Watershed Management Areas

In June 2003, per direction from the Board of Supervisors, the County of Orange led a multi-agency task force to develop a countywide Water Quality Strategic Plan. As a result, a new structure for water resource management evolved based on a new concept of Watershed Management Areas (WMAs). The eleven watersheds in Orange County are grouped by similar characteristics into three Watershed Management Areas: North, Central, and South.

At its essence, the Watershed Management Area is a collaborative framework for municipalities and special purpose agencies to work collaboratively and find synergies across water resource disciplines. Its purpose is to bring together a wide variety of water resource managers in order to achieve more comprehensive and cost effective solutions to Orange County’s water resources needs. Member agencies voluntarily enter into a cooperative agreement that forms the Watershed Management Area (WMA). Governance includes a policy committee of elected officials to oversee each Watershed Management Area. Senior staff from each member organization form a management committee to develop a joint work plan and oversee its implementation. Regular stakeholder forums are held to involve the public and share information across organizations within each Watershed Management Area.

Today, throughout Orange County, these groups meet together on a regular basis to collaborate on water resource issues, including water supply, surface water quality, flood management, wastewater, and natural resource protection. Integrated Regional Water Management Plans have been completed for the Central and North Watershed Management Areas and currently being updated in the South Watershed Management Area. Goals and solutions specific to each Watershed Management Area are formulated through consensus with participating stakeholders. Likewise, a custom slate of projects and programs is developed to address the water resource needs of each WMA.

The table below shows the Watershed Management Areas in Orange County, that have an existing cooperative agreement in place with a link to the governing body for each WMA. 


Governing Body

Central Orange County
Watershed Management Area 

Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee 

 South Orange County
 Watershed Management Area

South Watershed Management Area Executive Committee 

In the future the ability to fund water resource projects will be challenging. With the collaborative process, Orange County continues to be a leader in meeting those challenges. Watershed Management Areas and Integrated Regional Water Management Plans are key tools to accessing federal, state and local grant opportunities to help offset the investment necessary to sustain the water resource needs of the region.