Learn about the work and the skilled workers that keep EBMUD's water and wastewater systems flowing. Follow us on Twitter @ebmud to see our regular employee profiles.
Aunquise, Senior Customer Service Representative
A True Calling to Serve the East Bay
Try stumping Aunquise with a question about EBMUD and you’ll be hard pressed to do so. She’s mastered the art of researching tough questions and being plain “nosy” to find answers for inquiring customers.
Like a quiz show, she’s regularly peppered with a potpourri of questions, from billing issues to meter reading. She’ll often don a detective hat to investigate mysterious high bills, asking customers to take pictures of their meters and send them in so she can get a “closer” look.
Aunquise answers nearly 300 customer emails weekly and fields calls and letters, as well. With a soothing voice that can temper any caller, she’s helpful, resourceful and, above all, kind in her approach.
“I treat people as if I were on the phone with my mother, my grandmother or my aunt,” she says.
Starting at 14, she learned communication skills during an internship with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Training other interns to perform her tasks was part of her job. Zoom to now, she’s imparting trainings to classrooms of Customer Service Representatives.
“I’ve always been eager to help,” she says. “I enjoy empowering customers.”
It’s more than a coincidence; Aunquise’s line of work is a true calling. In fact, today she works in EBMUD’s office, one street away from her childhood home.
“I want to help the community that I grew up in,” she says. “Not only do I get to do it on my own time, but I get to do it while working. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Chris, Senior Environmental Health and Safety Specialist
Keeping our environment clean.
His work fits squarely into the core of EBMUD’s mission: STEWARDSHIP. Chris works every day to ensure that EBMUD is continually meeting complex permits that ensure that air quality, water quality and wastewater discharges are within requirements and protecting the environment.
He began his studies as a math major, but felt it was “too dry” and switched to environmental engineering. “I enjoy learning about EBMUD’s operations and make sure that we are reporting our regulated activities to the proper authorities,” Chris says. He reports problems should they occur and proposes practical solutions.
Though his job is quite varied, one of his key tasks is compiling and finalizing all the data that’s provided to the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The data describes what is being discharged to the San Francisco Bay by the wastewater treatment plant at the base of the Bay Bridge. “EBMUD has had 17 years of perfect compliance with effluent limits from this facility. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know my work helps protect the Bay.”
Chris believes in partnerships and education, and has set up tours with regulators to help them understand EBMUD processes such as wastewater treatment. He developed an eight-hour class on wastewater regulations to train more than 200 employees. “I do my best to make it interesting, and include current issues to make the content relevant.” He adds with a smile: “I’ve gotten feedback from attendees who say ‘it’s not that boring.’”
“I get to leave work feeling like I’m doing something that benefits people by keeping our environment clean.”
Cecil, Senior Water Distribution Operator
EBMUD employees are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that residents have safe, reliable drinking water. Cecil, a Senior Water Distribution Operator, is one of the employees who ensure that our water distribution network operates smoothly at all hours. He works in the EBMUD Operations Center to monitor and control our treated water reservoirs, pumps and pipes.
Cecil is a 27-year veteran of EBMUD, and has worked in a wide variety of positions. That experience provided him the tools to understand how the system works and how to solve problems. “We are a 24/7 team. We each have a different role, and collectively we function to keep the system operating smoothly.” Operations center staff works closely with local first responders to ensure that there is adequate pressure to fight fires, and that water main breaks and accidents (such as vehicles hitting hydrants) have minimal impact to surrounding users. “I am fortunate to be part of a team that includes a wide variety of skilled craftspeople—electricians, machinists, instrument techs, and plumbers—who work in emergency conditions to provide quality services to our residents.”
“I would highly recommend this career to any young person. There are many different opportunities and the work is really rewarding.”
Priya, Senior Civil Engineer
Planning today for water tomorrow.
She came to the U.S. at age five from India. Inspired by her father’s work at the California Department of Water Resources, she decided to come to EBMUD. “I saw that he was helping society with his work -- and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Priya started as a Junior Civil Engineer and progressed to Senior Civil Engineer, laying the foundation for important decisions about water resources for EBMUD.
It takes a team of diverse thinkers, she says, to end up with great solutions. “I love passionate debate, and believe that by inviting that type of participation, we all become more responsible for the outcome. Our whole team is very invested in this work, and in EBMUD’s success.” Their commitment to excellence and understanding of the bigger picture shows in their deliverables and the high caliber of their work products. In the wake of the Oroville Dam disaster, Priya and her team are even more focused on dam safety. They’re working with consultants on detailed assessments of EBMUD’s Pardee and Camanche dams and fulfilling legislative requirements. These include enhancing emergency preparedness with hydrologic and hydraulic analysis to update inundation maps for EBMUD’s 23 reservoirs.
The team works with other workgroups to set the framework for how EBMUD addresses water shortages and plans to meet the East Bay’s need for water into the future.
“It’s a family culture, a culture with great sense of humor. And we don’t believe in silos. When a new employee comes on board, we’re clear: it’s WE, not I. We have one mission.”
Maria and Robbin, Employee Development
Dynamic duo nurtures a culture of life-long learning.
They teach together and even end each other’s sentences – Maria and Robbin are EBMUD’s employee development dream team.
As employee development trainers, they teach critical skills – leadership, listening and problem solving— so that EBMUD’s workforce can meet our mission of providing high-quality water and wastewater services. They teach courses in emotional intelligence, crucial conversations, interview preparation and leadership to help employees fulfill their potential.
Their impact is widespread. Students apply classroom learning and it shows. Nearly 50 percent of their leadership program graduates over the last five years have succeeded in getting promoted at EBMUD.
“I just want to scream and ring a bell when I hear someone that I mentored got promoted,” says Robbin gleefully. “From the first day on the job to retirement, we follow our students’ careers.”
The pair co-facilitate courses to reach students with different learning styles -- even asking their pupils to think with a beginner’s mind.
“I love seeing our students’ faces light up,” says Maria. “My goal is to take people to the next level and open the doors to curiosity. As leaders, they’ll need to ask questions and seek more than one answer.”
A culture of life-long learning keeps EBMUD in the vanguard and improves communication between EBMUD employees and those we serve.
“The skills learned in the classroom have a ripple effect,” says Maria. “Inside the workplace and in the community,” adds Robbin.
Jeff, Assistant Wastewater Shift Supervisor
Creating the best processes through collaboration.
With the possibility of drought always around the corner, recycled water plays a role and helps shore up EBMUD’s long term water supply needs. As the Assistant Shift Supervisor in charge of recycled water, Jeff and seven operators at three facilities ensure the continuing treatment and delivery of recycled water for a diverse set of users.
Recycled water is used for irrigating city parks and commercial landscaping and in industrial processing. In Richmond alone, Jeff oversees two separate facilities: one that produces high-quality recycled water for the Chevron Refinery’s cooling towers, and another that treats water to an even higher standard necessary for the refinery’s boilers. “We’re saving millions of gallons of drinking water each day by serving treated wastewater to our single largest water user,” Jeff says. “When I tell people how much we’re saving, they’re all in on that.”
Jeff has worked for EBMUD in wastewater operations and treatment for twenty-two years, but in some ways his role as a supervisor feels like a return to his roots. His undergraduate degree from UC Davis was in Rhetoric and Communications, and he uses those skills right alongside the technical proficiencies that he has learned on the job.
“In the old days, being a supervisor was about hierarchy. But in this day and age it’s all about encouraging a collaborative team effort,” says Jeff. His background in communications helps him understand the skills and personalities of the staff of operators. He works to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard before a new plan or process is put into place. “If everybody has a say in creating a plan, then everyone will be more supportive when it’s time to implement it.”
“As a supervisor, the most important thing is to get everybody in the same room and give them an opportunity to put their two cents in.”
Javier, Senior Civil Engineer
From start to finish.
As a Senior Civil Engineer in EBMUD’s Construction Division, Javier is involved from start to finish in construction projects – from when project funds are authorized, throughout the project design phase, to administering construction contracts to ensure projects are constructed in accordance with the District’s plans and specifications. Javier supervises the staff working directly with contractors, ensuring that projects are constructed as required.
Javier brings more than three decades of experience to the role – including several years with EBMUD’s project management group in the Design Division, and prior to that in the Seismic Improvement Program. “I’m a people person, which is important in construction management because a lot of it comes down to psychology. I try to motivate people to do the right thing and bring out their strengths.”
The Construction Division recently wrapped up work on a major seismic upgrade to the Chabot Dam. “We had a great team that worked very well together, from the design team to the construction management team to the Operations help. The contractor on the job was first class and did a great job on this difficult project. This is what a model construction contract should be like.”
In addition to his work on construction projects that can take years to complete, Javier also plays a critical role in EBMUD’s emergency response. A recent example came in the aftermath of the January 2018 earthquake centered in Berkeley, when Javier supervised damage assessment staff inspecting and reporting the conditions at EBMUD facilities. “Staff responded well and got it done quickly, without a hitch.”
“EBMUD is a great place to work. I like the people here; they’re talented, smart, driven people and they make it worth coming to work every day.”
David, Engineering Manager
Safe, reliable water is a critical element of any healthy community. EBMUD carefully plans to ensure an adequate and reliable water source, now and into the future.
David is the Engineering Manager for Water Distribution Planning. In this role he ensures that EBMUD is maintaining our facilities and planning for the future. EBMUD prepares and follows a Master Planning Process that covers all key areas such as water treatment and transmission, water conservation, distribution systems, as well as wastewater treatment.
“Our system and facilities, which are varied in their purpose and geography, all require maintenance and investment,” says David. “This work, which many local residents see firsthand, ensures the delivery of safe drinking water to our service area.”
Managing these complex systems requires the experience of skilled engineering teams, and teamwork is critical: “The teamwork at EBMUD has been critical to ensuring our performance. Integrated discussion among all stakeholders is critical to successful short and long-term planning.”
David’s desire to pursue a career that was community driven was his motivator to work at EBMUD. “Even after 25 years, I am still learning at EBMUD. There are always new challenges and new opportunities to improve our operations.
“Providing the highest quality service delivery and ensuring cost management is a great challenge, and one that I enjoy.”
Willis, Assistant Construction Maintenance Superintendent
Enjoying each step of the journey.
Willis knows a lot about walking a mile in someone else’s steel-toed boots. He’s dug trenches, investigated water emergencies in the middle of the night and repaired main breaks in the rain.
“I know what it is like,” he says. “Those moments build empathy for the men and women who work 24/7.”
All of his experiences – as a laborer, a plumber, a foreman, a leak detection specialist, a water emergency investigator and a maintenance shift supervisor – have helped him in his current role. As Assistant Construction Maintenance Superintendent, he now manages the crews that he was once a part of. His knowledge of EBMUD’s distribution system has served him well in coordinating repairs and conducting major shutdowns.
At 5:45 a.m., his day begins. It’s the quiet before Willis’ cell phone begins ringing. He wraps up the route plan, dispatching crews to fix emergency water leaks. When he’s not meeting with foremen, he’s talking to contractors and customers. Visiting job sites and securing equipment for crews is another important part of the job.
“We put out fires every day to deal with whatever water emergencies come in,” he says. “It can be hectic, but you just have to stay calm.”
After 33 years with EBMUD, Willis is grateful for every opportunity that led to the next and the friendships built along the way. Before he hangs up his hard hat, he has one more challenge left.
“The next big thing for me is passing on the knowledge that I have and preparing someone to step into my shoes.”
Raffi, Associate Civil Engineer
Improving the water highway.
Raffi is part of the team that specializes in maintaining and improving EBMUD’s system of large transmission pipelines and aqueducts that keep water flowing from Pardee Reservoir to and throughout the District’s service area. “It’s like a water highway. It’s a lot of water, and travels long distances,” says Raffi.
Raffi works on projects like relining two of the three 90–mile long Mokelumne Aqueducts that traverse the Sierra foothills and the Delta. Those aqueducts are above and below ground and cross earthquake faults. “Our team is looking at possible designs for tunnels to ensure even more reliability during emergencies,” says Raffi. Raffi works to keep these large pipes as leak-free as possible with inspections and fixes when needed. He has also worked on designs to update important pipes like those that cross the Oakland estuary to Alameda, and the MacArthur Davenport Pipeline Replacement, a key transmission pipeline project that began this summer in Oakland.
Raffi planned to be a teacher, but his good math skills put him on a path to engineering. “I didn’t think I’d be an engineer. But my dad and my grandfather on my mom’s side were engineers. ”
"I’m happy to be here, and grateful to those who have mentored me. It takes a special person to take the time to share their nuggets of wisdom with newbies."