Established in 1929, CWEA’s awards program has grown to acknowledge outstanding achievement in more than 20 categories honoring exceptional California water environment professionals, collection systems, and treatment plants. Categories include Plant of the Year, Collection System of the Year, Public Education Program of the Year as well as awards of individual professionals in various vocations. The program seeks to recognize outstanding achievements within the water environment field, improve the professional status of all personnel working in the field, and stimulate public awareness of the importance of wastewater treatment to public health and the water environment.
Nominations that advance through CWEA’s 17 local sections’ awards programs are eligible to compete statewide. These state and national level awards will be presented at the 87th Annual Conference April 27-May 1 in San Diego, CA. This month, CWEA Local Sections have been awarding their local winners at events around the state.
One such winner was Connie Sanchez, a chemist with Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD), honored as the 2014 Lab Person of the Year by the San Francisco Bay Section. As a winner at the section level, Connie Sanchez will compete for the statewide CWEA Laboratory Person of the Year award. The Awards Chair for the San Francisco Bay Section of CWEA, Meg Herston, presented the award to Sanchez at the DSRSD Board of Directors meeting.
“I congratulate Ms. Sanchez for her skills, diligence, and attention to detail in the tests she conducts every day that help keep our water clean and protect public health,” says DSRSD Board President Ed Duarte.
Laboratory Supervisor Raj Gumber nominated Sanchez for Lab Person of the Year “because of her consistent achievements as a chemist. Connie is a star at quality control, which is essential to producing reliable results. During a recent audit by the state, the auditor complimented Connie on her excellent quality control. Connie also is a great trouble-shooter, and her strong work ethic and positive attitude make her a great employee.” Gumber won the same award 17 years ago as a DSRSD chemist.
After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology, Manila, in 1988, Sanchez came to the U.S. in 1991. She has worked as a chemist in commercial and public environmental laboratories for 23 years, including the past 16 years at DSRSD. In March 2014, she earned CWEA’s highest certification for laboratory analysts, Grade IV, and has been a CWEA member since 1999.
“The awards recognize the people who do the frontline work in water quality. Ms. Sanchez stood out for her years of service in the industry and her involvement with CWEA,” says Herston. With 1,600 active members, San Francisco Bay is the largest CWEA section.
The Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) environmental laboratory staff runs approximately 10,000 tests each year on samples of wastewater, drinking water, recycled water, groundwater, and biosolids. DSRSD, which serves Pleasanton and provides recycled water, is now state-certified to conduct required tests for dissolved metals in groundwater. Sanchez is responsible for analyzing the amounts of potentially toxic substances, such as metals and volatile organic chemicals, as well as conducting many other chemical and biological tests. She administers the laboratory’s database that tracks and compiles all test results. This new testing process uses an Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) instrument that can detect contaminants down to the level of a few parts per trillion. District officials said only a handful of Bay Area laboratories use the instrument for trace metals analysis.
With this new certification, the water district can analyze samples from groundwater monitoring wells around the regional wastewater treatment facility. According to officials, this will save $3,000 per year in outside laboratory expenses.
“The district has invested in ultra-sensitive analytical equipment in order to perform required monitoring as cost-effectively as possible,” said operations manager Dan Gallagher. “It takes considerable staff expertise to earn the state accreditation for the many tests we are required to do.”
The operations staff use test results to manage wastewater treatment processes and monitor the quality of potable and recycled water distributed to customers.
DSRSD acquired the ICP-MS system in 2012 and earned state certification for trace metal analysis of wastewater in 2013. The lab earned a separate certification required to test for metals in groundwater this year. The State Water Resources Control Board’s Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) has certified the water district’s lab in 54 fields of testing. In order to obtain a certification for a new test, a laboratory must develop standard operating procedures for collecting and analyzing samples and documenting results, pass performance evaluation studies for all applicable test parameters, and meet quality control requirements for accuracy and precision. ELAP re-certifies the DSRSD lab every two years.