Ask Public Works Utilities Division staff members how they got their start in the water industry and, more often than not, the answer is that they were encouraged by someone they knew.
“It’s definitely word of mouth,” said Public Works Assistant Director Troy DePriest, who started his career in water at the urging of his neighbor.
For plant manager Jesse Bartlett-May, it was the “family business.” For Kyle Dalton, plant operator, it was his girlfriend’s dad and brother who got him interested in exploring the field.
The Utilities Division oversees the storage, treatment, and distribution of about 3 billion gallons of water a year – and staff is dedicated to protecting the public health through a safe water supply.
At the city’s water treatment plant, staff oversee the safety of the city’s water system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through rigorous testing and monitoring from water source to water distribution.
If the water treatment plant can be likened to the heart of Poway’s water system, the water treatment plant operators are the heartbeat. There are 9 plant operators who cover three shifts a day. Their job requires not only operator certifications and continuing education requirements, but also a keen awareness to be able to distinguish when something needs attention.
“If everything is going to plan, most of their job should be monitoring plant processes,” said Jesse. “However, they need to be trained/ready to shift into action when emergencies arise.”
A certification program is offered at the community college level and the San Diego County Water Authority offers an internship program in which interns are placed with member water agencies for four eight-week rotations to learn more about the field of water, while showcasing their skills, talents, and knowledge to potential employers.
In addition to plant operators, the City’s water system is supported by three mechanics who take care of the equipment, including the distribution system, pumps, reservoirs, sewer lifts. And two technicians who work on the electronic and instrumentation side. The City’s water system includes 294 miles of transmission and distribution pipelines, 5,044 water valves, 21 pressure reducing stations and 14 pump stations (designed to raise water to higher elevations), 19 reservoirs (including Lake Poway, which holds approximately 1 billion gallons of water).
Michael DeVenere supervises the utilities system side of the plant. He said he likes the challenge and diversity of his work and brings a “let’s see what we can do,” attitude from his prior career, which included managing the mechanical division for a large water authority.
And while a career in water is a great way to make a good living without a traditional college degree, it isn’t for everyone.
“Water never sleeps,” Troy said. “This is a 24/7 job. Name the holiday, it’s been interrupted. You need to be willing to respond to emergencies.”
Jesse summed it up: “It’s about public safety.”