure, which doesn’t extend north of Edinger Avenue, can only support a limited amount of recycled water used to irrigate our parks. However, we are looking at opportunities and funding to expand the pipeline and bring recycled water into other areas of Santa Ana in the future.