The Emerging Leaders series represents a cross-section of water management professionals: industrial waste inspection, process optimization and training, pollution prevention, laboratory management, collection systems, biosolids, teaching and knowledge sharing, and waste-to-energy. You can see all of the featured leaders in the Spring/Summer issue of the Wastewater Professional.
Meet Diane Gilbert Jones, Acting Environmental Affairs Officer of the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation.
Diane Gilbert Jones enjoys talking to people and it’s a good thing, because she’s almost always out of the office meeting with citizens, local schools, neighborhood groups, regulators, and legislators, championing the beneficial reuse of biosolids in the Los Angeles area.
“I like people,” says Jones. “I like to engage the public and answer questions and concerns.”
There’s been plenty of discussion about the city’s nationally certified biosolids management program at Green Acres Farm in Kern County, and the innovative deep well injection of biosolids at the Terminal Island Renewable Energy (TIRE) project. Green Acres Farm has been in litigation since 1999, and Jones has been the point person in providing technical information to the courts, as well as the state legislature. Her efforts helped defeat proposed legislation that would have essentially ended land application of biosolids in California.
Her approach is pro-active and fact-based. “We want to make sure the people concerned about our programs get the information they need so they can make decisions based on what’s actually happening, not on politics” she says.
Jones is a Louisiana native, and was educated at Southern University in Baton Rouge. She joined the Los Angeles Sanitation staff 28 years ago as a sanitary engineering assistant.
Did she ever think she’d be in such a leadership role on biosolids management? “No, I did not!” she says. It started with a construction liaison position that led to reviewing new and proposed regulations that might impact the agency’s operations. Later, she took classes in communications, outreach and public speaking.
She credits others with mentoring her and allowing her to run with the public outreach program. “My management has been very supportive,” she says. “They allowed me to be creative.
“When I started, we were only producing reports,” she continues. Today, under her influence, the outreach program includes a website, broadcast interviews, work with neighborhood councils and award-winning videos and fact-sheets.
As a spokesperson, she knows her stuff. She’s been instrumental in permitting and implementing the TIRE project, which uses deep earth temperatures to digest biosolids and ultimately produce methane gas as a renewable energy source. She’s also active in researching co-digestion of biosolids and food wastes as another renewable energy resource. Being named an Emerging Leader stunned her.
“I was shocked,” she says. “I read the award letter twice. I am honored that I was even considered. People don’t appreciate what we do until there is a problem,” she adds. “It’s important that the public become aware that there are people like us working hard to help protect public health and the environment.”