From her first day on the job at Vallecitos Water District in 1988, Dawn McDougle knew that she wanted to finish her career at the San Marcos-based water agency. McDougle accomplished her goal, officially retiring on December 23, 2021.
McDougle’s dedication, innovation, and commitment to the community have paid off in many ways over three decades, including recognition in 1993 as the California Water Education Association of San Diego Laboratory Person of the Year, and again by CWEA in 2018 as the Supervisor of the Year. But McDougle’s impressive career needed a kickstart from fate.
McDougle interviewed at the City of Escondido for a meter reader position but didn’t get the position.
“The city called me later and asked if I would be interested in a part-time position as a laboratory technician assistant,” she said. “Of course, I said yes. When I went to the interview at the wastewater treatment plant, I found it very interesting and wanted to know more. I got the job and from there I learned as much as I could from the biologists and chemists.”
From her first job as an Industrial Waste Technician, McDougle was promoted to Laboratory Director. After two years working at the Encina Wastewater Authority, McDougle returned to Vallecitos Water District and was promoted to Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor in 2000, where she remained until retiring at the end of 2021.
Multiple accomplishments benefit the community
At the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility, McDougle played a major role in the $30 million expansion and upgrade of the facility, extending its lifespan beyond 2030. The facility produces recycled water for golf courses at La Costa and the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, several school sites, and Legoland California. McDougle kept the existing plant operating while implementing innovations allowing it to increase capacity while at the same time reducing chemical and energy costs. The facility successfully reached its output goal of five million gallons per day.
McDougle started at Vallecitos as an industrial waste technician at a time when few women performed this work. She advanced her career by taking classes and earning certifications – and she helped others by mentoring and coaching them along the way. McDougle says she knew from the first day she arrived she wanted to finish her career at Vallecitos.
Lifelong learning key to career success
“Looking back, the most surprising thing about my career that stands out the most is how our people provided so much support,” said McDougle. “I was always in awe of the great people in this industry. Outsiders don’t understand what goes into keeping operations all moving while keeping the environment protected. They [staff] are always on call no matter when: evenings, weekends, and holidays.”
McDougle said her goal as a supervisor was to share information, but also to learn from her staff as well.
She says her best career advice for others pursuing water and wastewater industry careers is to pursue ongoing education.“Work hard and achieve the highest certifications you can. Listen and learn. There is so much knowledge to be passed down. And keep an open mind.”
McDougle admits to “pinching myself on how fortunate I am to have been part of this career field, and advance.” Now, McDougle says she plans to spend time with family, travel, play golf and paddleboard, and take up new hobbies.
“As much as I enjoyed my career and being responsible for the facility the last 22 years, it is time for relaxation,” said McDougle.
McDougle said her goal was to transfer all her knowledge to the Meadowlark staff, “not only for them but for the district. It’s my responsibility.”
McDougle’s legacy is a career spent making sure the Vallecitos Water District’s facilities live up to their promise to the community.
(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)