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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.

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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.

New California Law Creates Pathway to Water Industry Jobs for Military Veterans

Legislation co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District is intended to make it easier for military veterans to launch careers in the water industry.

After Lt. Jose Martinez retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007, he went from serving his country underwater to serving reliable, high quality water to a community. 

His experience aboard a nuclear submarine and on the management staff of Otay Water District shares a few commonalities. Both involve highly complex systems, which often operate away of the public eye, either underwater or underground. 

“People turn on the tap and out comes water,” said Martinez, General Manager for ACWA-member Otay Water District. “It seems rather simple, but it’s really complex. It’s fascinating to me.”

AB 1588 - ACWA - WNN

New California Law Creates Pathway to Water Industry Jobs for Military Veterans

Legislation co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District is intended to make it easier for military veterans to launch careers in the water industry.

After Lt. Jose Martinez retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007, he went from serving his country underwater to serving reliable, high quality water to a community. 

His experience aboard a nuclear submarine and on the management staff of Otay Water District shares a few commonalities. Both involve highly complex systems, which often operate away of the public eye, either underwater or underground. 

“People turn on the tap and out comes water,” said Martinez, General Manager for ACWA-member Otay Water District. “It seems rather simple, but it’s really complex. It’s fascinating to me.”

Water industry jobs for military vets

Martinez’s experience as a naval nuclear engineer focused on submarines’ nuclear and non-nuclear systems, including water treatment. This gave him an advantage to transition to a civilian career in water.

A bill and new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, sets the stage for making it much easier for military veterans to transition into the water industry. AB 1588, initiated by Martinez and Otay, intends to update the current water and wastewater certification system by giving military veterans credit for their experience and education that is applicable to the water industry. Essentially, veterans would not have to start at the bottom, but instead advance to testing that matches their level of experience. That way, veterans can enter the water workforce at a level that meets their paygrade.

‘Silver tsunami’ of retiring baby boomers creates opportunities

AB 1588 was introduced by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and Adam Gray (D-Merced), and co-authored by several state legislators, including Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Oceanside). The San Diego County Water Authority and Otay cosponsored the bill, with the goal of increasing the number of veterans entering the water industry to replace retiring baby boomers.

To address this challenge, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies created a regional workforce development task force to address the oncoming ‘Silver Tsunami’ of retirees. The San Diego region alone employs approximately 4,500 water and wastewater workers, with more than 1,400 of those workers expected to reach retirement age by 2024, according to the Water Authority. Statewide, there are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators, and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators. 

Jobs within the water industry often reflect military experience, and not necessarily ones directly related to water and wastewater treatment on a base or aboard a ship. Don Jones, with the Center for Water Studies at El Cajon’s Cuyamaca College, compared experience within a Combat Information Center on a warship to operating a SCADA system at a water facility, pointing out that experienced SCADA operators can be hard to find.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re opening a pump or firing a missile, the process is very similar, it’s the mechanical and electronic interface that matters. You’re electronically activating a piece of mechanical equipment,” Jones said. 

‘It’s all about serving people’

The water industry can also offer veterans a few other advantages. Shannon Cotulla served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer between 1987 and 1992. After leaving the service, he contemplated aviation engineering, but a desire to work outdoors in civil engineering led him to the water industry. Today, Cotulla is Assistant General Manager at the South Tahoe Public Utility District and former member of ACWA’s Board of Directors. 

“The work is really meaningful, it’s all about serving people and keeping our communities safe,” Cotulla said. “There’s also security in knowing that your organization has rules and standards that you can look up to and isn’t subject to the whims that you sometimes find in the private sector.”

Otay’s Martinez said that it could take a few years for the state to make the changes called for in AB 1588. Nevertheless, the process is underway and includes having a veteran with water industry experience serve on a regulatory advisory board along with water industry members. In the meantime, news about the bill’s potential for veterans is raising awareness among veterans about why careers in the water industry represent a great opportunity.

“We really want to open up this talent pool,” Martinez said. “Veterans are the right candidates to fill these jobs because of the skilled work they’ve already demonstrated in their careers and their time in the military.”

2020 Women in Water - San Diego County Water Authority - Tyrese Powell-Slotterbeck

Women In Water Conference Showcases Career Opportunities

More than 200 people explored career opportunities in the water and wastewater industry at the third annual Women in Water Symposium Thursday at Cuyamaca College.

The conference’s goal this year was to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

Speakers at the conference shared their personal experiences working in the water industry and offered tips for young professionals.

‘Rewarding and humbling’

“Knowing we’re a key contributor to public health through the provision of safe water delivery and recovery is rewarding and humbling,” said keynote speaker Shauna Lorance, director of the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department.

Lorance offered advice to people considering making water a career choice.

“The water industry is challenging and always evolving, and has amazing opportunities for growth and career diversity… from laborers and technicians, finance experts and engineers, chemists and community outreach specialists,” said Lorance. “It also has some of the best people around.”

Shauna Lorance - City of San Diego - Women in Water

Shauna Lorance, director of the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, delivers the keynote address at the 2020 Women in Water Symposium at Cuyamaca College. Photo: City of San Diego

Diane Stoltz, cross-connection program specialist at the Ramona Municipal Water District, said there are job opportunities that don’t require a degree.

“A few water classes and a state-issued certificate in water or wastewater are the starting blocks to a rewarding career in water,” said Stoltz, “Educating the public and helping them understand their role in protecting the drinking water system, is most rewarding to me.”

Stoltz credited Don Jones, Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies program coordinator, with encouraging her to work in the water industry.

2020 Women in Water - Cuyamaca College - Michael Bruder tweet

Michael Bruder, Chula Vista Elementary School District Instructional Services Coordinator, and co-founder of the Chula Vista Hydro Station, presented information about the Hydro Station at the January 16, 2020 Women in Water Symposium at Cuyamaca College.

Wide range of career choices in the water industry

Jaime Okewole, human resources analyst with the Helix Water District, said jobs in the water industry are more varied than people might imagine.

“I think the biggest misconception about working in water is that the view of opportunities available in the water industry is so narrow,” said Okewole. “When you picture water, one might initially just think construction or water treatment but not realize all of the support positions it takes to run a water agency successfully. We have jobs that span a number of different fields and talents. The commonality is that each person holds customer service as their top priority.”

2020 Women in Water Symposium - Cuyamaca College

More than 200 people attended the 2020 Women in Water Symposium January 16 at Cuyamaca College. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

For the first time, the Women in Water Symposium offered three program tracks: sessions for those interested in starting their career in water; those seeking career advancement; and established professionals interested in forming professional alliances and promoting workforce diversity.

The series of workshops wrapped up with a tour of the Water Conservation Garden.

2020 Women in Water - Otay Water District

The Otay Water District tweets about retirements expected in the water and wastewater industry during the 2020 Women in Water Symposium January 16 at Cuyamaca College.

“This industry is growing and becoming ever more important as new innovations will be needed due to climate change and fast growing cities,” said Kimberlyn Velasquez, public affairs representative with the San Diego County Water Authority. “If you ever find yourself looking to try something new down the line, the water industry has many sectors and different types of positions that you can move into throughout your career.”

Aging workforce – ‘silver tsunami’ – creates job opportunities

The Water Authority was among the water industry employers offering career information at the conference.

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies created a regional workforce development task force to address the ‘silver tsunami’ of employees reaching retirement age.

“There are approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region and more than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024,” said Gretchen Spaniol, acting special projects manager with the Water Authority. “Those retirements provide an opportunity to diversify the water industry workforce.”

Work and Training Opportunities Abound in Local Water and Wastewater Industry

The San Diego region’s water and wastewater agencies have developed several pathways to jobs in the water and wastewater industry. For more information go to: https://bit.ly/3adxBzM