About this series:  Each month CWEA is interviewing innovative thinkers and leaders in the water profession. We’re asking each person “The future of the water profession is …”

Howard Brewen
Water Resource Recovery Facility Superintendent
Public Utilities
City of San Luis Obispo

Howard Brewen took the road less traveled to his position as superintendent of the Water Resource Recovery Facility for the City of San Luis Obispo.  Raised on his family’s ranch in north San Luis Obispo County, he followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, obtaining his trainer’s license, issued by the California Horse Racing Board, at the young age of sixteen.  He was accepted to UC Davis, achieving a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science. 

To pay for his schooling, Howard put his trainer’s license to good use:  he purchased a seasoned race horse that had fallen by the wayside, rehabilitated him, and raced him each summer on the state’s fair circuit, earning enough money to pay the following year’s tuition. 

Howard built on his success on the fair circuit, expanding his racehorse stable to the major tracks in northern and southern California, eventually managing sixty horses and thirty employees.

After 20 years of big city life, Howard wanted to get back to his roots and returned to rural living in Paso Robles where he tried something completely different: a nine-month temporary position with the City of San Luis Obispo in its Wastewater Collections department. The only stipulation was that he commit to the full nine-month term.

“I found myself sitting in a wastewater collection ditch, listening to other more experienced operators talk about the challenges associated with this industry.  I realized that I had the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the public sector.  This is an important industry filled with really great people.”

Howard began keeping journals and memoirs of his work experience, saving them for the day when he would have the opportunity to help improve the methods and processes used in the industry.  At the end of his temporary contract, he was hired as a permanent full-time employee in Wastewater Collections, obtaining a Grade 3 Certification.  After two and a half years in Collections, Howard transferred to the Water Reclamation Facility (later renamed the Water Resource Recovery Facility) where he worked his way up to a Grade 5 Wastewater Treatment Operator Certification, eventually being hired as Facility Superintendent.

Howard is also a long-time CWEA volunteer serving this year on the annual conference Educational Program Team.

What do you believe is the future of the water profession?

I absolutely believe to my core that this is the most exciting time ever to be in water.  Who wouldn’t want to be a water professional?  It’s such an exciting time because a myriad of factors and information have come together, and aligned, and the public is becoming more aware of the importance of water.

We have a series of opportunities, not challenges, ahead of us.  The unique set of circumstances such as the drought, infrastructure awareness, and safe drinking water have all led to a public awareness of water that did not exist before.

But we’re moving from a time of having separate processes for water and wastewater.  There is only one water cycle and we are moving to the point of having only one water profession; one that will encompass all aspects of the water cycle.

Potable reuse is a tremendous opportunity.  That train has left the station and is gaining momentum.  It is up to those of us in water to take new innovations and technologies and understand how to adapt those to this industry in a timely manner.  We have to get beyond the traditional fifteen years it usually takes to implement ‘new’ technologies. 

The huge retirement numbers we are facing is another opportunity.  First of all, we need to find a way to retain the knowledge currently being carried around in all of these brains.  Second, we need to know what kind of person we need to hire, not for just right now, but to hire the skill set that we’re going to need for three to five years down the line.  It is important not to just hire the same as we have done in the past.

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From Coombs Hopkins:

The Coombs-Hopkins Company is pleased to announce a new addition to the CHC team, Brad Leidecker as our newest Sales Engineer. Brad will be based in the Walnut Creek, California office covering portions of the Bay Area and areas north of Sacramento.

Brad brings a breadth of consulting and public experience to the CHC team that will serve our Principals and Clients well. He has over ten years of practical and technical experience covering planning, design, construction and project management.

Brad previously served as an Associate Engineer for the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District.

CWEA Mark Pattison leaves his mark on Crestline Sanitation District

As reported in the Applehorn News – story and photo by Gail Fry

From left to right: Crestline Sanitation District President Matthew Philippe, General Manager Mark Pattison and Operations Manager Rick Dever at the Summit Valley discharge site on November 14, 2016, where they met with Skanska employees to begin delivery of recycled water for the State Highway 138 (East) Re-alignment Project. (Photo by Gail Fry)

After 37 years as an employee with the Crestline Sanitation District, general manager and CWEA member Mark Pattison announced his retirement effective March 31. Pattison will be replaced by former operations manager and CWEA member Rick Dever. Dever was appointed as the new general manager at the district’s March 9 regular meeting.

In an interview with The Alpenhorn News, Pattison shared how he started his career in the wastewater field as a lab tech, where he came to know Crestline Sanitation District (CSD) employees and was eventually hired as an “operator-in-training,” He worked his way up to operator I, operator II, lead plant operator, chief plant operator, operations manager, interim general manager and then general manager.

Pattison opined changes to regulatory requirements were the biggest change he experienced at the district during his 37-year career. At one time during his long career, CSD was operated by San Bernardino County Special Districts. He recalled when employees worked all over the county.

On November 4, 2008, residents of Crestline and surrounding communities voted in favor of making CSD an independent district. They elected an advisory board consisting of Ken Stone, Sherri Fairbanks, Matthew Philippe, Mike Pate and Penny Shubnell. The district became officially independent in October 2010.

Pattison was promoted to interim-general manager on November 9, 2012, when CSD General Manager Kathy Whalen retired. Five months later, on April 11, 2013, Pattison was appointed general manager.

Three months later Rick Dever was appointed operations manager. Dever, a Crestline resident since 1974, had worked at Lake Arrowhead Community Services District for 27-years, earning the position of operations foreman.

Pattison explained one of CSD Strategic Plan’s goals was to “always put the agency in a position where there was someone else who could step in and do the job” and so Pattison took Dever under his wing.

Accomplishments during Pattison’s term as general manager include replacing two pumps and generators at its Forest Shade Pump Station in August 2013, protecting Lake Gregory from potential sewage spills, negotiating and finalizing an agreement with its newly formed employee union at a May 27, 2014, special meeting, televising and inspecting 70 miles of sewer pipeline, cleaned 11,000 feet and slip-lined 5,315 linear feet and rehabilitated six manholes by December 2014, upgraded its billing system in mid-2014, implementing a five year rate increase after six years “to improve its infrastructure at its October 5, 2014, meeting, evaluating its outfall line in late 2015, filing its ongoing lawsuit against the City of Hesperia to protect its right to continue discharging effluent on the Las Flores Ranch in Summit Valley on February 25, 2016, passing a random audit conducted by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control board mid-2016, completing its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, receiving approval from the State Water Resources Control Board to sell its recycled water late 2016, and contracting to sell its recycled water to Skanska for its State Highway 138 (East Re-alignment Project).

Pattison credited Dever with improving the district’s safety program, lowering the district’s workman’s comp insurance rates, accountant/bookkeeper Dawn Grantham with upgrading its billing system and electro-mechanical specialist Jordan Dietz with working on a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) (wireless) system for the district.

Dever is confident he can lead the district into the future based on its supportive board and great staff. His first goal is completing a master plan taking the district “20 years into the future.”

“We were comfortable promoting Rick and I really enjoyed working with Mark, he was a very competent manager,” CSD Director Penny Shubnell voiced.

“Rick is just as capable as Mark,” Shubnell opined, explaining she has “full faith” in Dever that he will “take it to higher limits” and thinks “the whole board would agree with me.”

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) have released the first set of no-cost materials to help members communicate about the value and importance of water. The materials are designed to complement and work in collaboration with the national Value of Water Campaign messaging and resources.

As two of the founding partners of the Value of Water Campaign, WEF and AWWA are working together to provide supplementary tools and resources to further support WEF Member Associations, AWWA Sections, and utilities in your efforts to educate and inform consumers, public officials, decision-makers, and stakeholders about the value of water, water and wastewater services, and the need for infrastructure investment.

This staggered rollout begins with a series of U.S. infographics, with three more expected later this month. Additional materials will be added to the toolkit and released through June, including a communications plan to assist with implementing these materials according to your specific needs and target audiences.

The materials are available for download at www.wef.org/value-of-water. Share these resources with fellow members and utilities.

Please contact Lori Harrison in WEF’s Communications Department with any questions.

National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week (NELPW) is April 23 -29th – the same week as the CWEA Annual Conference in Palm Springs!

The Water Environment Federation Laboratory Practices Committee (WEF LPC) is joining the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) in recognizing the 2017 National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week. NELPW celebrates laboratory professionals’ contributions to public health.

Download this flyer for activity and resource ideas for recognizing the value of laboratory professionals’ work and share your laboratory employees.

Feel free to come up with your own ideas too!  Take pictures, tweet (#LabWeek) and send stories or suggestions for next year’s activities to WEF (econway@wef.org) and APHL (sarah.wright@aphl.org).





CWEA member Karen Honer interviewed for article series about women who are shaping Lodi’s future, in honor of Women’s History Month.
BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL  White Slough Wastewater Treatment Plant superintendent Karen Honer poses for a picture on top of one of the digesters in Lodi.

BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL White Slough Wastewater Treatment Plant superintendent Karen Honer poses for a picture on top of one of the digesters in Lodi.

When Karen Honer sees trash on the side of the road she stops and picks it up. That type of cleanliness and respect for the environment is the same approach she takes when treating Lodi’s wastewater.

Honer, the superintendent at the White Slough wastewater treatment plant, has always had dreams of being an environmentalist and planned to have a career as a park ranger. However, those plans quickly changed once she was introduced to the world of wastewater.


“Everyone thinks that they’re going to go straight into whatever they think they’re going to do in life, and you never get to your goal without a lot of zigzags,” Honer said. “When I decided to be a wastewater plant operator I thought I was just totally throwing my degree away, but the more I got into the field I realized it came full circle. I needed to understand the science and math and the environment to be able to properly to do my job.”

She didn’t realize how much she’d be achieving her goals of being environmentally conscious and protecting the environment until she fully understood what wastewater treatment entailed.

Honer, a graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management, touts more that 30 years of experience in the wastewater industry.

“When I went to school, I had no clue what wastewater was and didn’t care, I planned on being a park ranger,” Honer said. “Me and Smokey the Bear were going to hang out in the cabin in the woods, and that’s how I was going to spend my life.”

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The city of Beverly Hills announced CWEA member, Shana Epstein from the city of Ventura as the new Director of Public Works. A former utilities manager for Beverly Hills, Ms. Epstein is expected to assume her new role on April 24. She replaces Public Works Director and Assistant City Manager George Chavez, who has been filling both positions for more than a year.

“I am honored to return to Beverly Hills and have this opportunity to address innovative challenges with familiar and new colleagues,” Ms. Epstein said.

The Beverly Hills Public Works Director oversees more than 200 employees who develop, construct, inspect, improve and maintain the City’s infrastructure, including traffic lights, sidewalks, street lights, roadways, urban forest and City parks. In addition, the department operates the water, solid waste, wastewater, storm water and parking enterprise operations.

“We are very fortunate to welcome Shana back to Beverly Hills,” said Beverly Hills City Manager Mahdi Aluzri. “Both in Beverly Hills and in Ventura she has proven herself to be an outstanding manager whose knowledge of public works operations and best practices will help guide our Public Works Department into the future.”

Ms. Epstein has served as Ventura’s Water General Manager since May 2011, where she oversaw the water and wastewater operations. Among her many accomplishments in Ventura, she and her staff built a potable reuse demonstration facility to gather data on advanced water purification and educate the public, provided reclaimed water for non-potable uses, wrote a Water Shortage Contingency Plan and oversaw the creation of a Water Commission. In addition, she was named as one of the top 50 Women in Business in 2016 by the Pacific Coast Business Times and Ventura was a National Mayor’s Challenge winner for 2016.

In Beverly Hills, Ms. Epstein was the City’s Environmental Utilities Manager, responsible for water, wastewater, solid waste and storm water services. Prior to Beverly Hills, Ms. Epstein served in the public utilities department for the City of Anaheim. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, San Diego.

The Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the world’s largest advanced water purification facility of its kind, has been online since January 2008. The project is a joint partnership between the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) and the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD).

On January 22-23, 2017, OCSD saw influent flows that had not been seen since 1995. OCSD experienced peak flows of up to 586 million gallons per day (mgd) coming into both of their wastewater treatment plants. As events started to unfold, OCSD staff worked tirelessly to ensure that its facilities could handle the unprecedented flows and OCWD staff worked to ensure that the GWRS would continue to run at its normal 100 mgd flow rate. This alleviated any concerns that flows would exceed their discharge capacity of the five mile outfall line and force OCSD to use its one mile outfall, which would have resulted in beach closures.

“I am very proud to be part of this organization,” said OCSD Board Chairman Greg
Sebourn. “Facing the highest flows ever seen at OCSD, we were able to keep the flow in the
pipes without any interruption in service to our customers. This was possible through the hard work and dedication of our staff, and the sound policy making, foresight and commitment of our past and current board to invest in infrastructure for the future. All of these factors came into play to allow OCSD to stay true to our mission of protecting public health and the environment, even during challenging times.”

OCWD originally planned to develop a project to replace and increase flows of its predecessor Water Factory 21, a sophisticated treatment plant that provided high-quality water for the Talbert Seawater Intrusion Barrier. Injection of freshwater into the barrier formed a ridge that kept seawater of the Pacific Ocean from contaminating the Orange County Groundwater Basin. The basin provides about 75 percent of the drinking water needs for north and central Orange County, California. Read more

We are so sad to share the news Bruce Zimmerman has passed away. Bruce was a member of CWEA and WEF for 25 years and served as Chief Operating Officer for Coomb-Hopkins, a manufacturers rep firm with a long history of serving water and wastewater utilities in California, Arizona and Utah.

Bruce was always there for CWEA members and always willing to help. He was frequently seen at CWEA events and conferences throughout the state and always willing to lend his support. We appreciate his dedication to fellow water and wastewater professionals and we will remember his legacy as someone who genuinely cared about the men and women who work on California’s water and wastewater systems. Thank you Bruce for all you’ve done! – CWEA Staff

An announcement from Coombs-Hopkins…

Our great friend Bruce Zimmerman lost his heroic battle with cancer Saturday morning. He was comforted by the love of his family, his faith in God and the comfort of knowing he was destined for a glorious place in the kingdom of heaven. It is impossible to put into words all that we are feeling by the loss of such a great person, family man and dear friend.

The response we received after sending our most recent notice of Bruce being placed into hospice has been remarkable. It is a testament to the man he was and the impact he had on so many, both in and out of the business world. He was a man who lived his faith, led by example and always conducted his personal and business dealings with honesty and integrity. A true gentleman.

We are going to miss our friend Bruce even more than we realize today. His absence leaves a void in our hearts and in our daily lives. His selfless nature and good cheer will be missed. The mold was broken and we shall never see another quite like him. God bless you dear friend. We love and miss you.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the following. These causes were very near and dear to Bruce’s heart.

Tri-City Christian School
303 North Emerald Drive
Vista, CA 92083
Please note on check “Building Fund”


North Coast Church
2405 North Santa Fe
Vista, CA 92084
Please note on check “Eleven/Twelve Mission Trips”

The following CWEA members recently became WEF Life Members. Congratulations!

  • Richard F. Luthy
  • Roger V. Stephenson
  • Adam Olivieri
  • Walter Bishop

Individuals who have been a member of WEF and one or more WEF Member Association for 35 or more consecutive years, and are at age 65 or older, are eligible to apply for WEF Life Membership. The WEF Life Membership application should be completed and sent to:

Nick Bardis
601 Wythe St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone:  (703) 684-2400 x7731
Fax: 703-684-2481

Melissa Morton

Melissa Morton

Melissa Morton graduated with dual degrees in materials science and civil engineering from the University of California, Davis and has been employed in public works for 30 years. When the Assistant Public Works Director of the City of Benicia announced she was retiring, she asked Melissa about the job. Melissa says she always looked at these types of changes as opportunities to learn and grow. She had to learn quickly as her experience in water treatment and wastewater was minimal. Melissa now operates as District Manager of the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District, which was also the result of a retirement vacancy. Now with almost three years under her belt at Vallejo, we asked Melissa what impacts the retirement wave has made on her current role and how she breathed new life into this roll at Vallejo.

How were you introduced to the water/wastewater treatment profession?

I have been working in the Public Works Field for 30 years, and had some exposure to small water and sewer districts under assessment districts at Contra Costa County.  However, I didn’t work for a full service City until Benicia in 2010.  When the Assistant Public Works Director retired a year later, the Public Works and Community Development Director asked me whether I was interested in her position.  Because I am a firm believer in the opportunity to learn new things, I was excited about the chance to work in water and sewer and jumped headlong into an effort to complete a fee study for both the water and sewer utilities, which included master plans and the associated budget modifications for both utilities.

How have retirements impacted Vallejo’s leadership and what have been the highlights and challenges of building a new leadership team?
This time next year, all of the Leadership Team (department heads) but one will be new.  Retirements have precipitated hiring a District Clerk, District Engineer, Finance Director, Director of Safety and Risk Management, and a Field Operations Superintendent.  Two others are planning retirements in the next year.  I am very fortunate to have inherited a tightly knit, hardworking team, and with each new addition to the leadership team, the entire team has been involved in assessing potential candidates.  While I make the final decision, interactions between the top two or three candidates and the rest of the team are important to assure the group continues to be high-functioning in their efforts.  All of the new department heads are very different from their predecessors, but collectively, the new qualities they bring to the table enhance the team as a whole.

What was your focus in the first few years as DM and what are your longer term goals?

In a goal setting session with our Board of Trustees in October 2014, we discussed several new programs with the Trustees and gained their support in pursuing all of these objectives.  We have a new performance evaluation system that is goal-based being implemented, and we have completed the first year of a three year asset management program that will not only define staffing levels needed for ongoing plant maintenance, but will define replacement costs and schedules for infrastructure renewal.  This important information will be incorporated into a long range financial plan, and rate study that will also establish a recommended reserve for the Trustees to consider for adoption.  We are also in the process of branding to simplify the District’s name, logo and mission to clearly define to the community, the services we provide for improved customer service and accessibility.

What advice do you have for a new executive who takes on the top leadership post at a utility?

Get to know the managers and supervisors in the organization.  Focus on their skills and their strengths, and tap into the areas where they have a passion for improving the organization.  Make changes to how your utility does business very deliberately so that the team clearly understands the expectations.  I want to be moving forward on changes or new initiatives, not backward because of unforeseen consequences.

Tell us about how you achieved the role of District Manager of Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control and what does it take to be a utility leader today?

By training and experience, I am a Civil Engineer with 30 years of experience in public works projects and programs.  That education and experience is the foundation I rely on when making decisions.  However, being a leader is not something you absorb.  I have read books, taken classes, hired an executive coach and studied people and their needs right alongside developing my technical skills.  I have worked with, and for many good managers, visionaries and leaders.  Each one has taught me positive and negative things that I have used to become the kind of leader I want to be.  There is no better feeling than knowing that you have mentored someone to success, and you learn a lot about yourself helping them achieve that success.

What would you recommend to someone entering the water/wastewater profession who wants to become a top leader?

Learn how best to coach and mentor people; make considered decisions to move your organization forward; and spend the time and energy necessary to learn to be the kind of leader you would be excited to work for.



California and Hawaii American Water have named CWEA member Richard Svindland their new president, effective March 1, 2017. Svindland replaces Robert MacLean, who has served as president of California American Water since 2009.

“We are so pleased to promote both Rob and Rich. It is well-deserved,” said Walter Lynch, chief operating officer at American Water. “I know Rich will take over where Rob left off, ensuring our customers in California and Hawaii receive the best service possible, while continuing to focus on the successful completion of the Monterey Peninsula water supply project. His deep utility experience makes him well-suited for this new role.”

Svindland has more than 25 years of experience in the water and wastewater fields, most recently serving as California American Water’s vice president of operations. Prior to that role, he led Engineering at California American Water, where he managed all of the company’s capital projects to ensure timely and cost-efficient delivery. He also developed capital planning strategies and provided an operational review of existing infrastructure to ensure California American Water’s systems met both the current and future water needs.

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