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Landmark Agreement on Santa Margarita River Project Signed By Federal Judge

Fallbrook, Calif. – A lawsuit filed in 1951 has finally been settled as of April 29, 2019. After 68 long years of litigation, planning and brainstorming, the Fallbrook Public Utility District and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton jointly hailed the end of the lawsuit at a district board meeting May 20.

The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in April. This is a landmark agreement that finally, officially, settles how the two will share their water rights to the river.

 

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.”

 

Selling the land to a conservancy ensures the popular Sandia Creek hiking trails will remain preserved and open to the public forever. Photo: FPUD Fallbrook Hiking Destination

Popular Fallbrook Hiking Destination Preserved by FPUD Deal

Fallbrook, Calif. – The parking lot at the Sandia Creek trailhead was supposed to be 150 feet under water, if everything had gone as planned.

The land was supposed to be flooded and turned into a dam. That would have made for some beautiful lakefront property in Fallbrook.

But things didn’t quite turn out as planned back in the 1960s when Fallbrook Public Utility District purchased 1,384 acres of rural property there.

The intent was to dam the Santa Margarita River and share the water with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

But many things got in the way of that plan. War happened. Leadership faces changed. There was lack of urgency and funding. Legal issues over water rights ensued. And environmental interests began to grow with the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Since that time, the property has remained untouched and more than 18 miles of hiking trails have developed. Those trails have become a cornerstone in Fallbrook, attracting up to 80,000 hikers and horseback riders each year.

Earlier this year, FPUD agreed to sell the land to Wildlands Conservancy for $10 million. The two entities are currently in escrow.

Why sell to a conservancy, not a developer for more money?

Assemblymember Marie Waldron presented the district’s board of directors with a certificate of recognition for successfully preserving the land. She also presented the Wildlands Conservancy and the Fallbrook Trails council with certificates. Photo: FPUD

Assemblymember Marie Waldron presented the district’s board of directors with a certificate of recognition for successfully preserving the land. She also presented the Wildlands Conservancy and the Fallbrook Trails council with certificates. Photo: FPUD

Selling the land to a conservancy ensures the popular Fallbrook hiking destination will remain preserved and open to the public forever, something the FPUD board of directors insisted upon before agreeing to sell the land. Thanks to a carefully crafted sales and legal agreement, the land can never be turned into a housing development or anything other than the trails.

“We all worked so hard on this for so long and we are so happy and proud these trails will remain open indefinitely,” said Al Gebhart, FPUD board president.

This money, along with construction of the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project, will help mitigate long-term water costs. The Conjunctive Use Project is a local water project 66 years in the making. Once built, it will provide about a third of FPUD’s water.

Having local water will help stabilize the cost of water for customers. The local water will be less expensive than buying imported water, which travels over 400 miles to get to Fallbrook, and continues to rise in cost each year. Currently, FPUD buys 100 percent imported water. Over time, the project will provide rate relief to FPUD customers.

Staying in charge of the hiking trails

The all-volunteer Fallbrook Trails Council has been maintaining the hiking trails for the past 20 years and will continue to maintain and oversee them once escrow closes. FPUD and Wildlands expect escrow to close by the end of the year.

Wildlands will have a dedicated full-time staff person. Zach Kantor-Anaya will be the manager of the trails preserve. Wildlands Conservancy maintains California’s largest nonprofit preserve system, emphasizing education and recreational use of conservation land.

 

Jack Bebee was named the new general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utility District after a decade of serving the district. Photo: Courtesy FPUD

Jack Bebee Officially Named General Manager for Fallbrook Public Utility District

Fallbrook, Calif. – After a nationwide search with a pool of 54 candidates, the Fallbrook Public Utility District has a new general manager at the helm. Jack Bebee has been the district’s acting general manager for months. Prior to that, he served as the district’s chief engineer and assistant general manager.

Bebee was selected by the board of directors in March but remained in the “acting general manager” role until his contract was approved at the Aug. 27 board meeting.

He replaces Brian Brady who retired in January after seven years with the district.

Bebee, 42, is a civil engineer with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Washington and Lee University. He also holds two master’s degrees: one in civil engineering from University of Illinois and another in business administration from Cal State University San Marcos.

Beebe instrumental in innovative FPUD projects

He has been with the district 10 years and came to FPUD from the private sector. He was hired as a consulting engineer working for Malcolm Pirnie (now Arcadis), an environmental engineering company with a primary focus in water and wastewater, where he managed large-facility treatment projects.

Bebee was the lead in the job to begin the state-of-the-art process of using ultraviolet light to disinfect the water in Red Mountain Reservoir, the district’s 440-million-gallon reservoir.

This innovative project was the first of its kind in California. Using UV light to disinfect the open, treated-water reservoir meant FPUD could forego more expensive options: either placing a cover on the reservoir or building new covered storage facilities.

Bebee’s expertise quickly caught the attention of FPUD management and he was hired soon after completing the job.

Since then, that project has received state awards and Bebee has been instrumental in a number of other projects for the district.

Engineering experience and strong community commitment

“We knew we needed someone with strong engineering experience and an equally strong commitment to the community,” said Board President Al Gebhart. “Jack is very intelligent, incredibly dedicated and works hard until the job is done – and done well.”

Other projects he has lead include the installation of solar panels at the water reclamation plant on Alturas Road, a massive overhaul and upgrade of the plant in 2015, and most recently the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use joint project with Camp Pendleton which will allow FPUD to use local water.

“Jack was a key player in this project and reaching a landmark decision resolving 66 years of legal battles,” Gebhart said.

The conjunctive use project will capture locally available water that currently flows through the Santa Margarita River and into the ocean. The project creates a local water supply that will reduce FPUD’s dependence on expensive imported water. It is expected to produce about 30 percent of the district’s water and is anticipated to be online in 2020.

Bebee lives in Bonsall with his wife, Candace.

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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.

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Jack Bebee Officially Selected as General Manager for Fallbrook Public Utility District

Fallbrook, Calif. – After a nationwide search with a pool of 54 candidates, the Fallbrook Public Utility District has a new general manager at the helm. Jack Bebee has been the district’s acting general manager for months. Prior to that, he served as the district’s chief engineer and assistant general manager.

Bebee was selected by the board of directors in March but remained in the “acting general manager” role until his contract was approved at the Aug. 27 board meeting.

He replaces Brian Brady who retired in January after seven years with the district.

Bebee, 42, is a civil engineer with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Washington and Lee University. He also holds two master’s degrees: one in civil engineering from University of Illinois and another in business administration from Cal. State University San Marcos.

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FPUD Now Accepting Applications for Paid High School Summer Internship

Fallbrook, Calif. – Students at Fallbrook High, Oasis High, or Ivy High schools can now apply online for a paid summer internship program at Fallbrook Public Utility District. The internship is available to any student enrolled in one of those schools as a junior or senior for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.