Process optimization at the Hayward Water Pollution Control Facility is as much training and morale building as it is improving operations.

That’s thanks to Jeff Carson, Operations and Maintenance Manager at the plant, which is 130 percent energy positive and winner of EPA’s Green Power Award.

“He’s the CIP and project coordinator for process optimization,” wrote Gayle Tupper, in the Emerging Leader nomination form. “He solicits staff input, researches the project, and collaborates with managers and engineers for ongoing improvements. As a coach, he focuses on learning and improvement of plant processes and performance.”

Jeff has a BA in biology and environmental studies from Cal State University-Hayward, and came to Hayward from the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, where he was interim general manager.

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Nick Steffen Head Shot

Nick Steffen, Operations Superintendent, City of Los Angeles

Nick Steffen’s passions for wastewater treatment and teaching others can be traced to his youth in Torrance, California. An avid surfer, he became sick after one of his rides on ocean waves polluted by stormwater runoff, leading to his interest in water quality. His parents were school teachers; hence, his zeal for mentoring others on his wastewater team.

Both qualities were high on the list in Steffen’s nomination as an Emerging Leader. “Beyond his ability and role as an effective operator and supervisor, what truly makes Nick an emerging leader is his passion for the industry and sharing his knowledge with others,” wrote his supervisor James Langley at the City of Simi Valley. “I’ve seen him continually inspire and motivate his coworkers, make a positive impact on plant operations, and volunteer his time to help others in the industry.”

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Vince De Lange, Wastewater Engineering Manager, East Bay Municipal Utility District

Vince De Lange, Wastewater Engineering
Manager, East Bay
Municipal Utility District

“My educational background was exactly in line with what I’m doing in my career—which is rewarding,” De Lange says. He proudly adds, “I bleed brown!”

An authority on waste to energy projects who uses strong technical skills, risk-based decision making, and excellent communication skills to implement capital improvement projects. That describes Vince De Lange, Wastewater Engineering Manager at the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

In nominating him, colleague Heidi Oriol noted, “Vince has implemented a new risk assessment approach to effectively discuss risks as part of any significant decision making, evaluate potential mitigation alternatives, and communicate risks to executive management and the EBMUD Board of Directors.

“He is skilled at speaking in a manner that causes others to pause and really listen, and has the ability to motivate staff to face challenges with enthusiasm and energy.”

De Lange received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil/environmental engineering from UC Berkeley. In his 16 years at EBMUD, he’s worked as a process engineer, a planning supervisor, and moved into his current position two years ago. Read more

Anne Fairchild, Water Quality Laboratory Manager, City of San Luis Obispo

Anne Fairchild, Water Quality Laboratory
Manager, City of San Luis Obispo

Like scattered seeds that take hold and blossom, Anne Fairchild’s laboratory internship program has trained several generations of water quality specialists, and has inspired the development of internship programs throughout the industry. Water quality laboratory manager for the City of San Luis Obispo, Fairchild started the internships to help fill staffing gaps in her department.

Today, more than 150 laboratory professionals around the state owe their start to her program, which requires that interns spend 20 hours a week for a minimum of 6 months at no pay, learning both the technical side of the laboratory as well as soft skills and culture. It’s an investment of time and effort that pays off. “If you stay with us for a year,” Fairchild says, “you’ll have a 30-year payout.”

Fairchild grew up in the Bay area and graduated from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in biology. She worked in the lab as a master’s degree student, then joined the SLO staff in 1993, becoming lab manager in 2006. The press of new regulations and a shortage of staff sparked the internship strategy. “There were just two of us, working around the clock,” she recalls. “We were sinking under all the new rules.” Read more

Industrial waste inspectors may not be the most popular people with local businesses. And then there’s Jason Finn, Waste Inspector II with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. “We are the face of the Districts to many of our dischargers,” he says. “We try to be authoritative, but in a symbiotic kind of way. We have the ability to fine but I’d rather not go that route.” Rather, he says, it’s trying to get people to come around and see the reason for the regulations. Finn hails from Kern County and after a degree in medical microbiology from Cal State Long Beach, he joined LACSD in 2002 as a lab technician. In 2011 he took the opportunity to become part of the industrial waste inspection staff. “It seemed interesting,” he says, “and it was an opportunity to apply my laboratory skills to a different field.”

Jason Finn, center with his staff from LACSD

Jason Finn, center with his co-workers at LACSD

LACSD encompasses business and industry all the way from Long Beach to Santa Clarita. “We have the highest number of EPA categorical facilities of any district in the country,” Finn says.

Finn enjoys that variety in accounts, and the opportunities to help industries comply. “Some of our facilities have both a daily maximum limit discharge and a monthly average that is significantly lower. ›They’ll be taking one sample a month and failing the monthly average, so we’ve educated quite a few on the need to take more than one sample.”

Finn might work with a small facility to come up with a plan of action for color, pH, or biological oxygen demand (BOD). Or explain the environmental impact of rinse water at a plating shop. Or help a facility conserve water. “I try to let my facilities know what the EPA is planning, or what other facilities are trying to do— without giving away any proprietary information,” Finn says. “I try to be helpful.”

He’s helpful inside the staff, as well, according to Kent McIntosh, a senior inspector. “On his own initiative, Jason took it upon himself to update and rewrite, if necessary, some written procedures that all 28 inspectors use daily in their own work. ›This work has proved especially invaluable for newly hired inspectors, who rely most heavily upon these written procedures and policies,” McIntosh wrote on the nomination form. “He helped the Los Angeles Basin Section (of CWEA) start its Technical Certification Program test review, now held annually in August. His success is due to his initiative and leadership. When he sees a problem he tries to solve it.”

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.

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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.
Diane Gilbert Jones - Acting Environmental Affairs Officer for the City of Los Angeles Sanitation

Diane Gilbert Jones – Acting Environmental Affairs Officer for the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation

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.”

Know a great water leader?  Tell us about them

This series about SoCal collection system leaders is sponsored by Plumbers Depot.



Peter Martinez, City of Oxnard

Peter Martinez, City of Oxnard

Peter Martinez
Wastewater Collection Supervisor
City of Oxnard
Certifications: CWEA CSM Grade 3

“I believe effort and attitude are important. At the end of the day I want to be able to say I gave 100% to my community – that’s going to help you get ahead. Get certified, get an education. Cities everywhere these days are expecting you to have a degree and your certifications.”

How did you get to where you are today?

I started off at Port Hueneme as a part-time wastewater trainee when I was 18 years old. I made about $6 dollars an hour and was part-time, I worked about 12 hours a week. It was a smaller city so I did a lot of different jobs and learned a little about everything. That’s when I received my first Grade 1 certification.

A few years later, an opportunity presented itself at the City of Oxnard and they hired me, I had just turned 21. Shortly after that I received my grade 2 and then 3. Someone then retired and I was promoted to a Senior Collection System Operator and about 3 years later I was promoted to Supervisor.

In 2000 I went to school to get my Associates degree in Water Science from Ventura College. We’re so lucky to have this great water program here. Now that my kids are older I’ve gone back to school and getting my bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Cal Lutheran University.

 How did you advance to supervisor so quickly?

It was quick – it was all just hard work. I was really fortunate when I joined the City of Oxnard to be paired up with a mentor who had a great work ethic. I picked up on that. I believe it’s good to do your best at work and outside of work. I see it as trying to stay one step ahead of other folks. Give yourself that extra advantage any chance you get.

I’m always looking for that edge – what are other people doing and how can you stay ahead. That edge will mean you’re ready when the opportunity for a job promotion comes up. I’m not one who wants to sit back and wait for the opportunity to come to me.

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This series about SoCal collection system leaders is sponsored by Plumbers Depot.




Robert Swartz, PE

Robert Swartz, PE

Robert Swartz, P.E.
Senior Civil Engineer
Sewer Maintenance Division
Consolidated Sewer Maintenance District
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works

“As a wastewater engineer this career is good for engineers who don’t want to sit behind a desk all day. Get involved, learn the processes, build relationships, collect experience, and get your hands dirty.”

What are your responsibilities?

I oversee 4,600 miles of collections system sewers with a staff of about 120 employees. That includes engineering and administrative staff, plus four regional sewer maintenance superintendents. Engineering staff supports our Condition Assessment and Capital Outlay program for repairs and rehabilitation. Administrative supports regulatory compliance and reporting.

My responsibilities encompass many factors such as facility maintenance; fixed asset management; budgets; performance evaluation; personnel issues; material requisition; planning; claims; safety; training; research; investigations; quality control; customer service; communications; software programs; emergency response; etc.

Our team members really operate as a jack of all trades so we’re all involved in various aspects of District operations with individual responsibilities overlapping.  It truly is a team effort.

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