Emerging Leaders: Melody LaBella, Associate Engineer, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District

Melody LaBella, P.E.
Associate Engineer
Central Contra Costa Sanitary District

In an end-of-pipe industry, Associate Engineer Melody LaBella focuses on the front end. As the pollution prevention program coordinator at Central San, she’s becoming a state, regional, even national expert on how to keep pollutants out of the waste stream, as well as water reuse.

“Instead of thinking about how we can spend more money on treatment, we need to concentrate on controlling pollution at its source,” she says.

After graduating from Penn State with a degree in environmental engineering, and moving to California, she began at the permit counter at Central San, then moved to the utility’s capital projects group and ultimately landed in Central San’s Engineering Planning group, where she’s worked on pollution prevention and recycled water projects. Since then, she has developed a passion for pollution prevention, and has presented at numerous Pretreatment, Pollution Prevention and Stormwater (P3S) and CWEA Annual Conferences, as well as at Water Environment Federation conferences, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) conferences, and at other regional groups such as BAYWORK.

“Melody’s key strength is as a strategic thinker,” said CWEA Board member Gayle Tupper in nominating her for an Emerging Leader award. “She sees that the end point of wastewater treatment is no longer just compliance with discharge regulations and environmental protection, but increasingly focuses on the people who will re-use the water, and the associated need to enlarge our vision to the whole water cycle.

“Her passion for her work is contagious,” Tupper continued, “which shows in repeated requests for her to showcase her work at conferences. She’s a true star in our professional associations.”

LaBella is devoted to keeping flushable wipes, pharmaceuticals and other “trash” out of the wastewater treatment system, and leads regional efforts to reduce pesticides, dental amalgam (mercury) and copper at its source. She champions water reuse, because as she says, “we’ve taken too much “cheap” water out of our waterways, and decimated our native fish populations in California.”

While she’s worked on many recycled water projects and programs, Central San’s residential fill station has been the biggest hit with the public. “It’s an awesome idea,” she says. “We’ve put fill stations behind our household hazardous waste facility. People drive up and can get 300 gallons per trip free of charge to use for hand watering their lawns, gardens, and landscaping.”

Last summer, she says, as many as 500 people a day used the facility in response to the state’s mandatory conservation rules. “People just love the program and what recycled water does for their lawns and gardens.”

Plus, the program connects people with reuse. It’s the same reason she invests so much time on presentations. “Giving presentations is a key,” she says. “It’s a great way to make connections, and get people on the pollution prevention bandwagon. We can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. Water is too valuable to use just once!”

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Alec Mackie

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