Board members with local water agencies — often politicians or politically connected people — don’t always bring a lot of relevant expertise to the job. They generally meet no more than a few times a month, basically to bless staff recommendations. They do not have demanding positions. Against this backdrop, the recent 6-1 vote by members of the Sweetwater Authority board to give themselves access to heavily subsidized health insurance for their dependents is a pathetic and cynical act. The authority, which serves 190,000 people in National City, Bonita and parts of Chula Vista, approved significant rate hikes last year despite public criticism of compensation practices that provide authority workers with average salary and benefits of $176,000.
Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District have forged a new partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District to introduce fifth grade students to opportunities and issues in the water and wastewater industry – including compelling career options.
The “Hydro Station” program is designed to address a significant shortage of skilled workers entering these career fields. Water agencies are facing a wave of retirements by Baby Boomer employees and a lack of skilled workers ready to replace them. Professionals surveyed for Water & Wastes Digest’s 2018 State of the Industry Report cited workforce development as one of the most important issues for 2019. Utilities nationwide are developing new ways of reaching students to encourage their participation in the industry.
Locally, more than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. The Chula Vista-based Sweetwater Authority, for example, anticipates a staffing crunch on the horizon. In the next five years, 50 percent of the agency’s workforce will be eligible for retirement.
Agencies restructuring educational outreach programs for 2019
While Sweetwater and Otay have conducted educational outreach programs since the 1990s, both agencies have experienced cutbacks due to budget constraints and navigated changes in science education standards.
Valuing the importance of education and working with local students, the two agencies are restructuring their educational outreach programs and focusing on partnerships with schools and community groups to reinvent and modernize the programs. The program design fits in with recent recommendations from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program on renewing the water workforce and creating a broader pool of prospective workers.
“We are super excited about our partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and Otay Water District in service to children and their families in our service area,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This program is the first of its kind in our region, and we look forward to making an impact by educating our youth about the wide variety of careers that we have to offer in the water industry.”
Program launches in Spring 2019 with 5,000 fifth grade students
The initial “Hydro Station” pilot program will launch in Spring 2019 with approximately 5,000 fifth grade students from the Chula Vista Elementary School District participating in the program annually.
Students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. Students will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options, and hands-on activities will help them make connections to specific careers.
The new Hydro Station is at the Sweetwater Authority’s Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility – an ideal location 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.
The program is funded in part by a grant from the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust. Funds from the trust cover production and distribution costs of educational materials, including field trip journals students will use during their experience at the Hydro Station.
At the December 12, Sweetwater Authority (Authority) Governing Board meeting, Steve Casteneda and Hector Martinez were sworn into their four-year terms as Directors. At the same meeting, the Authority;s Governing Board appointed Casteneda as Board Chair and Jose Preciado as Vice Chair for 2019-2020 term.
Chula Vista, Calif. – The SweeetwaterAuthority authorized new water rates and charges at a public hearing on August 20. Authority customers will see an increase in their water bill for the first time since 2015.
“The budget and rate study process supports the Authority’s commitment to transparency and delivers on its mission to provide safe and reliable water to its valued customers,” said Governing Board Chair Teresa “Terry” Thomas. “The creation and adoption of the Authority’s rate stabilization fund will minimize future rate increases for our customers.”
Chula Vista, Calif. – Sweetwater Authority (Authority) received the District Transparency Certificate of Excellence by the Special District Leadership Foundation (SDLF) in recognition of its outstanding efforts to promote transparency and good governance. The certificate was presented to the Governing Board at its August 8 meeting.
“This award is a testament to Sweetwater Authority’s commitment to open government,” said Teresa “Terry” Thomas, Governing Board Chair. “The entire district staff is to be commended for their contributions that empower the public with information and facilitate engagement and overnight.”
Chula Vista, Calif. – Sweetwater Authority (Authority) presented a $5,000 award check to the City of Chula Vista Office of Sustainability at its July 25 Board meeting as part of the Authority’s Water Efficiency Education Program (WEEP) grant program.
The grant award will assist the City of Chula Vista relaunch its NatureScape Program. Originally implemented in 2006, the goal of the program is to create “Certified Wildlife Habitats” in yards by using a certification process from the National Wildlife Federation.
Chula Vista, Calif. – At its June 13 meeting, the Sweetwater Authority Governing Board adopted its preliminary budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year and accepted and filed a Five-Year Water Rate study. Over the next five years, the Authority will invest $72 million in water quality improvements, a new 36-inch transmission main pipeline, and necessary safety work to the Sweetwater and Loveland Dams.
Sweetwater Authority presented a $5,000 award check to the Living Coast Discovery Center at its June 13 board meeting as part of the Authority’s Water Efficiency Education Program (WEEP) grant program. The grant helped fund three events highlighting both organizations’ mutual goal of educating the public about water conservation.
Chula Vista, Calif. – Local high school students will be honored for their winning photos at the Sweetwater Authority Governing Board meeting on May 9. More than 40 students from the Authority’s service area entered the annual water photo contest, which included a short essay about why water is an essential resource.
Chula Vista, Calif. – On May 2, the Sweetwater Authority’s Governing Board kicked off the start of the agency’s first project of its five-year capital improvement plan with a commemorative pipe-signing at its Board meeting.