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.
Mackenzie, Plant Maintenance Worker II
Improving the “underground forest.”
Mackenzie is in her first year at EBMUD and is already moving on up. Originally hired out of Oakland’s Laney College as a machinist and welder, she’s now apprenticing with experienced wastewater workers on her way to achieving a journeyman level in the trades.
Mackenzie is fascinated by what she calls the “underground forest” – the pipes and pumping systems that make the East Bay’s wastewater plant work. She still does a lot of welding to fix or modify equipment, but also spends her days learning how to improve (and in some cases overhaul) the valves and chemical systems in wastewater pumping stations and wet weather stations throughout the Bay Area.
Mackenzie is learning firsthand about how wastewater solids are removed, treated and reused— including the process to convert waste into energy. She lives near the wastewater plant and now feels more connected to the town she calls home.
“There’s a whole city under the city that no one ever sees – it makes me think about space very differently.”
Johnny, Network Analyst II
Helping the team stay connected.
Johnny works as a Network Analyst II in EBMUD’s Help Desk under the Information Systems Department (ISD). The department provides information technology support to over 1,900 employees. Johnny ensures that employees are equipped to perform their day to day operations, whether it is in an office setting or in the field at a construction site.
The Help Desk sets up and troubleshoots District computers, laptops, tablets, printers, cell phones and scanners. They ensure that staff members are networked to the internet and that EBMUD systems are secure.
Johnny is one of a dozen Help Desk staff assisting hundreds of employees in the Oakland administrative building along with over 20 additional EBMUD workplaces. No matter what office he’s in, Johnny loves coming to work. “The staff in Help Desk all came from different work experiences and I feel like I can learn from them every day. It’s also great to see that my supervisor has worked his way up in this department. EBMUD likes to grow their employees.”
An Oakland native, Johnny came to EBMUD with over 10 years of IT experience in the private sector.
“I grew up in Oakland and EBMUD was always a part of my life. I remember my second grade field trip to an EBMUD facility and was amazed at all the services EBMUD provides to the East Bay."
“I knew I wanted to be a part of it one day.”
Laura, Manager of Pipeline Construction & Equipment
Solving problems every day.
Laura spends her days managing EBMUD’s pipeline construction crews, ensuring pipeline replacements and road restorations stay on track. With 4,200 miles of pipe in the EBMUD water distribution system, Laura’s team – which includes plumbers, pavers, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, and equipment maintenance techs – is always on the move.
Laura’s job is a juggling act that comes with construction work: managing nine crews, keeping materials and equipment fully utilized and moving, and addressing challenges that crop up. (Can’t get 40-foot pipe on a truck up that street? How about by helicopter?) She also ensures our work is coordinated with the cities, counties, other agencies, and public that are nearby.
Laura believes in her crews and knows that EBMUD can always find a solution that works for all and is in the best interest of our customers.
Kristen, Wastewater Control Representative
Answering the question: "What happens when I 'go'?"
“When you flush the toilet, it doesn’t disappear by magic,” says wastewater control representative Kristen. Instead, it ends up at EBMUD’s Main Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Oakland, serving nearly 685,000 East Bay residents.
EBMUD ensures that the treated wastewater leaving the plant won’t harm human health or aquatic life. To be successful, we monitor what’s entering the plant to ensure it won’t kill beneficial bacteria (which eat the suspended waste in wastewater) and otherwise disrupt the treatment process. “People can help by only flushing the three P’s (pee, poop and toilet paper) and keeping fats, oils and grease out of sinks.”
Kristen majored in environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and then taught science to Oakland high schoolers. At EBMUD, she educates residents of all ages about water and wastewater systems.
Given her experience teaching young students, it’s no surprise that Kristen is comfortable with making toilet talk relatable.
“We have another set of bacteria that digest sludge and fart out methane, which we use to produce electricity,” she explains. The main goal of wastewater treatment is to protect public health and the environment, but EBMUD's plant also transforms sewage and other organic wastes into green energy, nutrient-rich soil conditioner and recycled water. Kristen says people are “totally blown away by what we do with their poop” when they tour the treatment plant.
“I enjoy being a public servant. I’m proud to work for an organization that brings the public goods of fresh drinking water and wastewater treatment to my community.”
Debra, Wastewater Control Inspector II
Taking pride in protecting the Bay.
Although Debra lived by the beach while she was in her previous job, she couldn’t wait to get back to Oakland where she was born and raised. Now Debra is a Wastewater Control Inspector and is constantly out and about in the East Bay, where she investigates wastewater discharge from various industrial, commercial and institutional sources.
Not everyone can handle being out in urban and industrial areas all the time, but Debra is tough and does not scare easily. She’s also run into many people who have misconceptions of what an inspector is supposed to look like. “There are not a lot of people doing this kind of job who look like me.”
Debra keeps her focus on carrying out her duties to meet EBMUD’s high standards. She ensures water pollution control laws and regulations are being followed. She also stands ready to problem-solve at the drop of a hat if there’s a high rain event or spill that could trigger pollutants entering the San Francisco Bay.
Debra is proud to be a part of an agency where employees are really committed to their work and their communities – it’s what has kept her here for 23 years. Whether she’s training new inspectors or managing interns, Debra has been reflecting a lot on her future—and EBMUD’s. She encourages youth, particularly women and minorities, to get involved early in this career path that’s ultimately about protecting our Bay Area home.
“Our job is to protect the Bay. This is my home. And you want to take care of where you live. I have tons of nieces and nephews. When I leave here, I want to make sure I leave a clean and safe environment.”
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.