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College Scholarships Offered for Water Industry Education

Multiple California water associations and water agencies in San Diego County are offering college scholarships to help candidates achieve their goals.

A large number of recent retirements combined with the need for a skilled workforce up to date on new technologies have resulted in a critical need to increase the talent pool of skilled individuals in the water and wastewater industry, including in San Diego County.

Scholarships are available for community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and graduate-level programs.

Vallecitos Supervisor Retires After Three Decades of Service

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. McDougle accomplished her goal, officially retiring on December 23, 2021.

McDougle’s dedication, innovation, and commitment to the community have paid off in many ways over three decades, including recognition in 1993 as the California Water Education Association of San Diego Laboratory Person of the Year, and again by CWEA in 2018 as the Supervisor of the Year. But McDougle’s impressive career needed a kickstart from fate.

Vallecitos Water District Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Dawn McDougle announced her retirement at the end of 2021 after a three decade career. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Supervisor Retires After Three Decades of Service

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. McDougle accomplished her goal, officially retiring on December 23, 2021.

McDougle’s dedication, innovation, and commitment to the community have paid off in many ways over three decades, including recognition in 1993 as the California Water Education Association of San Diego Laboratory Person of the Year, and again by CWEA in 2018 as the Supervisor of the Year. But McDougle’s impressive career needed a kickstart from fate.

Lifelong learning is one of Dawn McDougle's keys to career success. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Lifelong learning is one of Dawn McDougle’s keys to career success. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

McDougle interviewed at the City of Escondido for a meter reader position but didn’t get the position.

“The city called me later and asked if I would be interested in a part-time position as a laboratory technician assistant,” she said. “Of course, I said yes. When I went to the interview at the wastewater treatment plant, I found it very interesting and wanted to know more. I got the job and from there I learned as much as I could from the biologists and chemists.”

From her first job as an Industrial Waste Technician, McDougle was promoted to Laboratory Director. After two years working at the Encina Wastewater Authority, McDougle returned to Vallecitos Water District and was promoted to Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor in 2000, where she remained until retiring at the end of 2021.

Multiple accomplishments benefit the community

At the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility, McDougle played a major role in the $30 million expansion and upgrade of the facility, extending its lifespan beyond 2030. The facility produces recycled water for golf courses at La Costa and the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, several school sites, and Legoland California. McDougle kept the existing plant operating while implementing innovations allowing it to increase capacity while at the same time reducing chemical and energy costs. The facility successfully reached its output goal of five million gallons per day.

Women did not often pursue water and wastewater careers when Dawn McDougle was originally hired. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Women did not often pursue water and wastewater careers when Dawn McDougle was originally hired. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

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. McDougle says she knew from the first day she arrived she wanted to finish her career at Vallecitos.

Lifelong learning key to career success

Lifelong learning is one of Dawn McDougle's keys to career success. Photo: Vallecitos Water District Vallecitos Supervisor Retires

Lifelong learning is one of Dawn McDougle’s keys to career success. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“Looking back, the most surprising thing about my career that stands out the most is how our people provided so much support,” said McDougle. “I was always in awe of the great people in this industry. Outsiders don’t understand what goes into keeping operations all moving while keeping the environment protected. They [staff] are always on call no matter when: evenings, weekends, and holidays.”

McDougle said her goal as a supervisor was to share information, but also to learn from her staff as well.

She says her best career advice for others pursuing water and wastewater industry careers is to pursue ongoing education.“Work hard and achieve the highest certifications you can. Listen and learn. There is so much knowledge to be passed down. And keep an open mind.”

Dawn McDougle frequently led tours of the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility for visitors. Photo: Vallecitos Water District Vallecitos Supervisor Retires

Dawn McDougle frequently led tours of the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility for visitors. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

McDougle admits to “pinching myself on how fortunate I am to have been part of this career field, and advance.” Now, McDougle says she plans to spend time with family, travel, play golf and paddleboard, and take up new hobbies.

“As much as I enjoyed my career and being responsible for the facility the last 22 years, it is time for relaxation,” said McDougle.

McDougle said her goal was to transfer all her knowledge to the Meadowlark staff, “not only for them but for the district. It’s my responsibility.”

McDougle’s legacy is a career spent making sure the Vallecitos Water District’s facilities live up to their promise to the community.

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Vallecitos Employee Encourages Veterans to Work in Water Industry

Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump and Motor Technician Dale Austin is a strong advocate and one-person recruiting program, encouraging military veterans to consider water and wastewater industry careers. As an eighth-generation military veteran with 20 years of service, he successfully transitioned to his current profession and wants to help others do the same.

“Every job in the military can be transferred into a water agency,” said Austin. “I’m a proud veteran. I will support veterans 110% any way I can, any time of the day.

Vallecitos Water District-water industry careers-veterans-jobs

Vallecitos Employee Encourages Veterans to Work in Water Industry

Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump and Motor Technician Dale Austin is a strong advocate and one-person recruiting program, encouraging military veterans to consider water and wastewater industry careers. As an eighth-generation military veteran with 20 years of service, he successfully transitioned to his current profession and wants to help others do the same.

“Every job in the military can be transferred into a water agency,” said Austin. “I’m a proud veteran. I will support veterans 110% any way I can, any time of the day.

“One of the things I can tell a veteran preparing for a job or seeking a job within this field is be prepared. Prepare yourself. You’re always training for a deployment or another duty assignment. This job is no different.”

Half of all water and wastewater industry employees are expected to retire in the next 15 years. Many of those workers hold essential positions. The value of these essential workers became especially clear due to the pandemic.

Retirement wave creates career opportunities for veterans

In just the next five years, about 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open across the San Diego region. In addition to engineers and plant operators, the industry relies on technicians, accountants, electricians, mechanics, information technology specialists, and many other occupations.

Austin encourages veterans to explore their options through opportunities available for education and training, such as the certificate and degree programs at Cuyamaca College and Palomar College.

“Seek out volunteer programs. Seek out tours. Call a water agency. There are programs there. Take full advantage of those,” said Austin. “Go to job fairs. Read job postings, even if you don’t know what kind of job you may qualify for.”

Water and wastewater industry jobs allow veterans to continue serving their community by providing safe, sanitary water and ensuring public health and safety. Careers are stable with good salaries and benefits. Water and wastewater professionals serve in communities and agencies of all sizes.

“I want to do the best for the ratepayers. I really take pride in that.  I think the military instilled that in me. It’s a team environment here. It’s like a military coalition. I love working with my team. I believe the military helped me achieve that,” said Austin.

Vets receive credit for military experience and education

Skills acquired from military service translate well to water and wastewater industry jobs. Photo: Vallecitos Water District Encourages Veterans

Skills acquired from military service translate well to water and wastewater industry jobs. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

San Diego area veterans can learn about career opportunities at a dedicated web portal for veterans, SanDiegoWaterWorks.org.  New laws in California supported by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer credit for military education and experience when applying for industry jobs.

Austin especially encourages women veterans to consider water industry careers. “I work with great women leaders here [Vallecitos Water District]. Your career choices are endless. You’re focused on doing well. As a veteran, you have a hand up,” said Austin.

Austin said his 11 years working at the Vallecitos Water District feels like working in a military environment in positive ways.

“We take care of each other. Everyone helps everyone else. I love the sense of accomplishment and the sense of satisfaction of doing a job well,” said Austin. “A lot of our jobs are unrecognized by the public. You turn your tap on, you flush your toilet. Everything works. I get a sense of satisfaction with my group knowing we did a job well.”

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Women in Water Symposium

The fourth annual Women in Water Symposium in March will be online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously hosted at Cuyamaca College, symposium sessions will be each Thursday starting March 2. This year’s conference theme is “Flow With The Change.”

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Matthew Carriveau, Otay Water District

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. Matthew Carriveau, Otay Water District Customer Pump Mechanic I, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

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.

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 a tradition

“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.

Faces of the Water Industry Highlights Water Pros, Career Opportunities

The San Diego County Water Authority, in partnership with its member agencies, has launched “Faces of the Water Industry,” a social media outreach campaign highlighting the diversity of people and careers in the region’s water and wastewater industry.

The Water Authority is featuring photos and videos from 20 employees representing nine water agencies across the region, including the Water Authority.