Moulton Niguel Water District provides drinking water, recycled water, and wastewater treatment services to 172,000 people in South Orange County, California, roughly 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Annual precipitation in MNWD’s service area averages ~14 inches, with close to zero precipitation in the dry summer months. The district has no access to either local groundwater or surface water supplies. Thus, MNWD is almost entirely reliant on imported water from outside of its service area, which it purchases from the Municipal Water District of Orange County, the regional wholesaler of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. 

To reduce its reliance on imported water, MNWD invests millions of dollars annually in water use efficiency and reuse—i.e., localized strategies—as alternative sources of supply. In particular, since 2011, MNWD has incentivized residential and commercial customers to install water efficient devices and replace water-intensive turf with native landscaping through its rebate programs. Moulton’s programs are somewhat more ambitious than typical water efficiency rebates; for example, MNWD’s average residential turf rebate is more than $3,000. The district’s initiatives also stand out for the creative and comprehensive consumer outreach and education strategies grounded in the belief that achieving efficient use of water often requires a change in consumer interaction with and mindset about water. Key to achieving this change is MNWD’s shrewd ability to develop messaging that resonates locally—consumer outreach stresses that “efficiency is not about using less; it’s about wasting less.” MNWD also owes its success to its commitment to partnering with a range of regional agencies and nonprofits.

On the reuse side, for the past 50 years, MNWD has identified recycled water as its highest priority alternative water supply, with the recognition that “every drop of recycled water that is used is a drop of drinking water that doesn’t have to be imported from hundreds of miles away.” To encourage its customers to reuse water, MNWD offers recycled water retrofit rebates. Customers that convert their existing irrigation systems to recycled water receive $1,250 per irrigated acre or up to 50% of the total project cost. MNWD has also experimented with providing loans for non-profits and public agencies to finance the cost of onsite recycled water retrofits—as of 2017, 53 loans had been issued totaling nearly $540,000. 

MNWD’s investments in decentralized strategies result in multiple water management benefits. The combination of Moulton’s budget-based rate structure, outreach and consumer rebate programs have resulted in an average savings of 4,000 acre-feet per year. MNWD can claim significant success particularly with its turf replacement program which has led to the removal of over 5 million square feet of turf. Further, Moulton’s recycled water program currently provides about 7,500-acre feet annually, or about 25% of overall water demand within its service area. These investments also have economic benefits. Since 2011, MNWD customers have cumulatively saved over $24 million from reduced water usage. And the District maintains the lowest average bill in South Orange County.

From Orange County, California, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of WaterNow’s Tap into Resilience initiative, WaterNow has interviewed over a dozen city and utility leaders already tapping into localized water strategies for fast, affordable, and impactful solutions to their water challenges.More details on Moulton Niguel Water District’s Tap into Resilience case study are available on WaterNow’s campaign website here. And we hope you will join us at our Tap into Resilience Summit in Philadelphia on April 15-16, 2020, to learn more about localized water solutions and connect with other water leaders from across the nation.


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