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Prospective students tour the Cuyamaca College Water and Wastewater Technology lab facilities during a recent open house. Photo: Water Authority

Aging Water Workforce Spurs Industry Recruiting Efforts

A flood of water industry professionals nearing retirement has prompted local agencies to form a task force charged with assessing ways to develop the water workforce of the future. Education leaders are stepping up outreach to fill their career training programs, and water agencies are looking for new ways to attract employees.

“For many years now, we’ve been talking about the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of aging baby boomers who are going to be leaving the workforce, but it really is coming to fruition now,” said Don Jones, who helped spearhead Cuyamaca College’s new Center for Water Studies housing the college’s Water & Wastewater Technology program. “Almost one-third of water industry professionals will be at or nearing retirement age in the next few years. When you combine that with the fact that the unemployment rate is already at record or near-record lows and other industries are facing the same challenges and going after the same people we are, we have some serious work to do.”

Those concerns have spurred the San Diego County Water Authority and other agencies to convene a regional task force comprising utility directors and general managers, which has been meeting for months to assess workforce-related challenges, collect and analyze employment data, and craft a plan for moving forward.

Water industry offers competitive salaries

At the Fallbrook Public Utility District approximately 40 percent of the agency’s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Approximately 40 percent of the Fallbrook Public Utility District ‘s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

The regional water and wastewater industry expects to need to fill approximately 400 positions annually to keep pace with retirements and vacancies caused by employees leaving the area.

The challenges face both large and small agencies. In the City of San Diego, 640 of approximately 1,600 water industry professionals will be eligible to retire within the next three to four years. At the Fallbrook Public Utility District approximately 40 percent of the agency’s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement.

“These are good-paying jobs with good benefits, but you just don’t find a lot of people coming out of school who are interested, and we are struggling to attract skilled employees from the private sector,” said Jack Bebee, Fallbrook general manager.

Bebee pointed to the recent posting of a senior engineering position at the utility that pays an annual salary of close to $150,000. The district thought the salary would be competitive enough to draw people from the private sector, but only one of four applicants was from the private sector. When Bebee was hired for a similar position nine years ago, he competed against 40 other applicants.

A 2018 Brookings Institution report notes the employment void exists even though water workforce occupations not only pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally, but also pay up to 50 percent more to workers at the lower ends of the income scale. In San Diego County, water and wastewater plant and systems operators are earning an average salary of $70,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Skilled workers needed to operate increasingly complex systems

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that fewer people may be needed in coming years as water and wastewater plants become more automated, a skilled workforce is required to operate increasingly complex controls and systems. Some of the most advanced facilities in the world are in Southern California, including the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the naton’s largest desalination plant.

Local educational efforts in the industry are addressing the potential worker shortage:

  • Palomar College’s Water and Wastewater Technology programs, provides pre-employment training and advanced courses for people who want to become certified as a water or wastewater operator.
  • The Water Authority’s student internship program pays $12 an hour and has interns working at four different water agencies throughout the year.
  • California State University, San Marcos Certificate in Water Management & Leadership program is geared toward workers already employed as intermediate-level supervisors in the water industry and offers training and skills needed for higher management positions.
  • The Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College.

The Brookings report noted the glut of retirements offers an opportunity to diversify the industry. In January, the Center for Water Studies held the first in an annual series of Women in Water symposiums, attracting several hundred women and high school girls from throughout Southern California interested in a new career.

“Challenges can prompt people to get together and look at new ways of doing things,” said Greg Thomas, general manager at the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District in Escondido. “This is a great industry, it pays well, and you’re doing something good for people and society.”

 

Hydration Stations Installed at Three Escondido Elementary Schools

Escondido, Calif. – In the last several years, water bottles have become commonplace on school campuses as students learned the importance water plays with maintaining good health. However, keeping those water bottles filled throughout the day has been tough, since traditional drinking fountains are not designed for this purpose. So, the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District (Rincon Water) partnered with the Escondido Union School District to install water bottle refill stations, also known as hydration stations, at three Escondido elementary school campuses – Bernardo, Miller, and North Broadway. All three schools receive Rincon Water through their taps.

(L to R) 2019 poster contest winners Madelieine Inawen, Claire Zhang, Kate hu, Alanis Huang, and Weiyi Xu with their winning artwork. Photo: Courtesy City of San Diego

Creative Kids Educate Region About Water Conservation

Eighteen talented San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach elementary school students used their artistic skills to communicate the importance of water conservation in the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department 18th annual Kids Poster Contest.

Winning entries in the contest are featured in the 2019 Water Conservation Calendar, which debuts this month. They are available free for pickup at San Diego city libraries, recreation centers, and at San Diego City Hall, 202 C Street downtown.

The theme “How Am I A Water Conservation Hero?” asked students to imagine themselves saving water from being wasted. They could draw, paint, color, cut and paste original artwork depicting one important message about water conservation. Winning students were honored at a City Council presentation in 2018, and their artwork was featured publicly at the San Diego County Fair and San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery.

“The City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department is proud to sponsor the yearly Kids Poster Contest,” said Brian Hojnacki, a supervising management analyst for city utilities. “It allows us to involve first to sixth graders through art while learning and thinking about water conservation in our region. It’s a win-win for us all.”

In addition to being recognized as community ambassadors and local conservation celebrities, winners received gift cards as prizes and publication in the new calendar. The winning posters will be displayed throughout the City of San Diego all year.

The contest winners for 2018 whose artwork was used to create the 2019 calendar are:

Grade 1     

1st Place – Ruiya Xia, Solana Ranch Elementary School

2nd Place – Isabella Chen, Solana Ranch Elementary School

3rd Place – Angela Han, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Grade 2

1st Place – Weiyi Liu, Stone Ranch Elementary School

2nd Place – Ella Zhao, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Tracie Liu, Sycamore Ridge School

Grade 3

1st Place – Rachael Ma, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

2nd Place – Alanis Huang, Solana Ranch Elementary School

3rd Place – Kate Hu, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Grade 4

1st Place – Lauren Chen, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

2nd Place – Abigail Wei, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Caden Phan, Hardy Elementary School

Grade 5

1st Place – Claire Zhang, Solana Pacific Elementary School

2nd Place – Angela Chen, Monterey Ridge Elementary School

3rd Place – Annika Liao, Del Sur Elementary School

Grade 6

1st Place – Madeleine Irawan, Black Mountain Middle School

2nd Place – Eric Shi, Mesa Verde Middle School

3rd Place – Vicky Xu, Solana Ranch Elementary School

Recycled Water Category Winner

1st Place – Katelyn Chen, Oak Valley Elementary

The 19th annual poster competition for the next calendar is now open to students from first through sixth grade. The theme is “Where Can I Catch The Rain, and What Can I Do With It?”

Winning posters will be featured in the 2020 Water Conservation Calendar. Winners will be honored at a San Diego City Council meeting and have their work displayed at the San Diego County Fair and in the San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery. The entry deadline is March 22, 2019. More information is here.

 

Contest winners honored at December board meeting: Top row: public affairs officer Noelle Denke, general manager Jack Bebee, board president Al Gebhart. Middle row: Mariana Jimenez, Stephania Miranda, Lexie Graves, Magdaleny Caralampio, America Perez Martinez, Maria Ordonez Rodriguez, Jordyn Jones. Last row: Hudson Quinn, Connor Siegler, Gabriel Velasco, Antonio Jesus. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Young Artists Featured in Fallbrook PUD Conservation Calendar

Fourth-graders from five Fallbrook-area elementary schools put pens, crayons and watercolors to work with the goal of creating the best and brightest water-conservation posters in competition to become part of the 2019 Fallbrook Public Utility District’s “Be Water Smart” calendar.

Two hundred posters demonstrated the students’ enthusiasm and creativity. Out of these entries, 14 were honored in the 2019 calendar.

Gabriel Velasco's entry was chosen by the judges to appear on the 2019 calendar cover. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Gabriel Velasco’s entry was chosen by the judges to appear on the 2019 calendar cover. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

The free calendars are available at the Fallbrook Public Utility District office, 990 E. Mission Road in Fallbrook, during business hours while supplies last.

The pupils’ colorful images vividly depict the contest’s theme, “Be Water Smart.” The district’s panel of judges viewed all the entries to find the most eye-catching artwork that successfully communicated the need for saving water.

Winners recognized at Fallbrook PUD board meeting

The winning fourth-grade artists were recognized at the Fallbrook PUD board of directors meeting on Dec. 10. In addition to being featured in the calendar, each winning artist was presented with their original artwork matted and framed for them to keep. They also received a signed certificate of commendation from the district, along with prizes such as school supplies and gift cards.

First place winner America Perez Martinez receives congratulations from Fallbrook PUD board president Al Gebhart and general manager Jack Bebee. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

First place winner America Perez Martinez receives congratulations from Fallbrook PUD Board President Al Gebhart and General Manager Jack Bebee. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

As a special award, the first-, second- and third-place student artists, plus the cover artist, received a personalized T-shirt with their winning artwork printed on it. Those artists are:

First place: America Perez Martinez, Fallbrook STEM Academy

Second place: Stephania Miranda, Maie Ellis Elementary

Third place: Hudson Quinn, Maie Ellis Elementary

Cover artist: Gabriel Velasco, La Paloma Elementary

Additional monthly winners include Magaly Maldonado, Magdaleny Caralampio, Antonio Jesus, Maria Ordonez-Rodriguez, Mariana Jimenez and America Giles of Maie Ellis Elementary; Jordyn Jones of William H. Frazier Elementary; Connor Siegler, Lexie Graves and Wendy Sanchez Hernandez of La Paloma Elementary.

The annual contest is open only to fourth-graders in the FPUD service area after they complete classroom instruction about water conservation and the water cycle. Students attending Fallbrook STEM Academy, William H. Frazier, La Paloma, Maie Ellis and Live Oak elementary schools submitted entries.

All 14 pieces of artwork will be displayed on the FPUD website. They will also be displayed in the FPUD boardroom through 2019.

 

 

 

Fallbrook Public Utility District Logo

First-Ever High School intern at Fallbrook Public Utility District

Fallbrook, Calif. – Kate Calhoun, a junior at Fallbrook High, spent most of her summer Tuesday mornings at the Fallbrook Public Utility District as the district’s first paid summer intern. Now that school is back in session, she is back in class and recently finished her final task for the district.

The final part of her eight-week internship was spent creating a PowerPoint presentation for the board of directors at the Aug. 27 board meeting. In that presentation, she highlighted what she learned during her experience and how she will put that new knowledge to work.

“This introduced me to possible careers I was not aware of,” Calhoun said.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo Budget Award

OMWD Promotes Scholarship Opportunity to Area Students for Best Video Featuring Special Districts

Encinitas, CA—Olivenhain Municipal Water District is encouraging local high school and college students to enter California Special Districts Association’s Districts Make the Difference video contest for a chance to win a scholarship of up to $2,000. Aspiring filmmakers can create a 60-second video telling the story of a special district, such as Olivenhain Municipal Water District, which increases public awareness and understanding of the services California’s special districts provide to residents.

Center For Water Studies Moves Into New Home At Cuyamaca College

The transformation of Cuyamaca College’s trailblazing Water and Wastewater Technology Program into the Center for Water Studies is all but complete. Among the premier water and wastewater training facilities in California, the Center for Water Studies relocated in late August to a renovated complex complete with new classrooms, a water quality analysis laboratory and a workshop for back flow, cross-connection controls, and related skills-based courses. The complex sits next to a state-of-the-art field operations skills yard that opened in January, with an above-ground water distribution system and an underground wastewater collection system.

Alfred and Audrey Vargas, a brother and sister team from Sweetwater High School, won top honors from the Water Authority for water-related projects at the regional Science and Engineering Fair. Their work is designed to provide low-cost fresh water to people in developing countries. Photo: SDCWA

Sweetwater High Students Aim To Avert World Water Crisis

Audrey and Alfred Vargas are trying to expand access to clean drinking water one drop at a time.

The brother and sister duo, who live in National City and attend Sweetwater High School, have been refining a portable, low-cost, easy-to-use, simple-to-construct system that efficiently desalinates brackish water.

“We see it as one of many possible solutions that can help solve the water crisis occurring throughout the world today,” said Audrey Vargas, 15.

Their endeavor is garnering growing attention. At the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair, their project – Solar Desalination Using a Parabolic Trough – secured the top Senior Division award from the San Diego County Water Authority.

Water Authority promotes innovation in students

The Water Authority has sponsored the Science & Engineering Fair for decades, and the Water Authority’s Board of Directors recognized Audrey and Alfred at its April 12 meeting, along with five other top water-related projects from the science fair.

Board member Frank Hilliker interviewed the Vargas team at the science fair and was impressed with their work. “The fact that they were able to take such a complex challenge and find a solution that seems so easy and without having to spend a lot of money was remarkable,” he said. “There are no computers, no electronics, no fuel involved. It’s a fascinating way to provide clean, reliable drinking water for people who don’t have access to clean water.”

Besides the Water Authority award, the siblings also won a Scripps Institute of Oceanography Climate Science Award, and their work was honored by the WateReuse Association (San Diego Regional Chapter) and the California Environmental Health Association – Southwest Chapter/San Diego County, Department of Environmental Health. They compete in the California State Science & Engineering Fair competition on April 23 and 24 at Exposition Park in Los Angeles.

Students set sights on solving global problem

Audrey and Alfred aspire to see their device used in impoverished communities around the world that don’t have reliable sources of drinking water.

“My sister and I live in a very modest community, and we see people who are living in poverty every day,” said Alfred. “This is a cost-effective and simple solution that can help anyone have access to a basic necessity.”

Alfred and Audrey have been entering science fairs since they were middle schoolers and Alfred has been refining the desalination project for the past three years. Alfred and Audrey note that a pivotal manner of obtaining freshwater is by distilling seawater. But that can be a costly and time-consuming process. Their portable, parabolic desalination device, however, can efficiently purify brackish water through a simple yet complex process that uses PVC pipes, a copper tube, and the sun.

Sofia Sandoval, a chemistry teacher at Sweetwater High School who advised the students, said Alfred and Audrey are destined for greatness. Indeed, Alfred aspires to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work as a chemical engineer. Audrey is determined to gain acceptance to Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford en route to a career enforcing environmental regulations.

“Alfred and Audrey are not the typical high school students who were interested in conducting a cookie cutter science fair project,” Sandoval said. “They have bigger dreams. They came to science fair orientation meeting with a firm belief that humans have a moral obligation to help humanity. They, themselves, feel obliged to enter careers that allow them to directly help humans.

“This conviction, along with Audrey’s environmental passion and Alfred’s engineering mind, drove them to their project topic selection. I think this project embodies exactly what our next generation scientists and innovators should focus on, namely a multi-dimensional approach to solving world problems.”