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The 2017 Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

Water Conservation Garden Awarded SDG&E Environmental Champion Grant

The Water Conservation Garden’s Ms. Smarty-Plants program received a $25,000 Environmental Champion Grant in June from SDG&E.

The award comes as The Garden, at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, celebrates its 20th anniversary.

“SDG&E has been a long-time supporter of The Garden and its innovative Ms. Smarty-Plants education program,” said Jennifer Pillsbury, executive director/CEO of The Water Conservation Garden. “In fact, SDG&E was one of the first funders to provide seed funding that allowed the program to have the widespread impact it has today. We are grateful for their support.”

Support from water agencies help fund innovative education program

Support from the San Diego County Water Authority and from several other water agencies also was critical to establishing and growing the program, which reached over 80,000 children and adults a year by 2016.

The six-acre garden is governed by an independent, nonprofit board of directors and receives funding from the San Diego County Water Authority, City of San Diego, Cuyamaca College, Helix Water District, Otay Water District and the Sweetwater Authority. Memberships, donations, grants, facility rentals and gift shop sales also support The Garden.

Conservation education program in 11th year

Water agencies created The Garden to demonstrate water conservation techniques and to provide environmental education.

“In its 11th year, the Ms. Smarty-Plants programs have touched nearly 350,000 children and adults, focusing on youth from disadvantaged communities who have limited access to safe nature spaces,” Pillsbury added.

Pam Meisner is Ms. Smarty-Plants

Pam Meisner started the conservation program in 2008 at the Water Conservation Garden. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

Pam Meisner, also known as Ms. Smarty-Plants, started the conservation program in 2008. Meisner is a lifelong educator with more than 30 years teaching experience advocating for fun and interactive learning in nature as well as bringing conservation into the classroom.

Upcoming events at The Water Conservation Garden

  • August 23: Nature Nights with Ms. Smarty-Plants
  • August 24: Water System Consultation with Brook Sarson of CatchingH2O/H2OME
  • September 28: Backyard Composting Workshop

On November 16, The Garden is hosting a 20th anniversary concert. The event begins at 5:00 pm with a reception featuring food and drink stations, music and unique auction items.

For more information on these and other events go to:  https://thegarden.org/events/

Vallecitos Water District contest winners are honored at the July board L to R: Sierra Whiteside, Zofia Dowd. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

San Diego County Students Inspire Water Conservation Through Art

Three talented fourth grade students in north San Diego County will have their winning drawings featured in the 2020 “Be Water Smart” calendar produced by the Vallecitos Water District. The students were honored by the District’s Board of Directors at its July meeting.

To develop and promote water conservation awareness from an early age, the District holds a calendar contest available to all fourth graders in its service area. The top three drawings go on to represent the District in the regional North County Water Agency calendar for the following year.

Water conservation art features nature themes

Sierra Whiteside is the first place winner and "Viewer's Choice winner in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Sierra Whiteside is the first place winner and “Viewer’s Choice” winner in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Sierra Whiteside from Carrillo Elementary School won first place and also the “Viewer’s Choice” award through a public vote on the District’s social media channels. She wins a froYo party compliments of Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Sierra says she will save water by “making an invention that gives you only the water you need.”

Sofia Dowd won second place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Zofia Dowd won second place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Zofia Dowd from Double Peak School received second place for her artwork featuring a whale. Zofia says she will save water by “taking short showers, not running water, taking buckets to fill up water in the rain, and will only use water when needed.”

Lia Van Der Jagt won third place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Lia VanferJagt won third place in the Vallecitos Water District calendar art contest. Photo: Courtesy Vallecitos Water District

Lia VanderJagt, also a student at Double Peak School won third place for her artwork depicting the earth. Lia says she will save water by “doing my best to use less of it and value it more.” She will take shorter showers and only fill her cup to what she can drink.

Skylar Groke from Carrillo Elementary School is the honorable mention winner. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Honorable mention went to Skylar Groke from Carrillo Elementary School for his rainbow artwork.

All winners received Amazon gift cards.

The Vallecitos Water District extends its sincere appreciation to Menchie’s and all of the students who participated in this year’s contest. The contest is held annually with a submission deadline of April 10. Click here for contest rules and entry form. For questions or to receive a free calendar, contact the District’s Public Information Department through or at (760) 744-0460.

READ MORE: Poster Contest Winners Illustrate ‘Water Is Life’

 

 

The newly opened Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Interpretive Center was constructed as a centerpiece of environmental education through a cooperative effort. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Celebrates Decade of Outdoor Education

Residents, volunteers, and officials gathered June 1 at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Interpretive Center honoring Susan J. Varty.

Visitors explore the Interpretive Center on its opening day June 1. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Visitors explore the Interpretive Center on its opening day June 1. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Located at OMWD’s Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, the center was constructed as a centerpiece of environmental education through a cooperative effort between OMWD and the Escondido Creek Conservancy.

“As we celebrate ten years of operation, we couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished by working together,” said OMWD Board Secretary Robert Kephart. “Yet, without the dedicated support of docents and donors, this one-of-a-kind facility with its many successful education programs would not have been possible. We also honor their efforts today.”

The Center’s namesake, Susan J. Varty, served as an OMWD board director from 1994 until her death in 2009. She exhibited a passion and tenacity for water issues and environmental preservation.

Reserve provides regional resource for outdoor education, and environmental appreciation

The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve provides a wealth of opportunities for recreation, outdoor education, and environmental appreciation for all ages. Photo: Olivehain Municipal Water District

The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve provides a wealth of opportunities for recreation, outdoor education, and environmental appreciation for all ages. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve provides a wealth of opportunities for recreation, outdoor education, and environmental appreciation.

Olivenhain partnered with the San Diego County Water Authority and the Bureau of Land Management to develop the 784-acre Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve as part of the regional Emergency Storage Project. The reserve opened in 1992. Currently, the reserve offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, as well as picnic areas and scenic mountain viewing points.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy has formed alliances with landowners, government agencies, and education and community groups to increase awareness of the invaluable resources intrinsic to the Escondido Creek watershed.

Originally, Olivenhain planned to construct a cinder block building with the assistance of a $68,500 grant from California’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The Conservancy sought at the same time to establish a location close to Escondido Creek for hosting educational programs. The timing allowed the organizations to form a mutually beneficial partnership.

The new Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve's Interpretive Center features The building also features green design elements such as recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green roof. Photo: Olivehain Municipal Water District

The new Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve’s Interpretive Center features green design elements such as recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green roof. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

The Conservancy raised over $565,000 from individual donors to complete the enhanced design and center construction. Another $200,000 was raised for educational programs, including wildlife displays and nature activities.

Renowned local artist James T. Hubbell designed the center and several original works by Hubbell and his collaborations with other artists are on display. The building also features green design elements such as recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green roof.

New grant funding provides educational field trips

The new Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund will continue the joint education programs held at the Elfin Forest's interpretive center in perpetuity. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

The new Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund will continue the joint education programs held at the Elfin Forest’s interpretive center in perpetuity. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

More than 3,650 students visited the reserve on field trips during the 2018-2019 school year. The Conservancy provides the opportunity for students in disadvantaged communities to attend field trips through grant funding. Additional education partners are the Nature Collective and San Diego Zoo.

At the event, the Conservancy announced the creation of the Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund. The new fund will continue the joint education programs held at the center in perpetuity.

“The Escondido Creek Conservancy’s education department helps bring thousands of underserved, urban-based students from Escondido out to the Elfin Forest every year so they can experience the outdoors, many for the first time in their lives,“ said Conservancy board member Jeff Swenerton. “This is vitally important because we can’t expect the next generation to value nature if they’ve never been exposed to it.

“We’re reaching more children now than in any other time in our organization’s history,” added Swenerton. “It’s very exciting to see the impact we’re making, but we’ve reached a point where we need to launch the Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund campaign to sustain our success and enable us to continue connecting children with nature.”

The center is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on the availability of the reserve’s 65 docents. View the current docent schedule on the center’s website.

 

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 landscape design workshops

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.