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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sam Pacheco is one of 15 Helix Water District employees who are military veterans. Photo: Water Authority Veterans Day

Veterans Day Salute to San Diego Water Industry Vets

Many of the San Diego region’s 4,500 water and wastewater workers are military veterans. The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies are recognizing those veteran water industry professionals this week in honor of Veterans Day.

One of those water industry employees with a military background is Sam Pacheco, a field service representative with the Helix Water District. Pacheco served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. He ended his career at MCAS Miramar in Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting, as an on-base firefighter. Along with Veterans Day, Pacheco is celebrating the 245th birthday of the Marine Corps (November 10).

Public service

“When I got to serve in the military, I got to serve the folks of this country,” said Pacheco. “Now that I work for the Helix Water District, I do the same thing, serving the people of the community. It’s as gratifying. When I think about serving the public on a different level, I still get to do it now for Helix.”

Helix Water District has 15 military veterans on its staff. Board President Mark Gracyk served as an enlisted engineer in the U.S. Army, and Division 1 Director Dan McMillan served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a company commander in the California National Guard.

Water and wastewater careers draw on military experience

Veteran Sam Pacheco said he gets a second opportunity to serve his community in his job with the Helix Water District. Photo: Water Authority

Veteran Sam Pacheco said he gets a second opportunity to serve his community in his job with the Helix Water District. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

When Pacheco retired from the Marine Corps in 2011, he worked in the heating and air conditioning industry.

“I started working at Lake Jennings part-time,” said Pacheco. “A meter reader job became available and I thought, “‘I like exercise, I like being outside all day, that sounds like a job for me.”’

He became a full-time employee in March 2018.

Military to civilian employment

Pacheco said it is common for veterans to struggle to find civilian employment and it was true for him.

“This was the biggest transition going from the military to civilian employment, finding someone just as professional as the military,” he said. “Helix runs a very professional outfit. The caliber of people at the District, the work tempo, the expectations, the standards expected. I couldn’t have gotten luckier. It’s a big blessing for me.”

Pacheco appreciates the organization and high standards for water industry employees.

“When you come from something like the Marine Corps for 20 years, you are used to having all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” he said. “The way Helix takes care of business and runs the district, for me I don’t ever have to worry ‘has someone taken care of this or thought about it?’ I’m really impressed.”

Credit for military experience

The San Diego County Water Authority has co-sponsored state legislation in recent years to create and expedite career pathways and encourage veterans to consider careers within the water industry after serving their country. An effort by the Water Authority and its member agencies helped pass legislation that gives credit to veterans for their military experience when transitioning to the water and wastewater industry.

Signed into law in 2019, Assembly Bill 1588 requires the State of California recognize the experience and education veterans acquire while they are in the military for its operator certification program for water and wastewater treatment plants and water distribution systems.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District's Pump/Motor Technician Dominic "Bruno" Brunozzi has been named the California Water Environment Association's (CWEA) "Mechanical Technician of the Year: for the third time. Photo: Water Authority Dominic Brunozzi

Olivenhain Employee Dominic Brunozzi is Mechanical Technician of the Year

For the third time in five years, Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Pump/Motor Technician Dominic “Bruno” Brunozzi has been named the California Water Environment Association’s “Mechanical Technician of the Year.”

Brunozzi was recognized for his dedication to public service and mechanical expertise. He also received the same designation at the local level earlier this year from CWEA’s San Diego Section.

“We are thrilled that Bruno has been recognized as Mechanical Technician of the Year for the third time in five years,” said OMWD Board Vice President Bob Topolovac. “He is not only committed to maintaining equipment essential to providing vital services for our ratepayers, he also sets an example for employees by training operators on the safe use of equipment.”

“I am honored to be recognized by my peers,” said Brunozzi. “It reinforces the view that the water industry is family and that hard work does not go unnoticed.”

Sharing safety knowledge key to Brunozzi’s success

Among Brunozzi’s key on-the-job responsibilities is training OMWD operators on safe equipment use.

“I approach each day with a sense of responsibility that everybody should return to their families safe and sound,”  he said. “If an employee is unfamiliar with the proper operation of a piece of equipment, they or someone else can be harmed.”

Brunozzi sees his approach to sharing knowledge and continuous learning as his secrets to professional success.

“Do your best and be honest about it. If you are unsure about something, stop and find someone who has more experience in the subject, then be sure to pass on your knowledge.

“Also, continue to learn. This can be accomplished in many ways; take a class at a local college, watch a video about your industry or perhaps cross train in a different department, you never know what the future may have in store for you.”

Military experience offers transferable career skills to water industry

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer. Photo: Water Authority

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Dominic Brunozzi credits a 21-year active duty career of service in the United States Navy for his attention to detail and the ability to multitask. He retired in 2007 as a Chief Petty Officer.

“My rate (job description) was Engineman,” said Brunozzi. “I worked on auxiliary equipment onboard combatant vessels: pumps, motors, generators, air conditioners, sewage systems, water purification systems, and their supporting equipment. Navy vessels need to produce drinking water from the ocean, so they use a variety of processes such as distillation and reverse osmosis, then treat the water for human consumption.

“I cannot stress enough how the water industry is a good match for military members looking for a career after the military. The water industry is a close-knit family similar to the military. Their military training provides added skills to the water industry such as maturity, work ethic, and leadership,” he said.

In addition to Brunozzi’s award, OMWD received third-place recognition statewide and from the San Diego Section in the “Community Engagement & Outreach Program of the Year” category. Outreach efforts include engagement with legislators and regulatory officials, classroom visits, presentations to community groups, newsletters, social media posts, community events, and tours of OMWD’s 4S Ranch Water Reclamation Facility. OMWD serves approximately 14% of its overall demand from recycled water.

Founded in 1927, the CWEA is a not-for-profit association of 9,000-plus professionals in the wastewater industry. The association trains and certifies wastewater professionals disseminates technical information, and promotes sound policies to benefit society through protection and enhancement of the water environment.

San Diego Water Works Website Offers One-Stop Shop for Water Industry Jobs

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have launched a new website – SanDiegoWaterWorks.org – that provides the first comprehensive posting of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location.

As the San Diego economy begins recovering from recession, the site features expanded job opportunities and regularly updated information about internships and training opportunities – a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in a new career or a new role in the water industry.

New Law Will Help Veterans Get Jobs In The Water Industry

Have you heard of AB 1588? Here’s how it could impact the hundreds of thousands of veterans in our city.

Water Authority Bill Aims To Boost Water Industry Jobs For Veterans

A new bill in the California Legislature would provide a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry. Assembly Bill 1588 was introduced February 22 by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Central Valley Assemblymember Adam Gray. The bill, which may be heard in committee this month, is co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District in hopes of helping the state’s industry replace a wave of retiring Baby Boomers.

A bill in the California state Legislature aims to boost jobs for vets to help meet the needs of the aging water industry workforce. Photo; Water Authority

Water Authority Bill Aims to Boost Water Industry Jobs for Veterans

July 10, 2019 update: Assembly Bill 1588 passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on a 6-0 vote July 9 and will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12.

May 29, 2019 update: Assembly Bill 1588 passed the state Assembly on a 78-0 vote on May 23 and is now under consideration by the state Senate.

A new bill in the California Legislature would provide a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.

Assembly Bill 1588 was introduced February 22 by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Central Valley Assemblymember Adam Gray. The bill, which may be heard in committee this month, is co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District in hopes of helping the state’s industry replace a wave of retiring Baby Boomers.

Several states help veterans navigate the civilian water system operator certification process and allow veterans to apply equivalency standards to credit military experiences toward state or industry certifications in water and wastewater treatment and distribution. However, no similar pathway exists in California.

‘Silver tsunami’

“The goal is to help veterans transitioning into civilian occupations, especially in the water and wastewater industry,” said Glenn Farrel, government relations manager for the Water Authority. “At a time with the water industry is facing a ‘silver tsunami’ – with thousands of workers expected to retire in coming years – veterans are returning to the civilian workforce with skills to benefit the industry and fill those jobs.”

Water and wastewater treatment is an essential industry and with an aging infrastructure and workforce. There are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators in California.

Challenges for water industry

Replacement of critical infrastructure components, while maintaining service to customers, is one of the greatest challenges in the water-wastewater industry today. In addition, the high pace of retirements, new technologies and increased demand for safe drinking water contribute to the pressure on the industry to augment the workforce.

“If veterans could more quickly move through the civilian certification process, the California water industry would have a much larger pool of highly skilled, motivated, and talented people eager to continue their public service careers,” Farrel said.