Orange County Water District named 'Conservator of the Year'

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy's mission is to teach and inspire people from Huntington Beach, along with the rest of Southern California, to care for the environment, specifically wetlands and other coastal resources.

The 22-year-old, Huntington Beach-based nonprofit organization will take a moment to recognize an organization that's done its part to protect the environment when it bestows its annual "Conservator of the Year" award to the Orange County Water District.

"Obviously, [OCWD's] impact in protecting the environment is pervasive," said Bolsa Chica Conservancy Executive Director Grace Adams. "They have nationally acclaimed programs that are being bench-marked all around the world, not just the country."

The awards luncheon is at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Huntington Beach's Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, 21100 Pacific Coast Hwy. It's about the 15th consecutive year the award has been given out, Adams said.

It is given every year to the individual, company or group that's "made major strides in protecting the environment and had a major regional impact," Adams said.

David and Margaret Carlberg will also receive the 2012 "Friend of the Conservancy" award after they dedicated the last 40 years to advocating for the preservation of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

The Carlbergs have an education background. David is a retired microbiology professor at Cal State Long Beach and an author. Margaret is a chemist and educator who received the 1997 California Science Teacher's Assn. "High School Science Teacher of the Year" award.

OCWD General Manager Mike Markus said the district's board of directors has always made conserving its natural resources and protecting the environment a priority.

"It's just showed [the director's] vision and leadership knowing that we have to take care of the environment in order to help fulfill our mission," Markus said.

OCWD manages the largest groundwater basin reserve in Southern California. It provides water to 19 municipal and special water districts that serve 2.4 million customers in Orange County, according to its website.

The District has been able to add to the basin through programs such as its groundwater replenishment system, which began in 2008, and recycles 70 million gallons of water a day, Markus said.

"Water is a critical issue in our times and OCWD has demonstrated its leadership in groundbreaking technology and initiatives in water conservation, sustainability and youth education," Conservancy Chairman Mark Gaughan stated in a press release.

OCWD also owns more than 400 acres of the Prado Wetlands behind Riverside's Prado Dam. It was there that an endangered song bird, the Least Bells Vireo, was brought and has almost been taken off the endangered species list.

It's all four of those things that have gotten OCWD recognized for this honor, Markus said.

"I think it's a tremendous honor for the district to be recognized by the Conservancy," he added. "I think our board of directors has always had a very high environmental ethic."

Single tickets for the award luncheon can be purchased for $85 — with tables of 10 available for $800 — by contacting the Conservancy at (714) 846-1114 or Adams at

The money generated from the ticket sales will go toward the Conservancy's education and restoration programs.

In August, the Conservancy launched its Youth Leadership and Environmental Actions Program — a year-long, on-the-hands job training — with a group of nine students. It exposes them to a wide range of environmental research to see if any of it appeals to them for a future career.

"They're immersed with the work that we do and they can choose different modules to specialize in," Adams said. "It's exciting for us because that's really our future. Our firm belief is to preserve the ecological reserve and engage our youth and future leaders."

This year, nearly 29,000 people visited the Conservancy, which is located in an ecological reserve at 3842 Warner Ave. Many of them are students from all over Southern California who come to participate in other student-research programs offered by the nonprofit.

The Conservancy served more than 15,000 people in 2003 when Adams first came board. As a result, the organization is in the beginning stages of building a new center to help better cater the local community and rest of Southern California.

"The whole idea is to take our current operations and expand it to allow us to be that much more immerse," Adams said. "We don't want this to be some museum where people just come, see some information and leave and forget about it."

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