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Water Utility Hero of the Week-Otay Water District-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Dana Gutierrez, Otay Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Dana Gutierrez, Otay Water District Customer Service Representative II, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Dana Gutierrez

Job/Agency: Otay Water District Customer Service Representative II

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

After several years working in a call center environment, it was time for a change in my career path. I had read a posting in a local publication for a customer service position with Otay and decided to test my luck. I was fortunate. Although there is so much more to absorb in the water industry, I was able to bring my customer service skills to a whole new level. The staff was so friendly and knowledgeable that I had no problems intercepting the traditions and behaviors of the District.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

Soon after the pandemic began, our lobby shut down and all staff was sent to work from home. It has been a major adjustment, but our IT staff has done an excellent job in providing us with the equipment and tools needed to complete our daily responsibilities. We are on a rotating schedule now, with only 2-3 reps in our office at a time while the rest of us work from home. We can communicate with one another via text, email, phone, or a video chat.

How are you keeping safe?

Otay has done an excellent job in providing staff with safety aids and tips on how to endure this pandemic. We have temperature kiosks in which we must have a temp scan prior to reporting to the building. The District has also installed several hand sanitizing stations and provided masks and gloves to staff when dealing with the public. While at home, it’s a simple practice of follow the guidelines and recommendations of the CDC.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

It would be nice to be normal again. Just being able to socialize with family and friends again without the partition.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Sandra Louis-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Sandra Louis, San Diego County Water Authority

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Sandra Louis, San Diego County Water Authority Receptionist, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Sandra Louis

Job/Agency: San Diego County Water Authority Receptionist

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I just had my second baby in March 2006 and I tried to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was restless. I applied with Volt Temp Services and was sent to work in a temporary, one month job as a receptionist for the Water Authority.  My one month was extended for another six months. Then, I applied for the full-time staff receptionist position in December 2006 and got the job. So, I would say the water industry was interested in me.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

I miss my co-workers, since most of the Water Authority staff are working remotely. Our main office in Kearny Mesa is closed to the public and delivery drivers have to buzz me from the outside before dropping packages at the front door. New safety protocols are in place for staff coming to the office, including temperature checks before entering the building. One change is that all staff entering the building now have to sign-in with me at the front desk and check out when they leave. Another change is the front reception desk where I work is now surrounded by clear, plexiglass shield barriers, also part of our pandemic safety protocols.

Sandra Louis-Water Utility Hero of the Week-San Diego County Water Authority

The San Diego County Water Authority reception desk, where Sandra Louis works, is surrounded by clear, plexiglass shield barriers, part of the safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

How are you keeping safe?

Wearing my face mask, washing my hands a lot more, cleaning the work area, and checking my temperature before coming into the building.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

Spending time with my elder aunties and uncles, going to church, and going to events.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by the San Diego County Water Authority and employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Emily Fleming-Padre Dam MWD-Water Utility Hero of the Week-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Emily Fleming, Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Emily Fleming, Padre Dam Municipal Water District Customer Service Representative, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Emily Fleming

Job/Agency: Padre Dam Municipal Water District Customer Service Representative

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

Nearly ten years ago, after a long and successful career in retail banking, I fell victim to a series of armed robberies over a two-year period. These violent encounters took a toll and made me seriously consider a career change. A conversation with an acquaintance led me to explore the possibility of working at Padre Dam. There was so much to learn about the water industry, however the staff and management at Padre Dam made me feel right at home and they were supportive during the entire process. Working with the public and providing the best customer service possible is second nature to me. I strive to make each encounter personal and informative.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

Not long after the pandemic started we began alternating work schedules in the Customer Service Department. Some people work from home, and we have a minimal staff at the administrative office. Our IT staff did a phenomenal job of ensuring we had everything we needed to work from home. To most of our customers, the transition has been seamless. We have worked out most of the bugs since then and now it has become second nature to our department.

How are you keeping safe?

My husband does all the grocery shopping for the family and I so appreciate that, it minimizes the exposure for me. Padre Dam meets all the safety requirements and more when I’m not working from home. We like to support the mom and pop shops so we order food to go now and then. Finally yet equally important, I wear my mask and wash my hands regularly to protect my friends and family.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I get emotional when I talk about this one. I became a grandmother on February 26, 2020, to a beautiful baby boy.  He was only 3 weeks old when the shutdowns started. Although his parents are great about sending pictures and videos, it is not quite the same. I am most looking forward to holding him, and watching him grow and play without the fear of getting sick. I cannot wait!

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Santa Fe Irrigation District-LaMont Foster

Water Utility Hero of the Week: LaMont Foster, Santa Fe Irrigation District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. LaMont Foster, Santa Fe Irrigation District Utility Worker I, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: LaMont Foster

Job/Agency: Santa Fe Irrigation District Utility Worker I

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I’ve had a few careers before working here at Santa Fe. After being laid off from a job I was at for more than 20 years, I was working as a bus driver for a school district. Someone had mentioned the water and wastewater internship managed by the San Diego County Water Authority. I applied and was accepted and worked with some great people at Otay and Helix and transitioned to a full-time job at SFID. I really enjoy working in the water industry. Water puts everyone on the same level. We all need it, and we all appreciate it even more when there is a problem getting it.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

We used to drive around in crews of two together, but we drive separately now. We are also moving around the building a little differently and changing reporting times so there are fewer people in one place at a time, but other than that, the work is the same. We respond to customer concerns, fix what needs to be fixed and keep our maintenance schedule.

How are you keeping safe?

I’ve got some high-risk people in my family, so I am doing what I can to limit my exposure to people and going places. Just me and the family at the house and I am always sure to mask up. It’s important.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

My life isn’t all that much different, but I really look forward to taking my wife and son out for a nice meal and enjoying ourselves. Not be worried or anxious about the people around me. I am really looking forward to that.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Utility Hero-City of Escondido-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Carrie Selby, City of Escondido

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Carrie Selby, City of Escondido Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Carrie Selby

Job/Agency: City of Escondido Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I worked security at Lake Skinner for MWD in 2002, and very much wanted to advance my career but was not sure how. Until, I came across a flyer for an operator position. This interested me, so I asked one of the operators who worked there, how to get into the field. He provided me some materials and this immediately peaked my interest. I ended up applying at another agency and was hired as an Operator-In-Training. Eighteen years later, I am still in the field and currently hold a Grade 3 Certification.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

Although we regularly practiced extremely good hygiene at the plant. We now have taken extra precautions such as, wearing facemasks, and maintaining social distancing. Temperature stations are now our new norm. We have to take our temperature prior to starting our shift.

How are you keeping safe?

I come to work in proper attire and practice extra sanitizing precautions. I always make sure to change out of anything that I wear at work prior to going home.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I am looking forward to getting back to traveling and adventuring out to some hiking trails. Nature is fuel to my soul! I also look forward to spending time with family.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

City of Oceanside-Ron Lutge-Water Utility Hero of the Week-Essential Workers

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ron Lutge, City of Oceanside

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Ron Lutge, City of Oceanside Chief Plant Operator, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ron Lutge

Job/Agency: City of Oceanside Chief Plant Operator

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I became interested in the water industry in a round-about way. After leaving the military, I found it difficult to find work that was both mentally stimulating and challenging. I was looking for something that would allow me to work at an operational tempo I was used to. I definitely wasn’t looking for anything easy or slowed paced. At the time I was working at the General Electric aircraft engine overhaul facility in Ontario. Unfortunately, that industry proved to be unstable and did not offer a promising career. While searching for something new, I found Oceanside had a couple of openings for office workers. Since I had some experience working with spreadsheets and databases, I was offered a position in the water department. I figured this would keep me employed while I looked for something different. I soon discovered there were many disciplines within the water industry. I soon began researching career options in the water industry. Inspiration came from the supervisor I was working for at the time. I sat down with him and asked what were the requirements necessary to become an operator. I also received encouragement from the operators I came in contact with on a daily basis. That’s all it took. After that, I hit the ground running and have never looked back. The water profession is honorable, rewarding, and has offered me everything I have been looking for in a career – just like the military – another opportunity to continue being of service to others. And isn’t that what we as water professionals are here for – to be of service?

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

My personal day-to-day routine hasn’t really changed; I’m always busy. However, given the current health crisis we are all in, it has made me keenly aware of just how important it is to ensure our team is being taken care of, staying safe and healthy, and doing everything we can to ensure our facility stays operational to provide water to the residents of Oceanside without interruption. Because we operate our facility 24 hours a day, coupled with having a very small staff, we cannot work from home or implement rotating or staggered shifts. Everyone has to be ready, prepared, and available to work.

How are you keeping safe?

By following the guidance recommended by health officials to limit exposure in public, at work and home: social distancing, face coverings, sanitizing, washing hands, etc. By practicing these simple protocols we keep each other safe and minimize ourselves or others getting sick.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

A return to some semblance of normalcy – whatever that may be.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Keith Swiatkowski-Otay Water District-

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Keith Swiatkowski, Otay Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Keith Swiatkowski, Otay Water District Water Systems Operator III, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Keith Swiatkowski

Job/Agency: Otay Water District Water Systems Operator III

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I was working in the Aerospace manufacturing industry at Solar Turbines for 12 years, but felt I wanted to work in a field that served my local community or region. My mother worked for the SDCWA and really enjoyed working in the water industry. She encouraged me to look for a career in this field. A friend of mine knew someone that worked for the City of Escondido, so I was able to contact him and learn what it would take to get into this field. I took a test at Escondido City Hall with about 400 other people, did well enough to get an interview, and eventually got hired by them. I spent 4.5 years learning everything I could working from the ground level, literally, working in excavations making repairs to water mains. I then took classes at Palomar College and State Certification tests to advance my career. I came a long way from my humble beginnings and truly enjoy serving the community as a Water Systems Operator III for the Otay Water District where I’ve worked now for 7.5 years.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

My job function hasn’t changed much. What has changed is how we’re getting it done. We are currently operating with minimal staff reporting for duty in the field so that we limit potential exposure. We are still able to accomplish all of our tasks by spreading more of the field work around and adjusting schedules. This ensures that we continue to provide our customers with same level of service so they don’t notice any difference. The other staff work from home and we do this on a rotating basis. Those working from home have the opportunity to monitor our distribution system via SCADA, stay in touch via e-mail or text, study our mapping program to learn more about pipe sizes/material, pressure zones, and review district policies.

How are you keeping safe?

The District has done a great job providing the latest online training regarding how to stay safe. We have implemented temperature check kiosks at the district to ensure employees are safe to work. Personally I’m wearing my mask in the office, when in public or speaking with customers in person, washing my hands more or using hand sanitizer, wiping down surfaces more often, social distancing in the office or in public, and limiting going to stores during my time at home. Fortunately most of my work day is driving alone in my truck to different sites to test for water quality, so that limits my exposure as well.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I’m looking forward to being able to have in-person meetings. We do get the same things accomplished through video meetings or being far enough apart in the crew room. But there’s nothing like being able to have a crew all come together as a team or have an all-hands meeting and feel that sense of community. I’m also looking forward to my ultra-running trail races being held again soon, working out in the gym, going to concerts, having people over for BBQ’s, going to the movies, and taking my wife out for a romantic dinner on the coast.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Olivenhain MWD-COVID19

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Gary Briant, Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Gary Briant, Olivenhain Municipal Water District Purchasing/Warehouse Clerk, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Gary Briant

Job/Agency: Olivenhain Municipal Water District Purchasing/Warehouse Clerk

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I spent many years working in the private sector. I noticed that my friends and family that worked in the water industry showed a real sense of pride in what they did. I wanted to stop the “rat race” in the private sector and join a team in the water industry where I could grow, contribute my skills, and be a part of something important. Working at OMWD feels like I’m part of a family, and I am very happy in my new career.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

One of my duties here is to procure materials and supplies for Olivenhain. We have only had a few challenges finding supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our general manager had the insight to make sure we were prepared very early on, so I was able to secure many items before vendors ran out and/or items became backordered for months. When some supplies were not available, we thought “outside the box” to find solutions. For example, we used the recipe from World Health Organization to make our own hand sanitizer when it was sold out everywhere.

How are you keeping safe?

It’s really important to me that I keep myself safe so I don’t put another team member or family member in jeopardy of getting sick. I’ve been focusing on maintaining social distance, sanitizing, and staying healthy. Safety and education has been the main priority at OMWD since the pandemic began. I make sure all needed safety items are well stocked so everyone at OMWD stays well. We have also transitioned to accepting deliveries in a no-contact manner.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I look forward to seeing everything go back to as close to “normal” as possible. I understand we will have to modify many ways that we operate regarding socialization and maintaining a safe work environment. But I look forward to the challenge of helping my co-workers stay healthy so OMWD can continue being successful in its mission to deliver safe and reliable water service to the community.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

Jeromy Langdon-Padre Dam MWD-Water Utility Hero of the Week

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Jeromy Langdon, Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Jeromy Langdon, Padre Dam Municipal Water District Utility Worker, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Jeromy Langdon

Job/Agency: Padre Dam Municipal Water District Utility Worker

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

After twenty years working in masonry, I was planning on a career change and was looking for a career that was just as rewarding as my current trade but had more longevity. A good friend of mine in the water industry suggested this field and I began my research. I found it peaked my interest and I enrolled in some water classes at Palomar College. When I learned what was involved in operating and maintaining a distribution system I knew I had found the beginnings of my new career.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

The way we work in the Field Operations Department has changed quite a bit during this pandemic. We have had to separate our crews to maintain social distancing and implement new work safety protocols. Additionally, our valve replacement program has been temporarily put on hold in order to limit water service disruptions to customers. Even with all of these changes, we have been able to continue with our daily work without any issues while maintaining essential water service to our customers.

How are you keeping safe?

I am keeping safe by limiting my exposure. During this pandemic, I have only been coming to work to complete my essential service and going home. In the workplace, we are focused on keeping safe social distance and sanitizing work stations and frequently touched surfaces.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I am looking forward to asking our children the question “OK kids, now where do you want to go?” I’m guessing the answer will be Disneyland.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

 

Dale Austin-Vallecitos Water District-Water Utility Hero of the Week-primary

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Dale Austin, Vallecitos Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Dale Austin, Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump & Motor Tech, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Dale Austin

Job/Agency: Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump & Motor Tech

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I had friends and a neighbor that worked for different agencies and different jobs. They all talked highly of their agencies and the jobs they did. I wasn’t sure where I would fit into the industry so I took classes in Water Distribution, Water Treatment, and Wastewater Treatment. I learned so much in those classes. I applied and got my first job in Water Distribution where I could apply my skills as a Certified Pipe Line Welder and Machinist, but my passion has always been in mechanical, so I transferred to a treatment plant which led me to my current job with Vallecitos.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

I pride myself in having my equipment 100% available, so with the pandemic Vallecitos is doing a rotating schedule to help with distancing and safeguarding the crews. Staying in contact with the crew on duty via email and phone. Prioritizing work loads and talking to vendors. I don’t personally like to carry my phone when not at work but with the pandemic it is a very important tool to stay in contact with everyone.

How are you keeping safe?

By following guidelines from the CDC, maintaining social distancing, and following good hygiene.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

Sitting down at a restaurant for dinner and going to the movies with my wife.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map