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Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ron Lutge, City of Oceanside

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. Ron Lutge, City of Oceanside Chief Plant Operator, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ron Lutge

Job/Agency: City of Oceanside Chief Plant Operator

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

I became interested in the water industry in a round-about way. After leaving the military, I found it difficult to find work that was both mentally stimulating and challenging. I was looking for something that would allow me to work at an operational tempo I was used to. I definitely wasn’t looking for anything easy or slowed paced. At the time I was working at the General Electric aircraft engine overhaul facility in Ontario. Unfortunately, that industry proved to be unstable and did not offer a promising career. While searching for something new, I found Oceanside had a couple of openings for office workers. Since I had some experience working with spreadsheets and databases, I was offered a position in the water department. I figured this would keep me employed while I looked for something different. I soon discovered there were many disciplines within the water industry. I soon began researching career options in the water industry. Inspiration came from the supervisor I was working for at the time. I sat down with him and asked what were the requirements necessary to become an operator. I also received encouragement from the operators I came in contact with on a daily basis. That’s all it took. After that, I hit the ground running and have never looked back. The water profession is honorable, rewarding, and has offered me everything I have been looking for in a career – just like the military – another opportunity to continue being of service to others. And isn’t that what we as water professionals are here for – to be of service?

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

My personal day-to-day routine hasn’t really changed; I’m always busy. However, given the current health crisis we are all in, it has made me keenly aware of just how important it is to ensure our team is being taken care of, staying safe and healthy, and doing everything we can to ensure our facility stays operational to provide water to the residents of Oceanside without interruption. Because we operate our facility 24 hours a day, coupled with having a very small staff, we cannot work from home or implement rotating or staggered shifts. Everyone has to be ready, prepared, and available to work.

How are you keeping safe?

By following the guidance recommended by health officials to limit exposure in public, at work and home: social distancing, face coverings, sanitizing, washing hands, etc. By practicing these simple protocols we keep each other safe and minimize ourselves or others getting sick.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

A return to some semblance of normalcy – whatever that may be.

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: Erick Del Bosque, Sweetwater 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. Sweetwater Authority Engineering Manager Erick Del Bosque is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Escondido Employee Named California Laboratory Person of the Year

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.”

 

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.

“Not only has Mark made a significant impact locally for Otay’s service area, but also regionally and statewide,” said Otay Board President Gary Croucher. “He is an influential thought leader in the water industry and his commitment to 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 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.”