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Water Authority Board Honors Retiring Otay Water District GM Mark Watton

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday honored Otay Water District General Manager Mark Watton for 37 years of public service in the water industry.

The Board issued a proclamation congratulating Watton on “his long and distinguished service to San Diego County upon his upcoming retirement from the Otay Water District” and commended him “for a lifetime of service that has improved the quality of life in our region.”

After 15 years leading the water agency that serves Southeastern San Diego County, and nearly four decades representing the water interests of the county and state, Watton plans to retire in late March. He first served on the Water Authority’s Board of Directors in 1985 and was Board Chair from 1995 through 1996.

Water Authority Board Honors Retiring Otay Water District GM Mark Watton

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday honored Otay Water District General Manager Mark Watton for 37 years of public service in the water industry.

The Board issued a proclamation congratulating Watton on “his long and distinguished service to San Diego County upon his upcoming retirement from the Otay Water District” and commended him “for a lifetime of service that has improved the quality of life in our region.”

After 15 years leading the water agency that serves Southeastern San Diego County, and nearly four decades representing the water interests of the county and state, Watton plans to retire in late March. He first served on the Water Authority’s Board of Directors in 1985 and was Board Chair from 1995 through 1996.

“A wonderful career” — Mark Watton

Watton’s water industry career began in 1983, when he was elected to Otay’s Board of Directors. He served in that role for 18 years. Watton was then hired as Otay general manager in 2004.He currently manages the district’s $106 million annual operating budget and 138 employees.

“I’m completely satisfied. It’s been a wonderful career,” said soon-to-retire General Manager Mark Watton. “It’s so gratifying to retire in this industry, knowing there is a new generation coming in, like our new general manager, to continue doing a great job.”

Watton was referring to Otay’s Assistant Chief of Water Operations, Jose Martinez, a U.S. Navy veteran, who was recently hired to be Otay’s new general manager.

Watton also was instrumental in securing high-priority Colorado River water for San Diego County through the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

“Mark was a key player in diversifying the region’s water supply by securing highly reliable supplies from the Colorado River that will continue to benefit our region for decades,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “If we had a hall of fame for water pioneers in the San Diego region, Mark Watton would definitely be a member.”

Innovative leadership

The Otay Water District provides water, recycled water, and sewer service to approximately 224,000 customers within roughly 125 square miles of southeastern San Diego County, including the communities of Chula Vista, Jamul, Spring Valley, Rancho San Diego, and unincorporated areas of El Cajon and La Mesa, as well as Otay Mesa along the international border with Mexico.

Under Watton’s leadership, Otay has enlisted the use of drones to modernize preliminary inspections of the district’s 40 potable water reservoirs, four recycled water reservoirs, 20 pump stations, and a recycled water treatment plant. Drone technology saves employee time, improves the safety of workers performing inspections, and ultimately delivers greater value to Otay’s customers.

Watton has also presided over Otay’s deployment of its state-of-the-art leak detection and repair program that has reduced water loss 43% over seven years. In 2018, a 3.3% reduction in water loss saved Otay customers $1.3 million, helping to keep rates low.

“Mark has made a significant impact locally for Otay’s service area, but also regionally and statewide,” said Otay Board President Gary Croucher. “He is a thought leader and his dedication to the water industry in our region is unmatched.”

Prudent financial manager

Watton’s leadership has maintained Otay’s AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s for more than a decade. While many public agencies struggle to keep up with their pension obligations, Watton’s prudent management of Otay’s finances made it possible to fully fund the District’s Other Post-Employment Benefit plan and substantially fund its pension plan in upcoming years.

An innovator throughout his career, he identified an opportunity for a binational solution to Otay’s continued need to diversify its water supplies. On May 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State granted Otay a presidential permit to build a nearly four-mile potable water cross-border pipeline and associated facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border for the importation of desalinated seawater produced in Mexico. Although obtaining the presidential permit was a milestone accomplishment, Otay’s part of the project is no longer moving forward.

Jose Martinez-General Manager-Otay Water District-AB 1588

Jose Martinez Appointed General Manager of the Otay Water District

The Otay Water District Board of Directors February 6 voted unanimously to appoint Assistant Chief of Water Operations Jose Martinez as the new general manager of the District. The Board announced they will negotiate contract terms and vote on those terms at the March 11 Board meeting.

“Jose will be an asset to the District for many reasons,” said Board President Gary Croucher. “His experience as a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Navy and managing water utility and operations at the District, combined with his leadership on legislative bill AB 1588, will contribute to guiding and leading the District on its already strong path of providing exceptional service to our customers; he will also bring new and innovative ideas to continue enhancing operational practices.”

Jose Martinez - General Manager - Otay Water District - February 2020

Jose Martinez was appointed the new General Manager of the Otay Water District on February 6. Photo: Otay Water District

Jose Martinez: 18 years of progressive management and leadership experience

Martinez has more than 18 years of progressive management and leadership experience in private and public organizations within highly regulated utility industries. He also has managed multimillion-dollar engineering and construction projects for water and wastewater facilities and has a strong administrative and financial management project background. Martinez managed and designed construction projects for SAIC, Incorporated for five years, from 2007 to 2012, prior to working at the District.

Under the direction of Otay’s chief of water operations and the general manager, Martinez served as the assistant chief of water operations since 2014, planning, directing and managing the activities and operations of the department, which includes utility and fleet maintenance and operations of water, wastewater, reclamation, and recycled systems.

“I’m honored to serve as the District’s general manager,” said Martinez. “The District sets an example as a water and wastewater agency, providing outstanding service to its customers. I am proud to lead the organization and take pride in continuing to move us forward, working with our talented employees to achieve the District’s values of integrity, excellence and innovation.”

Martinez brings United States Navy experience to new post

Martinez previously served two years as the District’s utility service manager.

“This is an exciting time for Otay and the water industry,” said General Manager Mark Watton. “Jose’s role at the District will work well with the regional workforce planning and development that is needed in the water industry to replace a wave of retirements and at the same time, positions the District to carry on advancing Otay and the Board’s mission of serving its customers and managing the District’s resources transparently with fiscal responsibility.”

As a military veteran, Martinez also brings his United States Navy experience to the District. He served as a Nuclear Submarine Officer, managing preventive and corrective operations and maintenance of complex systems, including water quality and water treatment. Martinez has a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering with a focus in nuclear energy conversion from the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a minor degree in Spanish.

The Otay Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority recently collaborated to sponsor legislation to increase water and wastewater industry jobs for military veterans. The bill, AB 1588, introduced by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Adam Gray of Merced, was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on October 11, 2019.

Mark Watton, Who Helped Pioneer Historic Pact To Protect Region’s Water Supply, To Retire

Longtime Otay Water District General Manager Mark Watton, regarded as one of the architects of the historic water-transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, will retire next year.

Watton, who has represented the water interests of Otay, the county and the state for more than 30 years, said he intends to step down in late February.

“Looking back on my career, I’m fully satisfied,” he said.

Chula Vista fifth graders enjoy their first visit to the new Hydro Station educational facility. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New Educational Hydro Station Project Opens in Chula Vista

The first Hydro Station in California opened August 15 in Chula Vista.

The interactive educational space is a joint partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The Hydro Station, at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, features learning exhibits and hands-on activities to introduce fifth grade students to the ecological cycle of water, water conservation, water quality, and careers in the water industry.

More than 4,000 students are expected to visit the Hydro Station annually.

Making the world ‘a better place’

“The Hydro Station introduces our students to the world of work in the water industry and inspires them at an early age to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics,” said CVESD Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo. “With this station, we expose students to careers that can change the trajectory of entire families, opening the door to high-wage careers that our students might not have thought were possible.

“The students also explore ways to make the world a better place through clean water, and water conservation,” added Escobedo.

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New generation encouraged to consider careers as water industry professionals

More than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. One-third of these industry professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years.

“It’s an opportunity for a new generation to join us in our mission to deliver safe and reliable water to hundreds and thousands of people in communities that rely on us as water professionals,” said Tish Berge, Sweetwater Authority general manager.

As part of the Hydro Station experience, students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. They will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options. Hands-on activities will also help them make connections to specific careers.

Hydro Station mission is about education and conservation

“I have served many years in the water industry, which has allowed me to experience the evolving industry climate firsthand,” said Mark Watton, Otay Water District general manager. “The high level of retirements, new technologies, and increased demand for safe drinking water all contribute to the availability of good, stable careers and employment.”

“We want to make sure that a rewarding career in the water and wastewater industry is within reach for as many local students as possible who are vocational or college bound, and the Hydro Station helps us do that,” he added.

Visitors to the new Hydro Station's grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Visitors to the new Hydro Station’s grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Hydro Station’s location is ideal to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.