For thousands of years indigenous peoples of California thrived in today’s Orange County. Native American tribes such as the Kizh, Acjachemen (Juaneño), Tongva, and Payómkawichum (Luiseño) had a close relationship with the land, settling near lakes and rivers, and working with seasonal cycles to meet their water needs. Nearly 400 years ago, Spain laid claim to what would become California, Arizona, and New Mexico. It wasn’t until 1769, however, that the first attempts were made to colonize the area, and water began to be diverted to supply missions, ranches, and towns.
In the early 1800’s, laws were enacted to determine water rights, and by the mid-1800’s, the California Gold Rush inspired a population surge. During this time, Orange County communities relied heavily on surface water provided by the Santa Ana River to meet their basic needs, and with just a single source of water to rely upon, residents here were severely impacted by periods of drought and flood. The introduction of groundwater as a water source released the region from the limitations of the Santa Ana River, allowing Orange County to grow faster than ever before. With a significant portion of the county now pulling water out of the ground, the aquifer quickly became over-pumped. Soon, it became clear that Orange County cities needed to seek alternative sources of water.
In 1928, Anaheim, Fullerton, and Santa Ana joined ten other Southern California cities in the formation of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan). The aim was to import water from the Colorado River for the thirsty region. The supplemental water supplies of Metropolitan encouraged other Orange County water providers to collaborate, creating the Coastal Municipal Water District (Coastal) in 1941, and Orange County Municipal Water District (OCMWD) in 1951. OCMWD would go on to change its name to Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC).
The entirety of Orange County benefitted from Metropolitan, allowing the county to thrive thanks to reliable water supplies. In 1999, Coastal and MWDOC merged to become the third largest Metropolitan member agency, which assigned voting power based on total assessed value. The combined voting power of MWDOC and the three original cities allows Orange County to be one of the strongest voices in Metropolitan policy.
Today, MWDOC serves nearly 3.2 million Orange County residents through 27 retail water agencies. MWDOC’s service area covers all of Orange County with the exception of the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana. As a wholesale water supplier and resource planning agency, MWDOC’s efforts focus on sound planning and appropriate investments in water supply development, water use efficiency, public information, legislative advocacy, water education, and emergency preparedness.