Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT Team members go through the decontamination process as part of a recent training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT Team Ready to Respond

To protect its employees, members of the public, and the environment from any accidental chemical releases or exposure, the Vallecitos Water District has established its own internal Hazardous Materials Response Team or HAZMAT team. Maintaining its own internal team allows a 24-hour response capability.

Common hazardous chemicals play vital roles in the water and wastewater industry for disinfection and odor control. They are also used in fueling and maintaining agency vehicles, generators, pumps, and motors.

A HAZMAT team is an organized group of professionals who receive special training to handle hazardous materials or dangerous goods. A HAZMAT team responds to oil, chemical and other liquid spills, industrial and military explosions and accidents during transportation, and similar incidents.

Decontamination equipment is ready to treat HAZMAT team personnel following exposure to toxic chemicals. Photo: Vallecitos Water DIstrict

Decontamination equipment is ready to treat HAZMAT team personnel following exposure to toxic chemicals. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team consists of 20 members from different departments. They complete U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training, which provides a set of guidelines regulating hazardous water waste operations and emergency services in the U.S.

When an emergency call requires HAZMAT team response, individual members move from their regular job assignments to the HAZMAT Response Trailer. The team then mobilizes to the site of the emergency.

HAZMAT team protects people and the environment

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members conduct a debriefing after a training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members conduct a debriefing after a training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“It’s a great honor just knowing we’re here to protect people in the surrounding areas, to protect the environment, and to know we’re here to jump into action in case there’s an issue,” said Matthew Wiese, senior plant operator at the Meadowlark Treatment Facility. “We’ve trained and we’ve gone through scenarios. Being able to act with confidence, it’s a great thing to be a part of that team.”

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members wear specialized personal protective equipment and clothing to make safe entries into potentially hazardous areas. If a leak or spill of chemicals occurs, the HAZMAT team uses specialized tools and equipment to identify, and stop the release and spread of any contamination as quickly as safely possible.

Team members conduct monthly drills on common scenarios.

“If there was a release of chlorine gas which we use to conduct our wastewater treatment activities, we have specialized equipment and materials to lock down those cylinders so we can stop the release,” said Trisha Woolslayer, risk management supervisor. “We practice on a regular basis so we react quickly if an accidental release were to occur.”

Watch video of a recent training exercise.

Following each exercise, all team members hold a debriefing to discuss their observations, and how procedures might be improved.

Woolslayer said swifter response times and cost savings offset the investment in training and equipment by the District.

“It allows us to respond quickly, to stop whatever spill it is and protect the environment,” she said. “There are also cost savings. We spend on training and equipment, but it is a small amount compared to having a response contractor on call.”

The California Water Environment Association of San Diego recognized Vallecitos Water District wastewater treatment plant supervisor Dawn McDougle as its 2018 Supervisor of the Year. Photo: Courtesy VWD

Vallecitos Supervisor Honored for 28 Years of Environmental Protection

From her first day on the job at Vallecitos Water District in 1988, Dawn McDougle knew that she wanted to finish her career at the San Marcos-based water agency.

Her dedication, innovation, and commitment to the community have paid off in many ways over the decades. In January, they brought McDougle to the forefront of the region’s water industry when the California Water Environment Association of San Diego recognized her as Supervisor of the Year for her career of excellence, safety and protecting the environment.

McDougle started at Vallecitos as an industrial waste technician at a time when few women performed this work. She advanced her career by taking classes and earning certifications – and she helped others by mentoring and coaching them along the way. In 2002, McDougle was promoted to wastewater treatment plant supervisor.

Career Accomplishments Benefit the Community

Over the past 16 years, McDougle played a major role in the operation and management of the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility – recognized in 2009 with an Award of Excellence from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“It’s been an awesome road with the Vallecitos Water District, and I am always going to be grateful to say I spent my career here and achieved all the goals I wanted to achieve,” said MdDougle.

McDougle’s tenure at Meadowlark included the recent completion of a $30 million expansion to an important part of Vallecitos’ water supply program that reduces demand on imported water supplies for northern San Diego County. The facility produces recycled water for golf courses at La Costa and the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, several school sites, Legoland and the Carlsbad Flower Fields.

McDougle masterminded the use of new process units that extended the useful life of the Meadowlark plant well beyond 2030. With many constraints along the way, she kept the existing plant operating while constructing a new plant and meeting the plant expansion output goal of 5 million gallons per day.

McDougle’s staff at Meadowlark praise her extensive knowledge, her leadership, and her generosity in passing on her knowledge to others. “Dawn gave me an opportunity … She’s been great, she shows me what I have to do in order to be a successful operator. She’s top notch in this industry,” said Fernando Mata, Plant Operator.

The Meadowlark facility is visited frequently by students and ratepayers, because it provides an excellent opportunity to see how wastewater is converted to a valuable resource. Vallecitos developed successful outreach programs with McDougle’s guidance, including the California Water Environment Association “Wake up to Wastewater” tour, and the district’s award-winning Water Academy tour.

During the Water Academy tour, McDougle highlights how the district plays an integral role in protecting the environment through water reuse. It showcases an industry leader, who has spent her career making sure the district’s facilities live up to their promise.