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The Padre Dam Municipal Water District has been name a 2020 "Utility of the Future Today" for its water reuse initiatives and its workforce development efforts. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Padre Dam Named Utility of the Future Today

Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s leadership in the development of water reuse as well as its strong workplace culture received national recognition with a 2020 Utility of the Future Today award. The award honors substantial excellence in the operation of water sector services.

“We are honored to be recognized as a groundbreaking agency in the area of water reuse,” said Allen Carlisle, Padre Dam general manager and CEO. “This distinction highlights our ongoing commitment to innovative improvements in service of our customers.”

The Utility of the Future Today program celebrates the achievements of water utilities transforming from the traditional wastewater treatment system to a resource recovery center and leader in the overall sustainability and resilience of the communities they serve. It was launched in 2016 by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Water Environment Federation, the Water Research Foundation, and the WateReuse Association, with input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Water reuse efforts recognized

Padre Dam Municipal Water District has been recycling water since 1958. The District’s Ray Stoyer Water Recycling Facility produces around two million gallons per day of recycled water.

Padre Dam is now working on a regional water and wastewater solution in a collaborative partnership between Padre Dam and the County of San Diego, City of El Cajon, and Helix Water District to expand on the history of water reuse through the East County Advanced Water Purification Project.

The project will create a new local, sustainable, and drought-proof drinking water supply using state-of-the-art technology to purify recycled water and diversify East San Diego County’s water supply, while reducing the region’s dependence on imported water. This new water supply will provide approximately 30% of East County’s water demand, and nearly eliminates the discharge of East County’s treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

Padre Dam is currently the Program Administrator for the regional East County Advanced Water Purification Program.

Workplace culture fosters collaboration

Utility worker Sarah Hargis and her workgroup in the Padre Dam wastewater division are essential workers who ensure the wastewater collection system is functioning correctly. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Utility worker Sarah Hargis and her workgroup in the Padre Dam wastewater division are essential workers who ensure the wastewater collection system is functioning correctly. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s strong organizational culture of collaboration, learning, service, and transparency also received recognition. The award cited Padre Dam as an agency that encourages the ongoing learning process and the improvement of its workforce in the planning and decision process. This culture empowers every employee to think creatively, cultivating an organizational culture of innovation.

Padre Dam has enjoyed a successful and progressive workforce partnership with management, labor, and its Board of Directors for decades. Over the last several years, the District invested in the reinvention of its internal workforce development program to meet the changing needs of its modern workforce.

Now called the “Pipeline,” the program embraces a philosophy enabling broad-based participation in the organization’s decision-making processes.

“The Pipeline relies on the primary principle that we can better serve our customers by conducting activities in a collaborative and transparent manner,” said Carlisle. “Long before our employees became essential workers providing vital services during the pandemic, Padre Dam recognized their tremendous value to our organization. This award is for each and every one of our employees who have performed in an exemplary way when they were needed most.”

Olivenhain Municipal Water District's Pump/Motor Technician Dominic "Bruno" Brunozzi has been named the California Water Environment Association's (CWEA) "Mechanical Technician of the Year: for the third time. Photo: Water Authority Dominic Brunozzi

Olivenhain Employee Dominic Brunozzi is Mechanical Technician of the Year

For the third time in five years, Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Pump/Motor Technician Dominic “Bruno” Brunozzi has been named the California Water Environment Association’s “Mechanical Technician of the Year.”

Brunozzi was recognized for his dedication to public service and mechanical expertise. He also received the same designation at the local level earlier this year from CWEA’s San Diego Section.

“We are thrilled that Bruno has been recognized as Mechanical Technician of the Year for the third time in five years,” said OMWD Board Vice President Bob Topolovac. “He is not only committed to maintaining equipment essential to providing vital services for our ratepayers, he also sets an example for employees by training operators on the safe use of equipment.”

“I am honored to be recognized by my peers,” said Brunozzi. “It reinforces the view that the water industry is family and that hard work does not go unnoticed.”

Sharing safety knowledge key to Brunozzi’s success

Among Brunozzi’s key on-the-job responsibilities is training OMWD operators on safe equipment use.

“I approach each day with a sense of responsibility that everybody should return to their families safe and sound,”  he said. “If an employee is unfamiliar with the proper operation of a piece of equipment, they or someone else can be harmed.”

Brunozzi sees his approach to sharing knowledge and continuous learning as his secrets to professional success.

“Do your best and be honest about it. If you are unsure about something, stop and find someone who has more experience in the subject, then be sure to pass on your knowledge.

“Also, continue to learn. This can be accomplished in many ways; take a class at a local college, watch a video about your industry or perhaps cross train in a different department, you never know what the future may have in store for you.”

Military experience offers transferable career skills to water industry

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer. Photo: Water Authority

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and the ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer.

“My rate (job description) was Engineman,” said Brunozzi. “I worked on auxiliary equipment onboard combatant vessels: pumps, motors, generators, air conditioners, sewage systems, water purification systems, and their supporting equipment. Navy vessels need to produce drinking water from the ocean, so they use a variety of processes such as distillation and reverse osmosis, then treat the water for human consumption.

“I cannot stress enough how the water industry is a good match for military members looking for a career after the military. The water industry is a close-knit family similar to the military. Their military training provides added skills to the water industry such as maturity, work ethic, and leadership,” he said.

In addition to Brunozzi’s award, OMWD received third-place recognition statewide and from the San Diego Section in the “Community Engagement & Outreach Program of the Year” category. Outreach efforts include engagement with legislators and regulatory officials, classroom visits, presentations to community groups, newsletters, social media posts, community events, and tours of OMWD’s 4S Ranch Water Reclamation Facility. OMWD serves approximately 14% of its overall demand from recycled water.

Founded in 1927, the CWEA is a not-for-profit association of 9,000-plus professionals in the wastewater industry. The association trains and certifies wastewater professionals disseminates technical information, and promotes sound policies to benefit society through protection and enhancement of the water environment.

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Litsa Tzotzolis, San Diego County Water Authority

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. Litsa Tzotzolis, San Diego County Water Authority Public Affairs Representative, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

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Imperial County Agencies Deliver 500,000 Face Masks to Agriculture Workers

The Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office has taken the lead in distributing more than 500,000 face masks to all sectors of the agriculture industry in the Imperial Valley.

“This was a positive result of the state understanding our need,” said Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz. “They heard us.”

Agriculture is one of the essential sectors critical to health and safety in California during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since May, 566,000 face masks have been distributed to 126 agricultural-based businesses, including growers, farm labor companies, pest control, feed lots, trucking companies, hay presses and the dairy industry. Face masks have also been provided to agencies that work with farm workers, including Campesinos Unidos and Clinicas De Salud Del Pueblo.

State, local agencies collaborate for worker safety

The distribution of face masks to the agricultural community was part of a joint statewide effort of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association together with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Pesticide Regulation. The California Office of Emergency Services provided 824,000 face masks.

Ortiz said there is a rewarding feeling that comes from working with a team to respond to a local need.

“The fact we have received these masks from the state points to how critical agriculture is as an essential service to keep food on the table, especially during these challenging times,” said Ortiz. “Everyone in agriculture deserves praise for the work they are continuing to do.”

A survey was first sent to the Imperial Valley agricultural community, and there was an overwhelming response that personal protective equipment, starting with face masks, were a critical need.

“The reaction to the survey let the state know there was an immediate need,” said Ortiz.

The county will also be receiving special N-95 respirator masks, that will be distributed to agriculture workers that handle applied pesticides which require special respirator equipment, according to Ortiz.

Face masks ‘vital’

J Rollins, Vice President and Operations Manager of Rolling R Enterprises, a local family-owned custom harvesting and hauling company, said his company received face masks for his employees at a time that masks were very difficult to find through normal retail or wholesale avenues.

“Aside from our sanitation protocols, the masks we received from the Ag Commissioner’s Office was vital in keeping our workforce healthy, especially at the peak of our operations,” said Rollins.

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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Imperial Valley vegetable farmers took additional precautions during the Spring 2020 harvest. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Timely delivery of face masks

Along with mask distributions, the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office has provided masks to individual farm workers and crews while doing field inspections.

“You are trying to focus on what else you can do to get the face masks to those who need them,” Ortiz said.

Imperial County Farm Bureau Executive Director Brea Mohamed said she was grateful for the mask distribution, adding the masks are helping growers ensure the safety of their employees and crews.

When the pandemic hit Imperial County, growers faced heavy costs to purchase such personal protective equipment, which placed further strain on their operations at a difficult time. It was also a challenge to find enough face masks to serve the local need of agricultural, she said.

Despite the coronavirus, agricultural work had to continue, said Mohamed.

“This hit right at the end of the produce harvest and just as we were starting to harvest corn, then came onions and melons,” she said. “Plus the feedlots and forage crops are year-round.”

Going forward, Mohamed said she is hopeful there might be additional help with other personal protective equipment, like hand sanitizers and sanitizers for farm equipment.

Water Studies Open House Keeps Career Pipeline Flowing

In an economy altered by the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater industry essential employees remain in demand. To help people explore their career options, the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies program will hold its annual Open House and Student Orientation at distance via Zoom on Tuesday, August 11, at 6 p.m.

Cuyamaca College’s Water & Wastewater Technology program is the oldest and most comprehensive program of its kind in the California Community Colleges system. Photo: CWEA Open House

Water Studies Open House Keeps Career Pipeline Flowing

In an economy altered by the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater industry essential employees remain in demand. To help people explore their career options, the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies program will hold its annual Open House and Student Orientation at distance via Zoom on Tuesday, August 11, at 6 p.m.

Vanessa Murrell, grant manager for the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, says anyone interested in exploring this career field is invited to participate and learn what makes it such an attractive choice.

“Careers in water are generally recession-proof with accessible career advancements and opportunities in addition to competitive salary and benefits,” said Murrell. “We anticipate more openings over the next few years as water remains a necessary resource for survival and sanitation.”

Murrell says the Open House offers an overview of the program, the degrees and certificates offered, the variety of courses available, details on required California state certifications, and the range of careers available in the water and wastewater industry. Participants will meet professors and current students and can ask questions.

To register for the Open House, send an email to or and you will receive a link to the Zoom site.

Career growth and meaningful jobs

Participants will meet professors and current students, and get the opportunity to ask questions. Photo: Michael Barder, CVESD via Twitter Open House

Participants will meet professors and current students and get the opportunity to ask questions. Photo: Michael Barder, CVESD via Twitter

A career in the growing water industry presents an opportunity to earn money while protecting the environment and servicing the community in an essential role. The ability to provide clean, safe drinking water is a complex endeavor and is getting more complex as time goes on.

Skilled water professionals are in high demand as the current workforce ages. Water and wastewater agencies employ more than 60,000 workers statewide, including 5,000 in San Diego County, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Water Research Foundation anticipates one-third of the utilities workforce will retire over the next decade.

In San Diego County, wastewater treatment and system operators earn an average annual wage of more than $66,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Program partnerships with local water agencies

Cuyamaca College's innovative Field Operations Skills Yard is newly updated to provide students with practical challenges they will face in today’s complex water and wastewater facilities when they are able to return to campus. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Cuyamaca College’s innovative Field Operations Skills Yard is newly updated to provide students with practical challenges they will face working with water and wastewater industry facilities. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Established in 1960, Cuyamaca College’s Water & Wastewater Technology program is the oldest and most comprehensive program of its kind in the California Community Colleges system, educating the state’s water utility workforce for more than a half a century. Its innovative Field Operations Skills Yard is newly updated, and, when students are able to return to campus, will provide students with practical challenges they will face in today’s complex water and wastewater facilities. Currently, fall courses will take place online.

The college works closely with local water agencies. Members of the Cuyamaca College Water & Wastewater Technology Program Industry Advisory Committee include the San Diego County Water Authority, City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, Helix Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the City of Escondido Utilities Department, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, and other agencies.

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

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.

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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, San Diego County Water Authority

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, 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.