During the coronavirus crisis, water utilities around the world have undergone a deep transformation to continue guaranteeing water service to the population. For this to be possible, remote control of processes and infrastructures, teleworking or social distancing measures have made digitalization an essential tool to maintain the quality of service. These are the four lessons learned in the water sector after its response to the crisis.
City of Escondido Water Quality Lab Associate Chemist Oyuna Jenkins has been named “Laboratory Person of the Year” by the California Water Environment Association for 2019-20.
Supervising Chemist Ralph Ginese nominated Jenkins for the award, calling her “an incredible asset” during her seven years working at the lab. “The lab technically could not function without Oyuna,” wrote Ginese.
“This is really teamwork,” said Oyuna Jenkins of her recognition. “I have to give credit to everyone in the lab. We work really hard. Whoever you call a hero, there are always people behind them.
“It’s all about public health. I feel like it’s making a difference, providing accurate information to the public as possible. It’s all coordination between distribution, collection, public works, and everyone involved.”
Escondido lab helps ensure safe, reliable water supply
Jenkins plays a key role in the lab’s safety processes, which ensures a safe, reliable water supply for City of Escondido customers. She runs metal analyses on drinking water, industrial waste, and every step of the wastewater treatment process. Jenkins also peforms required monthly and quarterly testing and cross-trains colleagues on testing procedures. In addition, she is the laboratory’s liaison to contract labs.
“She’s very analytical,” said Ginese. “She’s someone we can go to, brainstorm, and work together. She is not afraid when people question her data. She is secure in what she does.”
Escondido lab plays leadership role in advanced water quality testing
From Mongolia to Escondido
A native of Mongolia, Oyuna Jenkins earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, which is among the top 15% of all programs worldwide. She immigrated to the United States in 1998. Jenkins continues to pursue advanced training. She first obtained CWEA certification in 2012 and completed the Water and Wastewater Certification program at Palomar College in 2016.
“Oyuna has worked tremendously hard to be where she is at today,” wrote Ginese in his award nomination. “She is grateful for the opportunity this country gives her and she shares that gratitude with those around her … She is what every supervisor/manager is looking for in a Laboratory Person of the Year Award.”
Escondido Water Quality Lab leads the way
Jenkins helped develop strategies to implement new techniques and processes supporting the implementation of strict new accreditation standards for California’s 600 certified water quality testing labs.
As reported earlier this year on Water News Network, the City of Escondido Water Quality Lab successfully adopted the anticipated regulations in advance of their formal implementation. Jenkins reviewed and wrote many of the lab’s new Standard Operating Procedures now being used. She also assisted in developing the facility’s annual goals, along with its new mission and value statements.
The ambitious approach to Environmental Lab Accreditation Program compliance under the more stringent quality control processes places Escondido in a leadership role as one of only two California labs already compliant with the new regulations.
More than a month into the coronavirus crisis in California, water pros continue to work around the clock to deliver essential services to San Diego County residents.
From the Fallbrook Public Utilities District south to the Sweetwater Authority and east to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, essential employees at the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies continue to maintain vital water systems and perform emergency repairs so customers have the water they depend on during this time.
“At a time when workforces are being challenged and stretched, the Fallbrook Public Utility District is fully operational,” said Jack Bebee, Fallbrook PUD general manager. “During this outbreak, many employees are working remotely answering phones and questions. Other essential employees are in the field as necessary, practicing social distancing and wearing masks. They are responding to leaks and other critical operations.”
Water and wastewater industry employees are among the essential critical infrastructure workers exempt from the California’s stay home order that directs all state residents to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are running at full capacity,” said Beebe. “Calls are being answered, invoices are getting processed, our systems are being monitored remotely, and we are moving forward with essential construction projects.”
‘Rewarding knowing I can help people’
At the Sweetwater Authority, members of the Customer Service team continue to provide high-quality customer service.
“The most rewarding aspect of my work is knowing I can help people with their water needs,” said Vanessa Olivares, Sweetwater customer service representative. “It’s rewarding being able to provide great customer service by solving problems and offering solutions for customers.”
“Knowing the public depends on me to do my job is a great motivator,” said Valetin Martinez, Sweetwater instrument and control technician.
“Padre Dam staff continue to work daily to provide water and wastewater services to our customers,” said Allen Carlisle, Padre Dam CEO/general manager. “During this time of uncertainty, our customers can be sure that crews continue to operate systems, lab analysts monitor water quality daily, customer service representatives are available to assist customers, and staff continue to perform all essential functions as public servants in our community.”
As essential workers, water and wastewater system employees will continue to work to ensure safe and reliable water services. In some instances, routine maintenance projects that would require temporary water shutoffs are being delayed to ensure customers continue critically important hygiene habits such as washing their hands.
If you see water agency employees in your neighborhood feel free to wave and say thank you, but please remember to practice physical distancing.
With the world struggling through the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, vegetable growers in the Imperial Valley are continuing to harvest vegetables.
Agriculture remains an essential service to serve California, the nation and the world. The vegetable harvest is ongoing as the Imperial Valley heads toward the final weeks of the winter vegetable crops.
“We have not to this point been impacted,” said farmer Scott Howington, president of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association. Howington’s farm operation, Oasis Farming Inc., focuses on organic crops.
But Howington said for his own operation, food safety protocols already in place are even more critical in light of the coronavirus.
More precautions for Imperial Valley harvest
When it comes to agriculture, he said, the farming work that goes into the planting of crops typically does not bring workers physically close together; it is the harvesting where there could be potential issues because of the proximity of the crews. That is where additional precautions are necessary due to the coronavirus. Howington said farmers are tailoring these steps to their specific operations.
“What we are doing is making sure the equipment is sanitized several times a day, and we are making sure crews keep the recommended distance from each other,” he said. “We are trying to make sure crews stay healthy.”
However, if workers and staff are feeling sick, they’re told to stay home or are sent home if they come to work and present any signs of illness, Howington said.
Vegetable farmers navigate through coronavirus
Precautions to make sure staff are healthy are equally important in other aspects of agriculture, including at the coolers where crops are stored, he said.
“It’s an interlocked chain,” said Howington. “You break any part of it, and it will begin to be an issue.”
So far, there have been no noticeable impacts on the vegetable industry in the Imperial Valley.
With the harvesting season still underway, the need for workers — many of them from Mexico — remains high. Howington pointed out that while there are restrictions on border crossings, those restrictions have not involved people crossing to work in the agriculture industry. Under the new conditions, crews from Mexico have been able to cross with just their work permit. But in case his workers need additional proof, Howington said he’s having letters prepared from his company to provide to crews.
Imperial Valley agriculture harvest helps feed world
For now, harvesting will continue into its final weeks of the season, and all food safety protocols are continuing to be followed.
Howington reminds everyone to follow their own safety protocols as they normally should do, from washing their fruits and vegetables, to peeling away top layers of the vegetables they eat.
“Everyone has to use their best judgement,” he said of both farmers and consumers.
As the world navigates through these challenging times and faces a shortage in supplies of basic necessities, the importance of agriculture takes on even greater meaning as consumers look to grocery stores and restaurants for some certainty that food supplies will remain available.
Howington said there has been no reduction in the produce grown and harvested in the Imperial Valley in the wake of the coronavirus. He said the valley continues to provide food that feeds people around the world.
“As a community, something like this does brighten the light on the impact agriculture has to the fabric of the economy and our society,” Howington said. “We are just doing what we normally do.”