There’s hardly anything in wastewater treatment that Chris Christean hasn’t done.
“I started as a college student cleaning sludge beds as a part-time job,” he says. “The operators in Turlock convinced me to get into the industry. I picked up a couple of books and studied the profession, then joined the staff at Patterson as an operator-in-training.”
Later, he became chief plant operator at Patterson, an operator in Manteca, started up an MBR facility in Modesto as operations supervisor, and ultimately became operations supervisor, interim operations superintendent, and plant manager at Ironhouse.
This depth of experience has paid dividends for the utilities he’s served.
“He uses his wealth of experience and expertise to develop effective maintenance programs and operating strategies that protect the District’s assets, save ratepayer funds and ensure the excellent quality of the final effluent,” wrote his award nominators.
“He has a dynamic leadership style (that is) effective because it is not about (his) personal gain, but about the needs of the organization including the District’s staff, Board members and ratepayers.”
His efforts and ideas have also saved the utility money. By combining three previous positions into the plant manager’s responsibility, contracting out laboratory services, negotiating with equipment suppliers, and spearheading the construction and automation of recycled water filling stations around the district, his efforts have saved several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He’s also credited with leading his facility to numerous plant excellence and operations awards; communicating effectively with staff, board and the community, and participating in a range of CWEA and other activities;
In his own view, however, he’s proudest of developing an internship program that has successfully led to staffing three of the seven positions at Ironhouse.
“Our biggest challenge,” he says, “is finding and retaining qualified staff. But rather than just hope and pray, I started an internship program. We created our own OIT program and have trained at least six operators since 2011. Three of them are employed with us today.”
Having a staff that supports the plant’s agenda and gets behind you is important, he says. “The people you work with, that’s the biggest reward.
“We’re building a legacy as environmental stewards, so future generations have a safe water environment. Water is life.”