Facts, Figures and MNWD’S History


Facts and Figures


1960 – 1974: The Early Beginnings

mrmoultonPrior to becoming one of Orange County’s most bustling coastal communities, the areas served today by MNWD were once part of two sprawling Spanish land grants: Rancho Niguel and Rancho Mission Viejo. You may be familiar with neighborhoods bearing the same names, but until the early 1960s, these lands were used primarily for ranching. Lacking a reliable water supply to maintain their herds, the area’s ranchers banded together in 1960 to create their own water agency – and the Moulton Niguel Water District was born.

At its inception, MNWD served only eight customers. But as ranch land quickly began transforming into ranch homes, local water demands dramatically changed, and the District began building reservoirs to help serve its new customers. The lure of affordable coastal living drew new families to the region in the coming years, with MNWD’s customer base doubling to more than 33,000 between 1970 and 1972.

Along with a reliable water supply, these new residents would need sewer service, so MNWD expanded its operations to provide wastewater treatment. In 1974, the District became one of the first water providers in Orange County to deliver recycled water for irrigation uses. This revolutionary program has saved billions of gallons of potable water over the years.

1975-2000: Meeting the Challenges of a Growing Region

South Orange County, as it is known today, began coming to life in the mid-1970s, as homebuilding boomed and new residents flocked to the region’s coastal location and temperate climate. The influx of new customers meant MNWD also had to grow to keep up with the region’s growing water demands.

A key first step for the District was moving from an undersized headquarters along Aliso Creek Road in 1975 to our current home on La Paz Road. The new redwood-stained facility better accommodated the staff and enabled the District to more efficiently serve its expanding customer base. The District also began researching new methods for treating and reclaiming wastewater, including a revolutionary wetland filtration project known as the Bullrush Project, which was constructed in 1976 as an alternative, more natural way of cleaning wastewater.


The 1980s brought exciting new technology and change to MNWD. The District was one of the first local water providers to utilize electronic devices to help save time and money in day-to-day operations. One key addition during this period was the introduction of the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that computerized management of the District’s water distribution and storage efforts. The District also modernized through a new election system that was introduced in 1980 to transition land-owner voting to registered voter elections, allowing more customers to vote.
The growing population led to large-scale service expansions in the 1980s, including bringing service to what would later become the City of Aliso Viejo. A regional wastewater treatment facility was built in 1984 to better handle the capacity of the growing district as well. Despite the infrastructure expansions, the District was able to keep rates unchanged due to fiscal responsibility.

As the population continued to grow in the 1990s, the District increased its focus on recycled water as a reliable new source. In 1994, MNWD constructed a dedicated recycled water treatment facility and extended its recycled water pipelines. By 2000, recycled water comprised 15 percent of MNWD’s water supply – a three-fold increase from earlier in the decade. Technological advances also continued into the 1990s with the addition of digital water meters and the first MNWD website, launched in 1997.

As the century came to an end, so did most new homebuilding, as the once sprawling ranches that made up the MNWD service area were primarily built out. With the population growth stabilizing, it became time for the District to re-position itself from a growth focus to one of maintenance and increased efficiency.


2000-2010: Increasing Efficiency and Local Reliability

After 40 years of consistent growth, South Orange County’s population began to stabilize at the turn of the 21st century.  With MNWD’s customer base settled at approximately 165,000, the District turned its focus on maintaining its infrastructure and providing a reliable, sustainable supply for the future.

Recycled water use hit an all-time high in the 2000s as the District’s recycled water master plan entered its final stage.  As 25 percent of MNWD’s water supply, recycled water has helped to decrease the District’s reliance on imported water and improved local reliability.


In another move to improve local reliability, the Board of Directors voted in 2009 to increase MNWD’s emergency storage from a 10-day supply to 31-day supply.  This effort will help the District maintain delivery in a worst-case-scenario emergency.  The 266-million-gallon Upper Chiquita Reservoir broke ground in June of 2009 and three other major emergency infrastructure projects entered their final stages of planning at the end of the decade. When complete, the projects will enable the District to continue providing water for longer duration in the event access to its imported supplies is unavailable.

MNWD’s focus on sustainable sources, emergency reliability and keeping its existing infrastructure in like-new condition has not gone unnoticed.  In 2007, Standards and Poor’s increased the District’s bond rating to an AA+, the second highest rating available.  The higher rating enables MNWD to finance capital projects at lower interest rates, which will save customers millions of dollars as the District looks towards the future.

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