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Talking on Water with Clyde Dugan

Posted By Bonnifer J. Ballard, Thursday, July 5, 2018


Talking on Water Episode 5 Transcript


Announcer:      Welcome to the Talking on Water Podcast, a service provided by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. Now, here's your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat:                  For the fifth episode of Talking on Water, we welcome Clyde Dugan from the Meridian East Lansing Water and Sewer Authority. In this episode, Clyde discusses water and sewer security and the value of networking. Welcome, Clyde.

Clyde:              Thank you.

Pat:                  Well, Clyde, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Clyde:              Well, I have been in the water utility business since about 1979. But actually, I started out in the water field early on by joining the US Navy and ended up in the submarine force. I've been underwater and involved in water for most of my adult life. I started, as I said, in the water utility business in 1979 and came out as a start-up engineer for a lime recalcining facility, reprocessing water treatment plant sludge for the Lansing Board of Water and Light. I've been at it ever since.

Pat:                  What took you to the city of Lansing?

Clyde:              I was originally from Bath, which is a small community just outside of Lansing. I spent six years in the Navy and when I got back, I was out of the service. I wanted to come back into this environment. In the Navy, I was in the nuclear power program, which is power generation. The Lansing Board of Water and Light was just a logical fit for me and stayed in my home ground. It was great. I entered the Lansing Board of Water and Light actually on the power generation side of the business, as a boiler room help her to begin with, a boiler operator. Then went through the laboratory and worked as a resources engineer for a number of years while I got my Bachelor's Degree in Engineering. That's what landed me a start-up engineer of a calciner, which I never heard of before that.

Pat:                  Now you're an expert.

Clyde:              Now I'm an expert.

Pat:                  Can you tell me a little bit about your role in water security?

Clyde:              Water security is a very important element of the water sector management, and the importance was highlighted after the 9/11 attack with the formation of Department of Homeland Security at the federal level, then ultimately with the requirements for water sector utilities to do vulnerability assessments under the requirements of US EPA. I and Bill Maier, who many of our listeners may know at the Lansing Board of Water and Light developed vulnerability assessment for the BWL.

                        At the same time, I was participating at American Water Works Association at the national level in the Standards Council administering the standards program for all utilities. As a part of that, the staff asked if I would chair a new committee on water sector security for AWWA. That was my real step into the water sector security issues with the American Water Works Association was the development of security standard for operation and management.

Pat:                  The water industry faces a lot of hazards. Can you explain what it really means for the security aspect of things, not so much the water treatment, but security?

Clyde:              Yeah. The water security is really a process of evaluating potential risks to health and safety of the water customers as well as the employees of the utility by person or persons of the level and intent. We didn't used to have to worry so much about that, but after 9/11, that became a significant issue and actually has become more important as time goes on with more and more bad actors trying to attack the United States through various means.

                        Even from Biblical times, the attacking one's enemy through their water supply has been practiced by a lot of adversaries. That hasn't changed. That's still a risk that all utilities faced. The idea is to institute safeguards to prevent or mitigate risk from bad actors. The importance is in preserving life and maintaining a functioning community, and water utilities are forefront of what we do is provide life for health and safety.

Pat:                  You mentioned the AWWA standards. I understand you're very involved with that. Can you tell us a little bit about the AWWA standards and why they're important?

Clyde:              The American Water Works Association Standards Program has been in existence for a long, long time. My recollection from hearing some of the history as it may be over a hundred years, since the development of the first standards. What they do is provide standardized methods and practices for manufacturing of water sector products and services. The AWWA standards program has some 75 or more committees. They're involved in developing standards for all aspects of water sector of services and products.

                        The AWWA standards program is one of the top draws for utility membership in American Water Work Association, and they're used by utility managers all over the United States and actually throughout the world when specifying products for chemicals for water treatment, when specifying the proper way of disinfecting a main after a main breaker new construction. When you want to build a water tank or water tower, you specify AWWA standards in your purchasing specifications to provide a standardized method of construction and evaluation of those construction techniques.


Pat:                  Imagine after all those years on AWWA committees, you got to know a lot of people from different parts of the country. Can you share with us that experience and how that helped shaped your career?

Clyde:              I started in the American Water Works Association at the national level, probably in the early 1980s, maybe '84 thereabouts. I've been involved with just a wealth of people over those years that have really been influential in the water industry over time. My first introduction here in Michigan was through Bill Kelly.

                        Bill Kelly was head of the water section of Michigan Department of Public Health at that time as the regulatory agency that oversees water utilities in Michigan. He's the one that got me involved in AWWA to begin with. The networking and meeting professionals throughout the United States and here in Michigan has been an extremely valuable part of my career.

Pat:                  Tell us a little bit about how you managed water security in the Meridian East Lansing Water System.

Clyde:              Water security is kind of a state of mind. You want to look at it from the standpoint of making sure that you control access both to your facilities and to your information. You want to keep perpetrators from being able to enter your facilities where they could do harm to a physical facility or could pose a threat to your employees. You also want to protect your information so that areas of your water utility that actually are vulnerable to attack are protected and you don't let the information out to potential perpetrators on where those vulnerabilities are.

                        Those are two elements of it, the physical security and the information protection. A third element is trying to preserve your separation from the outside world so that actors, either locally or from even from other countries, cannot come in and cause damage to your system by accessing your system control and data acquisition or SCADA system, for example, causing pumps to turn on or turn off when they shouldn't, or doing other system events that could cause harm to your system or would deny service to your customers. All of those elements are important in security.

                        From the standpoint of my local utility, we do that through fencing our facilities, through having automated gates with controlled access, having locked doors to all remote facilities to make sure that nobody can enter those facilities and cause harm. Maintaining control of contractors, consultants, vendors, that you know who is coming on your site and that they have access through some kind of granted authority rather than just being able to come out at their own will. Doing background checks on people that are going to be working in your facility and particularly in people that you're considering the higher risk part of your staff, to make sure that you don't inadvertently allow a perpetrator on your site. Controlling your SCADA system to make sure that you don't have an outward-facing system where somebody could access it through the internet or where somebody might provide an employee with a thumb drive that has some kind of a virus on it and hold your system hostage.

                        Hostage taking has been a big issue with control systems and with business computer systems lately where they're basically holding a system up for ransom and requiring payment before they allow the systems to be reactivated or reuse. We've had some of those events here in the local area. Both utility and non-utility systems have been held up for ransomware attacks. These types of things are day-to-day security events that you have to be aware of as the utility manager and you have to plan for and mitigate against.

Pat:                  Can you give me a typical day in the life of your day as a water operator manager?

Clyde:              Regardless of all that I've said, up until now, it's not all security related. The day starts by checking operations, chemistries, turbidity records, plant performance. First and foremost, making sure that we're putting out good water and that we're preserving health and safety of our community. Checking the adequacy of chemicals, order quantities, make sure that we've got enough chemicals in order to maintain inventory so that we can sustain a duration where we didn't get supplied for some reason, so that we're not vulnerable to an interruption like that.

                        Going over the day's projects with a plant staff to make sure that we're all on the same page, everybody is working towards a common goal. This is probably the first hour of every day is doing stuff like that. Then working on task of the day, which might be right now is budget, capital improvement programs, asset management, records keeping, those types of things, financials. Then working on report generation. Because as a water utility, we have a number of reports that are required by regulatory agencies and others.


Pat:                  Do you have any memorable emergency responses that you care to share?

Clyde:              Particularly, when I was with the Lansing Board of Water and Light, I was the water utility director there for, I think overall, about 17 years before I retired from there. One that comes to mind was we had an actual threat that came in about an individual that was going to poison the water supply by introducing, I think, cyanide into the system. Any time you get a threat of that nature, you take it very seriously.

                        But luckily, a lot of perpetrators are stupid, which was a good thing. This person happened to fax their demands into us, so their return fax number happened to be on the header which was good. We handed that to the FBI and the problem did take care of itself. However, there was the potential that they might have already introduced a chemical into the system. One of the first things I did was to call Michigan Department of Public Health. Jim Cleland was the head of that water section at that time and advised them of the threat that was posed and worked with them closely on making sure that we knew how to respond to that threat, both in detecting it if it did, in fact, occur. Then what we would do to protect health and safety if we had to respond to that. That was one of the more memorable ones. It turned out that nothing was introduced and it worked out fine.

Pat:                  How do you stay abreast of the next problem and staying ahead of the game?

Clyde:              Well, there's a couple of different ways. With regard to the utility itself, you should always be doing updates to your emergency management procedures, your emergency response plans, and reevaluating your vulnerability assessment on a regular basis. The AWWA security standard recommends that you reevaluate your VA at a five-year frequency. You're looking at what your potential risk is of an attack, how you can detect, deter, delay and respond to that attack, but also how you can mitigate the consequences of an act if one were to occur.

                        You can do that in a short term by making sure you know how to switch pumps, how to switch to a different source water, how to change your treatment process if need be, or how to respond to your community to make sure it's safe through a boil water advisory or do not use advisory so that you respond to your customers. From the standpoint of trying to maintain a knowledge base for the industry and also for professional development, I found the American Water Works Association is an excellent source of information.

                        You get the journal AWWA which has a lot of information from more of a research basis, but on future challenges that are coming up to utility. Various publications, both from the international association and from the Michigan section that provide immediate information on upcoming challenges and also training opportunities that are offered through AWWA, through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and some of the other associations that were involved in. It provides an ongoing source of information.

                        But I think the other aspect of it is the networking, knowing people to talk to and gaining from the experience of other utilities here in Michigan about what has happened, what challenges have they faced, how did they deal with them. It's the networking with other professionals in this business I think, to me, has always been one of the most important aspects of AWWA, and one of the most important aspects of staying abreast of the industry and making sure we're doing what we're supposed to do.

Pat:                  Somebody new to the industry, what would you recommend they pursue to further their career?

Clyde:              Somebody who is new to the industry, the first thing is to realize that the Michigan section AWWA is an excellent resource and is there to respond to their needs. Sometimes it can seem like it's a website and it's a faceless entity, and they don't know how to actually interact with it. But I found that the people in AWWA are extremely friendly, outgoing, very much willing to assist with somebody in their career development or providing any guidance that they may. There are always volunteer opportunities for somebody that wants to get into this industry and to help build that network so that they know people to talk to when something comes up. I would strongly recommend that somebody new to the industry get involved with the Michigan section AWWA just for that opportunity alone. It will help them in their career. It will help provide value to their employer. It's just an excellent way to start.


Pat:                  If you could travel back in time, would you give your old self some advice?

Clyde:              I think I would. I'm an introvert and I'm not very outgoing. So I was real hesitant to get involved with AWWA because it was a social thing and I didn't want to participate in social things. I should not have been that hesitant. It's been a wonderful experience even for an introvert. If I was talking to my former self, I would say, "Get involved earlier and be more involved."

Pat:                  Can you give us some contact information if anybody wants to get all of you?

Clyde:              Yeah. Again, my name is Clyde Dugan. I'm with the East Lansing Meridian Water and Sewer Authority. I can be reached at area 517-243-3938. I am on the Michigan section AWWA board. If anybody has any questions that they want me to direct to other board members, I'd be happy to assist with that as well.

Announcer:      Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at 517-292-2912 or feedback at with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you.

[0:16:22]          End of Audio

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Talking on Water with Mike Grenier

Posted By Bonnifer J. Ballard, Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Talking on Water Episode 4 - Mike Grenier


Announcer:     Welcome to the Talking on Water Podcast, a service provided by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. Now here is your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat:      Welcome to the fourth episode of Talking on Water. In this episode we speak to Mike Grenier from the city of Grand Rapids. Mike shares his experience operating a water plant and discusses the importance of AWWA membership to advance his career. Today, we have Mike Grenier from the city of Grand Rapids water treatment plant. He's the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant superintendent. Welcome, Mike.

Mike:   Hey there, Pat.

Pat:      Can you tell us a little bit about what got your career path in getting into the water industry?

Mike:   Well, I kind of stumbled into the water industry. I originally went to CMU and I probably drunk myself out of that place. I crawled back to my local community college in Water and Wastewater Treatment program. I bumped into a couple of guys from my high school. One had just bought a brand new shiny truck. The other one had just bought a house. I did not have enough money in my pocket for a 12-pack at that point in time, so the water treatment industry started sounding attractive. Went through the program, ended up down in Grand Rapids, followed my wife down there, and I ended up hooking up in the city of Wyoming as an operator.

Pat:      Bay de Noc was the college you went to?

Mike:   Yeah, Bay de Noc Community College.

Pat:      Can you tell a little bit about that?

Mike:   Yeah, there's been a water treatment program there since basically they started the school in the early '70s. At the time, it was like one of three or four programs in the country. It's a very, very small field but it has a lot of depth to it.

Pat:      Tell me a little bit about your experience in the city of Wyoming.

Mike:   Oh, Wyoming was good fun. Wyoming has a gigantic plant. When you operate for Wyoming, you're by yourself when I first started. You're in this 90-million-gallon-a-day water facility by yourself. The first time they do that with you it seems like a terrible idea. Nobody should leave me here by myself. Great big plant, lots of problems, lots of stuff going on, lots of things to keep an eye on. The whole trick was to figure out how to operate, was to how to stay as far ahead of the game as you could figure out how to do it. If you sniffed out a problem on the front end, you did not have to spend eight hours untangling it on the back side.

            The other thing that was always nice with Wyoming is they're always real supportive about trying -- if you wanted to work on something, you could. That's what got me in my section work. Did a lot of computer work with them. Basically they gave you free rein if you wanted to work on projects, which some I've always appreciated.

Pat:      I can imagine operating a plant can be intimidating when--

Mike:   Terrifying.

Pat:      --your product is going out the door 24/7. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Mike:   It's the one thing about what we do. Water plants aren't terribly complicated when it comes right down to it. There's only like a couple of three or four processes going on. It's just you can absolutely never be wrong. You can make mistakes and you could do things, but that final product that's going out the door, people drink that so you just plain old can't be wrong. That's got some pucker factor to it that it's a bit scary, it's a bit interesting, but it's a wonderful challenge. I love the fact that we do good and I appreciate the fact. Somebody has got to work at the poison factory, we don't. I make people's drinking water. I do good and I appreciate that.

Pat:      After Wyoming you went down to Highland then.

Mike:   I picked up my degree along the way. I ended up getting a manager's job in a maintenance shop for Highland's -- basically, anything wet in Highland that was broken was my problem. I was running maintenance on the wastewater, lift stations, pump stations in the water filtration plant. It was a very nice change and actually it helped me in my career. I was an operator. My focus was in operations. Moving to the management side on the maintenance house, I'm not a good mechanic. It forced me to trust my people and then it forced me to manage my people, not the job, which I think really served me going down the road.

Pat:      After Highland, your career path took you in Muskegon?

Mike:   Yup, I was in Highland for about seven years. A superintendent position opened up in city of Muskegon. Went up there for a couple of years and had some good fun up there with the best windmill in the entire world and it's a beautiful beach. Actually I had to close my shade in order to work it sometimes because you just stare out the window looking at the waves.

Pat:      Finally you landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Mike:   Yeah, I've been in the city of Grand Rapids' Lake Michigan Filtration Plant for a year now. It's been very good fun. A giant plant, giant facility, giant city, it's a lot of challenges, and a lot of fun.

Pat:      It's great when a plant runs good but you mentioned some potential problems when it doesn't.

Mike:   Most of what we do is boring. I've never met anybody that says, "Oh, gee, I get to fill out a giant stack of regulatory paperwork." The fun part and the terrifying part comes when you have your problems. We dumped electricity three months into my job at Grand Rapids. Blew up an incoming bus. We have two lines that feed the facility. We blew the gear that services that up. No big deal. I've got two lines. We had a bad day. Get back up. Hey, look at that. We're great. Probably have a hundred-mile-an-hour windstorm. Takes out the electricity on the other side. Okay, great. I've got generators and we're having another bad day. Generators all proceed to crap out. Now we're basically faking making water watching the tanks run dry in town, waiting for a service rep to show up. It's the part that makes your stomach grind, but it's also the fun part watching your team come together trying to figure out the problem. Everybody working together is the fun part and the terrifying part all at the same time. We mostly strive for long consecutive boring days all strung together but every once in a while they're not.


Pat:      Can you give me an example of one of those long boring days?

Mike:   This morning. I came in to work, quick read my emails, checked with the staff, sat in a commission meeting to approve my repairs that we're required to do on our filters or otherwise we don't operate. So this really isn't even a question about whether we should fix this or not. If you want to make water this summer, we get to repair the filters so there were no questions for. For the commission, I got to sit there and smile for 45 minutes followed by a longer, significantly longer, meeting about one of the documents that we're required to produce as a CCR, Consumer Confidence Report, and going over the commas. And is the required language in the CCR? Should we put additional required language in the CCR? Is there any danger involved with that? It's immensely boring. I'm a big fan of about ten-minute meetings. Once you get past the hour and a half version of the program, I'm done.

Pat:      Communication is a big part of your job, I'm assuming. Can you explain to me some of the aspects you bring in?

Mike:   For me and my style, it's almost all communications. As an upper manager now, I don't actually do anything. I don't push the buttons to make the pumps go, I don't turn wrenches, I don't even know their parts anymore. So everything I'm doing is talking to my operators. "Hey, how are things going?" Get a feel from them. Is the plant doing what it's supposed to be? Are they confident on where we're supposed to be? Checking with my maintenance staff. "Hey, guys, you're stuck on a project. Is there something I can unstick for you?" Talking to my managers, setting direction on where we need to be. Listening to my upper managers on where they'd like us to go because basically my job is to take the plant to where upper management wants me to bring it.

Pat:      Tell me a little bit about your work with Michigan Section and other organizations and how you may have used your networking through them. 

Mike:   The section has been fantastic. When I started with Wyoming, they've always been very big in Michigan Section and you were encouraged to get involved. As an operator, it's had some challenges in its own right because we worked off shifts. I work shift work for 17 years. To go to a conference, to go to a meeting, I'm not sleeping sometimes. There are some challenges there, but the reward was huge. I ended up with my own committee, ran a youth ed. That's another tip or something I could give for folks is find something your boss hates doing. I had two bosses and they all hated doing tours and so I volunteered to do tours. I like talking to kids anyways. I handled tours, which got me to the youth education committee which got me into meeting people from all over the state, various degrees of expertise, which really pays off in the role I'm at now. I've got people all over the state to call. If I've got a problem, I pick up the phone. I call Amy over in Cadillac or wherever she is now and say, "Hey, what do you think about this lab thing?" I can call people over and say [0:07:58] [Indiscernible], "Hey, we're working on this. Didn't you guys mess with this last year?" and that's absolutely huge. I take those calls as well. Any help any of us can give each other, I mean, people are always happy to take or give a call.

Pat:      The section in American Water Works Association tried to help provide the tools for operators so that you can run the plant and not have the plant run you. Can you explain a little bit more about some of those resources?

Mike:   The training you can get -- we're at Operators Day right now. We've got people getting trained right from where we're sitting, a couple of hundred feet from where we're sitting. The training that was provided, well, I got all the nuts and bolts of school when I went to Bay de Noc. It was that continual training you're getting, what's new, what do you need to watch for. In my opinion, that's probably the biggest one that the section gives right now is the heads up "Hey, lead's a big deal. Let's have a meeting. Get everybody together in the same room and talk about that. That way we're all coming at it from the same angle." I find terribly helpful.

Pat:      Are there any particular opportunities you see in the future working at Grand Rapids that you're excited about?

Mike:   We had a facility that was built in 1992 that hasn't had a lot of replacements. We're either in the process of or staging to essentially rebuild that large building. We've got a big project going in to redo our settling basins, convert those all over. That will be a lot of challenges. It will be a lot of problems and a lot of fun. Out of the deal, it will be a pain in the backside and a bunch of paper work. Those are the challenges rebuilding our pumps. We've just spent last six months rebuilding our electrical systems and then laying out a framework for how that sort of thing won't happen again. The planning part of that, the big rebuild on the plant is good fun. Hiring has been the fun challenge. Bringing on new people, bring them into the industry, that's something I actually enjoy is working with the new staff.

Pat:      Can you speak a little bit about those challenges? I know we've got a soft market right now as far as hiring new people.

Mike:   Hiring is entertaining right now. For a while, we had the big crash in '08. You could just literally sort a pile of applicants and throw everybody out who didn't have a master's license or an advance degree and still have a giant pile of applicants. Particularly when I was at some of the smaller systems without a lot of pay, you're looking at an application trying to decide if I could turn you into an operator.


            I had a guy that was doing golf courses and is a part-time teacher, which I actually thought was good because golf courses have pumps and a teacher uses math and I think I can turn that into an operator. Now at a bigger city, we pay a little bit better. I'm getting a little higher pool of applicants to look at. But even at that, we struggle hiring skilled trades. Right now we're having a heck of a time getting electricians. They're just not out there and they're worth their weight in gold. You see there's some pay adjustments and some things like that that we are going to have to figure out how to get competitive with the rest of the industry or people are going to keep wandering off.

Pat:      Somebody from the outside looking in, would you recommend that trade school like Bay de Noc or a community college or do you need a college degree to get into this field?

Mike:   You don't necessarily have to have a college degree, but the one thing you do have to do is be able to do the math. That's usually the biggest wash-out point that I have with folks. I've brought people literally in off the street that have called us up say, "Hey, I'm interested in water treatment. Can you help me?" and got them set up and they're real good workers and show up every day and can't do the math, and if you can't do the math you don't get to play kind of deal. We can help you with the math. There're classes you can take. The easiest route is to pick up a trade like going through Bay de Noc, Delta College, or you get that nuts and bolts and you get somebody that can teach you the math and you could come in as an operator.

            From a straight personal level, going through a community college like that gets you to a point where if you do want to advance your career, you can go back to school, hang another two years on that, turn that into a business type degree and work your way into management. It's a little bit less true now. Not as much competition out there, but it gives you some options. You can work your way right through. You can go skilled trades, you can apprentice up, get your master's, mechanic, machinist, electrician and work your way through and around the shop.

            There are several different paths. For me my path was through the CC and then hanging a bachelor's sign up. But there are lots of different paths. The big one that I've had actually successful in my previous job with Muskegon was pulling out of the military. One, the military actually has water treatment people. I had two marines that made water all over the world. Neither of them spooked. Nobody shoots at you in Muskegon when you are making water. They've been very handy. They come pre-trained. They're not afraid and they'll learn. That's the one thing the military teaches on this is how to learn how to be confident. So I've had a lot of luck that way.

Pat:      If you could go back in time, is there anything that you'd do differently with your career path?

Mike:   There is a whole bunch of things I should have done differently with my career path. I was laughing at the question. I know Pat sent them out to us earlier. If I could go back in time, I'm too dumb and pigheaded to have even listened to myself back in time. I guess what I would tell me or anybody else listening is to listen to the guy that's whispering in your ear. Maybe you want to clean your act up a little bit. Hey, maybe you want to get back to school a little bit faster. Or if you don't have the confidence to go ahead and take another challenge so you get people keep telling you can do that, you can go ahead and listen to them. I see that a lot with the younger people I work with. They don't have the confidence that "Oh, I don't think I can do that" kind of thing. Everybody dogs in millennials right now. "Those kids are so darn smart. It just absolutely kills me how bright and hardworking they are. I'd lose out to them every darn time nowadays. They're easily smarter than I am. Most work harder than I do kind of deal. So they've got nothing to be afraid of when they try out for those new positions.

Pat:      Can you give us your contact information, please?

Mike:   My name is Mike Grenier. I'm with the city of Grand Rapids, the superintendent. People are welcome to call me actually. My number is 616-456-3927 or you can email me at I'm sincere with that. I have mentored people called off the street. If folks have questions and they would like me to help them, at least if I can't do it, I can point them to somebody who can or somebody who might be looking for somebody.

Announcer:     Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at 517-292-2912 or feedback at with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you. 

[0:15:00]          End of Audio

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Talking on Water with Tim Faas

Posted By Bonnifer J. Ballard, Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Talking on Water Episode 3 - Tim Faas

Announcer: Welcome to the Talking on Water Podcast, a service provided by the Michigan Section at the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. Now, here's your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat: Welcome to the third episode of Talking on Water. In this episode, we speak to Tim Faas from Canton Township. Tim shares his experience working on the organization of Michigan WARN and discusses the benefits of membership and emergency planning. We're today with Tim Faas, the Municipal Service Director for Canton Township. Welcome, Tim.

Tim: Thank you, Pat.

Pat: Tim, if you could just give us a little bit of your background on how you ended up in Canton Township and what got you interested in the water industry.

Tim: Sure. I've been at this for many years now, a little over 30 years of a career in this industry. I started working in Ontario, which is where I grew up, and started working there as a consulting engineer after I finished my engineering degree. I worked for a number of municipal clients in and around the Windsor area doing various projects. An opportunity came up at the City of Windsor for me to take a two-year short-term contract position. My objective there was to go gain some credibility with the city, let them know that we would be great at doing bigger projects for the city and go back to consulting. Well, I took that first position as a manager in the public works department, finished my two years out, and lo and behold, I got promoted. So I have stuck it out ever since then. I've really enjoyed my career in municipal government. That was really the initial step that got me into government.

My wife and I immigrated in the mid-1990s to Michigan, and I took a position with a local wastewater utility authority in Western Wayne County as their director. I really got interested on the water and wastewater side specifically at that point. I've been a strong proponent of the environment for my entire life. I certainly value water, the benefits that it has to Michigan and the nation as a whole. Being able to do something to positively affect water and water quality was really a big motivator for me to get into my career.

Pat: I'm also in the municipal field, and one of the things I like is the ownership and really having the cradle-to-grave ownership of the utilities. Can you speak to that a little bit and the difference between the public and private life?

Tim: It's very different. Privately, you're vested for the duration of your project. Typically, once that project is over, you're done. But on the municipal side, when you are involved from the inception of preliminary conceptual designs to the final disposal of the asset or the project that you're working on, which could be theoretically 70 to 100 years in duration, you're vested for your entire career in whatever project you've been involved in. So it's very different. There's much more sense of ownership in what you're doing, and definitely a major commitment is required to do the right thing, because 20 years from now, you might regret a decision that you made from the outset. I think you think things through much more carefully and much more deliberately than if you're just vested for a short period of time.

Pat: Tell us a little bit about your experience in Canada versus the United States.

Tim: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I had a perception of what the environmental regulatory field was like in the US living on a border community for many years. But not until I moved and I realized that Michigan's environmental regulation climate or rules and requirements are far more stringent than anything we had dealt with in Ontario. I believe that's still to be the case, and I think that's good. It definitely is something that's going to enhance and protect the water resources long term. There is I think maybe a misconception even from those of us that worked in the field of what the regulatory climate in Canada was versus the regulatory climate here in Michigan. Those rules are there for a reason and those rules will benefit society over the long term without doubt in my mind.

Pat: Dealing with the public is always a challenge and it can be rewarding. Can you give us some examples of some of your opportunities you had working with the public?


Tim: With my current position, I oversee four major departments. I oversee the planning department for our community. We're number one or number two highest rate of growth communities in the State of Michigan, and have been for the better part of two decades. I oversee building and inspection services, which after planning is kind of done with their part of the project, they inspect the build-out of various commercial and residential developments. And then I also oversee engineering and public works, so I kind of get all four sides of the municipal development book if you want to call it that. As part of that process, there's a tremendous amount of public input opportunity and what I'd call general feedback. People are more and more difficult to deal with as communities build out. That has been a great challenge for us. It was easy when it was all farmland and developers were coming in and laying down 200, 300, 400 lot subdivisions and commercial was being built out when there were no neighbors around. Now, our community of 97,000 people is about 90% built out and now, a little 8, 10, 15 lot development comes in and there's public outcry over that development. How dare you let this happen in our community? You're destroying the fabric of our community.

It is definitely more challenging as the community gets further and further built out, but again, those public processes and opportunities for public input are there so that the voices of the local residents can be heard and can be incorporated in development plans. We definitely have a lot of challenges on that front. And then generally, I'd say, the greatest advancement in my career in dealing with the public has now been social media. The influence that social media has on things as simple as water quality, a spill, a local water emergency, a wastewater emergency, it's a great tool for us to use, but it's also a very difficult tool for us to manage because it is totally unacceptable by most of the people that would follow us on Facebook or Twitter to have to wait until Monday to get an answer to something that happened Saturday morning. That answer is going to have to happen probably no later than noon hour on Saturday. The job now from the social and public engagement standpoint is now 24/7/365.

The way that we've addressed that is we have three social media website administrators, one of which is myself that monitor what's going on, what discussion is occurring on our Facebook and Twitter accounts around the clock literally. We post as quickly as we can especially when something negative or something erroneous has been posted on our Facebook page. That's become a different challenge now. I'd say just general lack of patience by the public of wanting to wait till Monday when the office opens again they get a response to something. Those days are gone. That's definitely been a major technological advancement during my career.

Pat: Since you've been in the industry so long, I'm sure you've dealt with many emergencies. One particular group that's near and dear to your heart is Michigan WARN and that cooperation between utilities for dealing with emergencies. Can you speak with that?

Tim: Michigan WARN is the Wastewater and Water Agency Response Network. It's a mutual aid system that was set up in the mid 2000s nationwide. Each state has its own separate WARN program. It was established in response to a number of devastating hurricanes down in Texas and Florida. It was pretty clear following those hurricanes that while there was good preparation and response on the police and fire side, there was not a good response on the water and wastewater utility side. That really forced the creation of the WARN programs. Michigan adopted that program in 2007, and we've been operating under a steering community structure that is supported by American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation through our local MWEA here in Michigan, the American Public Works Association and Michigan World Water Association. Four big state associations back this program, and it allows for mutual aid, whether an emergency or not, allows for mutual aid between communities under a Grade 2 terms in advance through a contract. We have about 20% by population of the State of Michigan covered by these agreements.

Now, there are some pretty sizable communities that make up that 20%. We only have 31 members right now. One of our long-term goals is to grow that membership so that all communities in the state of Michigan are part of Michigan WARN. It really simplifies the response required during an emergency and makes it easier for individuals like myself and yourself that have to respond to these emergencies and not have to worry about the paperwork while you're in the height of that emergency. This paperwork is executed in advance. The beauty of it is it doesn't cost anything to join Michigan WARN or be a member of Michigan WARN, but it does require your legislative body, whether that's a city council, a township board, an authority board or a county to actually approve entering in to this agreement. Once entered into, you're in it for life unless you choose to withdraw. It affords a major advantage when a real emergency does strike.


We've been fortunate in Michigan that we haven't had any emergencies that have hit the threshold of requiring Michigan WARN to activate, but we've been close. We had frozen water pipes in Marquette County a few years ago, during the big blizzard. What was that? I forgot the term that they called it?

Pat: The Polar Vortex.

Tim: The Polar Vortex, yes. The state activated a utility response not through Michigan WARN, although they did ask for our assistance, in response to the frozen pipes in Marquette County up in the Upper Peninsula. But more recently, in Oakland County, the 14-mile road transmission main break. It affected I think 310,000 people in Southeast Michigan. I personally, as a resident of that area, was affected without water for eight days. That was again an event that almost triggered a WARN response. WARN helped a few of our member communities that were affected. We've been fortunate that we haven't had anything major yet hit, but when it does and when you do seek to recoup your costs through FEMA ultimately who is kind of the paying agent in a very large scale disaster, if you have this agreement in place in advance, then it's a done deal. You're going to get reimbursed. FEMA, EPA approved the WARN agreements. This is a national program. There won't be any questioning beyond what would be routinely expected when you're submitting a reimbursement request from FEMA for the cost associated with the response.

If that agreement isn't in place before the emergency happens and you try to seek reimbursement, FEMA will make your life difficult. Again, I'm talking about an agreement that is free. There is no cost to belong. It takes a little bit of time to maybe get it through your city council or your township board or your county commission. But once you have it, you have it for life. The other beauty is that you basically get to keep your resources under your control. So if Ottawa County responded under Michigan WARN to somewhere else in the state, and all of a sudden Ottawa County was hit with a major disaster itself and you needed to bring those people and that equipment back, you can. There is no repercussion, nothing negative can occur as a result of your withdrawal of those resources. It's voluntary, you get reimbursement from the party who you're responding to and it doesn't cost you anything. It's what we call no cost insurance policy.

Pat: Tim, does it make more sense if you're a large or a small utility to join?

Tim: It does not. There are advantages to both, no question. We generally have mostly larger utilities or communities that are currently our members, but I think that's typically how these programs grow. There's probably a greater benefit for the smaller utilities to members because having worked over 30 years in this field, there's a lot of these handshake agreements out there where if I have trouble, you'll come help me. Well, those are the agreements that drive lawyers crazy and sometimes those are agreements that drive city managers, township managers, and county commissioners crazy when something goes wrong. Handshake agreements worked in the past but in the litigious environment that we live in today and their requirement to have coverage for insurance or workers' compensation and these sorts of things, a formal agreement is a much better approach. Those are just a few reasons and benefits of being a member in the Michigan WARN Program.

The other thing that we do, there's the steering committee that represents each of the eight regions for Michigan WARN, and those eight regions follow the same regions that the state police has set up across Michigan. Those eight individuals sit on the steering committee together with representatives of those four major associations that I mentioned. The 12 of us are the steering committee that make up the Michigan WARN. We're there to facilitate the mutual aid agreements between the communities to grow membership and to also conduct and coordinate training. Training is another big benefit that we have that we can offer, and we can coordinate with our partners at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pat: Tim, have you ever had the opportunity to use your own emergency training?


Tim: Yes. In Canton, for example, we've had a couple disasters, both smaller ones, one that occurred in our community which was a tornado that oddly enough occurred the night before Christmas Eve two years ago. Who would have thought a late December tornado would come out of nowhere literally and come and touch down in Canton? That was definitely a little bit of a surprise. It was an F1 so it was a relatively small tornado. It did some substantial damage to an industrial park and a small regional airport in our community. That kept us plenty busy over the ensuing couple of weeks. Fortunately, there were not any water or wastewater facilities affected by that event. But the other two that come to mind, one again is within Canton and within Southeast Michigan. Two years ago, we had the flooding in Southeast Michigan which was a FEMA declared emergency and there was actually reimbursement issued to the communities and to residents directly for the damages that they suffered. Again, we were lucky we didn't have any damage to any public facilities during that event, but there was a tremendous amount of basement flooding that occurred in Southeast Michigan.

On the water side, we have landed assistance under the Michigan WARN agreement to one of our neighboring communities, the City of Plymouth, a number of years back, where as a result of a high pressure spike from our regional water service provider, they simultaneously had six water main breaks. I think it was on a Friday. They're a small community. They have one crew to deploy, to start working on breaks. They started calling in neighboring communities. They were a member and we were a member of the MiWARN program, so we used that program in a non-emergency response to assist them, and there were a couple of other contractors that were called in to also help with that emergency.

Again, there's no cost insurance policy. Insurance is something that you need to have and you hope you never need to use it. Maybe it gives you a sense of a peace of mind to know that there's people that have you back and people that will respond and respond with the right crews and the right resources, and you're not going to get gouged from a pricing standpoint on any kind of emergency response. There's a number of very positive things by being a member of the Michigan WARN mutual aid program.

Pat: Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about more of your professional development and how you've used your interaction with folks in the industry to help grow your career.

Tim: My first foray into emergency management was back in Windsor. I was told my first week that I was in charge of emergency response for the city, and I'm like, "What? You've got to be kidding. I don't know anything about emergency response." So we talked with fire and police and what we resolved to do at that time was really transfer that responsibility to the fire department which is where it traditionally belongs. I kind of screwed at my first real foray into emergency management. But we were still a major player because we had tremendous amount of resources to build a respond to major community emergencies. That was really where I first got an interest in emergency management. Through my career, ever since then, I realized the importance and the value that it brings to an organization. I'm blessed to work for an organization that has a really strong relationship between fire, police and public works and utility sides. We work really closely together. That's not true of all organizations, and I understand that. That becomes a challenge with being part of even Michigan WARN.

Preparedness is really important. I think one thing that we've seen over the last ten years is more of a prominence of public works and utility professionals being recognized as first responders. That's a big move in terms of recognizing and getting credibility with your local fire employees' emergency management people. You have to learn by doing and training becomes a component of that. We've had the benefit of doing a number of major training exercises within our community because we have strong emergency management support capabilities. The Michigan WARN program has also landed itself to create some new training opportunities with the Department of Environmental Quality and with the Environmental Protection Agency.

We just did a big functional exercise November 29th of 2017 in the State Emergency Operation Center where about 80 people gathered to simulate a wide scale tornado outbreak in Ionia County. We had some WARN members in the room. We had non-WARN members in the room as well just trying to observe and see how we would handle the situation. And then we had a very diverse group of individuals from the State of Michigan. Homeland Security, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Quality were all in the room together with the EPA, and we went through an eight-hour long drill if you will. Part of it was some training; part of it was the true functional exercise, which is an exercise level over and above what they call a traditional tabletop where you're just kind of passing paper back and forth and discussing an issue. We were actually doing things. We're actually simulating as though we were responding like we were back in our own communities. Although we were all physically in the same room, we were simulating how we would respond to various emergencies centered around Ionia, reaching from Grand Haven all the way across to Lake St. Clair. There was severe weather outbreak across all of Southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.


It was the first of those exercises conducted in Michigan. It was the fifth of those exercises conducted in the United States. That's invaluable training that EPA paid for and DEQ supported, Homeland Security supported. Every time we do one of these, we learn something. I'll tell you, as the chair of Michigan WARN, I learned a ton of what we need to do to be more prepared next time when we do one of these training exercises. Let's pray that all we'll ever have to do is training exercises. But if we do need to respond every time we do one of these trainings, we just get that much better at it. It's like a professional athlete trains for any kind of competition. You can't just show up and win the downhill ski event at Pyeongchang. You have to train for years and hone your skills in order to even be competitive in that event. That's our philosophy and Michigan WARN is again another opportunity for people to learn about training and actually participate in training for emergency responses.

If there's any listener out there that is interested in Michigan WARN, go to our website which is our website. You can get information there. You can see a little bit more about our program in what the mutual aid agreement looks like. Hit the contact button, fill that out. That ends up getting routed back to my office and we'll reach out to you. Hopefully listeners can become members. Also, if there's anybody that's just generally interested in emergency management, don't hesitate to reach out to us and we'll be happy to talk with you.

Pat: Thank you for your time, Tim.

Tim: You're welcome. Thanks, Pat.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at 517-292-2912 or feedback at with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you.

[0:22:13] End of Audio

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Talking on Water with Vicki Putala

Posted By Bonnifer J. Ballard, Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Talking on Water Episode 2 Vicki Putala


Announcer: Welcome to the Talking on Water podcast, a service provided by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. Now, here's your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat: In this second episode of Talking on Water, we welcome Vicki Putala from OHM. Vicki shares her experience as a woman in the water industry and shares her perspective on moving from the UP to City of Detroit. I'm here today with Vicki Putala. Vicki is a director of environmental resources OHM out of out of Livonia. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at OHM?

Vicki: I grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula, a little town called Lake Linden north of Michigan Tech. And I grew up along the shores of Lake Superior, which is the most beautiful clean water that you can ever see. And I've always had a passion for water. When I went to college, I didn't know what I wanted to get into at first, but then I saw that Michigan Tech had a degree program in environmental engineering and I thought “Thank God. I can do something with water.” And so, I got my degree and I started working on doing wastewater treatment and drinking water treatment. And I absolutely loved it. After about 4 years of doing that for a consulting company in the Upper Peninsula, my husband got a job downstate. So, I moved to the Milford area and I got a call right when I was thinking about going back to work and took a job at OHM Advisors as a hydraulic engineer. And I have been there ever since. It's almost 25 years this year.

Pat: This water industry is made up predominantly of white males. Can you can you explain to me a little bit some of the challenges you had even from college and getting right into the industry and how it's evolved now?

Vicki: My very first day at a company up in the Upper Peninsula, I’ll never forget it. I was in a suit. I was excited. I was starting my engineering career. And I'm walking through and a client was in the front reception area and he said, “Oh, Miss, could you get me a cup of coffee?” And I'm like “Well, I don't know where the coffee is. I just started working here, but, okay, I was raised to be nice and polite.” And so, I dutifully went to look and get a cup of coffee, but then it dawned on me that he assumed I was a secretary and not an engineer working there. What I have learned to realize is that even though people don't mean it, there are unconscious gender biases that women face in this profession because people generally relate and feel comfortable around people that are more like themselves. And so, men approach issues differently than women approach issues. And so, as I have worked in my career, I've educated myself on this and it has really helped me communicate better with some of the peers in my industry. And on a side note, a couple years ago, I started a women leadership and career development before I’m at OHM Advisors to help other women understand some of the challenges that they might face in a male dominated industry and just really opening your eyes to the challenges and making people aware of unconscious gender bias has really made a difference.

Pat: Can you tell me a little bit more about this work group that you’re with?

Vicki: A couple other women at OHM Advisors and I have created a— Oh, it's about twice a year. We host these forums and we tackle issues that we have seen as barriers in our career as we've advanced and moved up in our different organizations. And we bring in guest speakers to help other women see what challenges they have come against and also where are they finding advocates, where are they finding helpers in their career. And we do some role-playing on how to deal with some of the sensitive issues that you hear the news now about sexual harassment and how do you handle that because when you're a 22 year old and you're in a male dominated field, sometimes you have to know how to address situations. So, we try to prepare our women with information and provide a safe place for them to ask questions because sometimes our young women aren’t comfortable going to their male supervisor and raising these issues. So, it's a supportive safe environment.

Pat: So, at OHM, how many women do you think are employed there roughly as far as the percentage and has that changed throughout your career?

Vicki: So, at OHM, we have about 430 employees. When I started in 1993, we had 90. So, I've seen the company grow. I think overall the firm has about 30% women. But my team that I lead, I lead the environmental water resources department, I have about 40 team members and happy to say more than half are women. And I think more women are coming into the field. [0:05:01] But what I have seen over my career is that women have a tendency to leave the field. And so, I've been focusing much with my women's leadership group on why do women not stay in the field. What are the barriers that they're coming into contact with that prevents them from being able to move up into their career? Usually, women will stay for the first 4-5 years. That's usually when they start having families. And so, what we do is we create a support bridge to help our women keep their foot in the door so when they are ready to come back they haven't lost ground. It’s not difficult to get back into the swing of things. And so, my team, I think we've really practiced that and we’ve really have been a role model for other departments at OHM advisors on how you can successfully do that. And I'm really proud of the women in my team and what they've been able to accomplish. And I think one thing that maybe I do differently than some of my male counterparts is when I hire people, I don't really care what experience they have. I look for people with passion. And when you have passion, you can do anything. You can learn anything. You can accomplish anything. And when you hire people with passion, even if they go part time or they work less hours, they give you 150%. And so, it all is about hiring the right people. You need to have people that also relate well to your mission because you have to have passion and you have to be aligned in your mission of what you want to accomplish. And when you get the right people, it doesn't matter how many hours they put in. They're engaged and they accomplish great things.

Pat: Tell us a little bit more about what that means to be providing public health to other people.

Vicki: I think maybe I'll answer that question by one of my favorite projects. When I first came to OHM, it was a long time ago. It's kind of funny that that's one of my favorite projects. There was a community, New Hudson by Lyon Township, that the residents’ individual wells are contaminated by trichloroethylene. And I worked with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to get a new water source and get these people off bottled water. To this day, that was more than 20 years ago, that's the highlight of my career. I was able to bring clean drinking water to people who were truly suffering. And we think about third world countries that don’t have safe drinking water, but we have that also here in our own country. And so, that was really meaningful and it's something that I will always look back on my career and think “Yeah, I was able to help those people.” And it's a good feeling when you can do that.

Pat: So, is that a project that you've drawn upon when you've had some challenging projects and needed to dig deeper?

Vicki: That was an interesting project in that that client leader fired me, which is kind of interesting because I don't really understand politics very well. And I stood up at a board meeting, spoke the truth. I was taught to speak the truth. And sometimes politicians don't wanna hear the truth. So, I draw on that project for multiple reasons. One is I used my skills and talents to do good and help people. I think that's why we're all in the water profession. We all wanna help people. But I also draw on sometimes you learn the most from things that aren’t pleasant in your life. I draw on that that no matter what, you should always do what you think is right and always, always be honest and speak the truth regardless of the consequences. And I have used that as a life lesson because there's a lot of pressures on people, but you do need to stand firm and do what you think is always correct.

Pat: Can you explain some of the challenges around work? I’m thinking we've got a new engineer, a female engineer in my office and just even where to sit at the lunch room is all of a sudden now something we're all thinking about. How have you had dealt with that at OHM?

Vicki: Well, we onboard a lot of new employees all the time and I don't really separate men from women. I treat everybody the same. I would just encourage that you just— Everyone's the same. When you start separating people too much, you're making that hypersensitive that there are these differences, but I think you should also be very clear on what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable behavior. And as a manager or a supervisor or in my case I'm an owner at OHM Advisors, I have a responsibility to be clear on what is acceptable behavior and not and to communicate that and make sure people are aware of that. And so, we always practice that you work in a safe work environment free of harassment, bullying, intimidation. We have a core value of team work. I expect my team members to support each other, and to help each other, and to be there. And I don't tolerate any type of harassment of any kind. I think it's really important that the leaders speak up and make sure that that is awfully where— If you set those ground rules and your team members know that, then you don't have to treat people any differently. You can treat them all the same.


Pat: Talk a little bit about the diversity and your leadership and how that diversity helps your company to become successful?

Vicki: Diversity is really important and this is one of the lessons I learned in the early 2000s. Shockingly, we’re not all right all the time. We have our strengths. We have our weaknesses. And I went through a leadership development course where I learned to recognize my blind spots. And I learned how to surround myself with people who have strengths in areas that I am weak. And when you have people with different strengths, they’re usually not the same type of person as you and so you have to make a conscious decision to bring people on your team that aren't like you and that's hard for us and some people never get that. But when you make a conscious decision to say I value this person because they're not like me and you bring that diversity, then you have strengths in all areas. You don't have blind spots. And I talk in analogies all the time. It drives people crazy. But I always say that we are all different shaped puzzle pieces. We have a very flat organization. No one is more important than anybody else. We’re all shaped differently. We all have different strengths. But when we come together, we build something awesome. That I think is what diversity means. We value everybody's different shapes, strengths. And we just learn how do we collaborate and pull all that together.

Pat: Talk a little bit about some of the strengths that women bring to the table. In Washington, there are more and more leaders being elected and that's changing the dynamic.

Vicki: I think some of the strengths that women bring are more collaborative communication. It's interesting when you go to school and you learn all this technical information, it’s not what you need to be successful in your work or in your career. It’s communication. And women have more of a natural talent at how to build consensus, collaborate. They have I’ll say more emotional intelligence on how to read situations. They can put themselves in other people's shoes and I kind of sense they use more intuition on how to handle a certain situation. We're not necessarily out front being that strong leader and this is where I think we need to just appreciate the different styles. Sometimes you need that strong decisive leader. Sometimes you need more of a collaborative approach. And so, diversity in leadership is another way that we all can go forward.

Pat: Are there any challenges in particular in the water industry for women?

Vicki: I would say that I'm not that gray haired old guy that when I go to a waste water treatment plant the operator usually looks at me and says you don't know you're talking about. So yes, there are some challenges, but I have learned to bring that gray haired old guy with me. So, you learn how to work around things. It’s not really any different than any other industry. Everybody in the water industry wants to make sure everyone has clean water, that the rivers and lakes are clean. We all have the same goals. As long as you are aware that we're all trying to get to the same point, we might just have different ways of getting there, and you appreciate those different styles, I really haven't had too many challenges except, like I said, I sometimes don't look the part.

Pat: Talk a little bit about your small town upbringing and how that impacted how you navigate Milford and the big city of Detroit.

Vicki: So, my small town upbringing and I am a little embarrassed to say that I really never left the UP until I was in high school and there aren't really that many one-way streets and there is certainly no traffic lights. I moved to Milford because it reminded me of Houghton, Michigan. I was scared to death to go towards the city. And in fact, if OHM had been 2 miles further east, I never would have went to work there. It was too close to the urban center. And my husband always laughed at me because I refused to get on the expressways for a full year because I didn't know how to get off and how on earth do I get back on. When I think back, it's silly, but it was pretty terrifying for me to come down here because the cars are going so superfast. And I was just not used to all of that traffic. But I've been in Milford since 1992 now and I absolutely love my town. And yes, I actually do go to urban centers and I've learned how to adapt.

Pat: A young woman entering the water industry may feel like they're jumping on that highway at 70 miles an hour. What would you recommend to them as a way to have a safe on ram into this industry?

Vicki: You know, I'm going to answer that with the advice that I give all the young women that come into my team. It’s something that I did not do and I wish I would have done it, is to join professional organizations and network with people your own age, get to know people, build your relationships, get some friends in the industry because your friends are gonna help you.


And when you are an introverted engineer as I have been in my entire life, getting involved in an organization is scary. It's scary that you meet people you don't now. So, I always encourage young women to get out there, talk to people, and make friends because they're gonna be there for you when you need help.

Pat: So, I'm looking back at the section I've known for 25 years and it's nice to see more and more women involved. We've had our share of leaders. And once again, we have a woman later. So, can you speak a little bit about that and your experience with the section?

Vicki: So, as I said, I didn't get involved early on in my career and I certainly do belong to AWWA. And I’ve had the opportunity to be a presenter at a number of different conferences. I've also participated in the women's networking sessions and I think really what I love about the section is that it really brings men and women together and just helps align everybody around making sure that we have clean drinking water for everyone, that the technical programs are awesome. When you're young, that's what I think you need to learn. As you advance in your career, it's really understanding how do you work with each other to solve these bigger regional and maybe even global problems. Right now, I tell my team we have to dream about the future. We have to dream about what do people need, how do we address emerging problems. And when you are associated with all these professionals, you can draw upon all this knowledge on how to solve problems. Sure, we compete with other consultants. But at the end, we all have the same goal, is to ensure that we all have safe clean drinking water. And so, the section provides a great place where people from different walks of life whether they're utilities, or consulting firms, or regulatory agencies can come together and share knowledge. And I think that that's just really important and that's a great service that the section provides.

Pat: You mention that women in water, that was the board’s attempt to provide a safe place for women to network and grow. It seems like that has grown over the years and you were involved with that. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Vicki: I was just at the event last fall and I thought it was a wonderful networking opportunity. And we talked a lot about just how women speak versus how men speak. And it's just more that education. But to springboard from that here in Michigan, one of my team members is starting a women networking in Ohio. A very similar program. They don't have anything like that. But just having the Michigan section have a venue like that, now we’re able to create that in another state, which I just think is just awesome to be able to do something like that. I would just add that when women are looking to move in their career, they don't have to look and see the person above them. They can create their own path. So, for me, at OHM Advisors, two other women engineers and myself created the Environment and Water Resources Department because we wanted to play with water all day long and you can create your own path.

Pat: Can you give us your contact information please?

Vicki: Absolutely. So, my e-mail is Vicki.putala@ohm-advisors .com. And my phone number is (734) 466-4479. Pat: Thank you very much.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at (517) 292-2912 or feedback at with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you.

[0:18:59] End of Audio

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Episode 1 with Alando Chappell

Posted By MI-AWWA, Friday, March 9, 2018


Episode 1

Alando Chappel


Announcer:    Welcome to the Talking on Water podcast. A service provided by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. This podcast offers insight and useful career information from Michigan water professionals. Now, here's your host, Pat Staskiewicz.

Pat:    Welcome to Talking on Water where we offer insights and useful career information for Michigan water professionals. I'm your host, Pat Staskiewicz. For our first podcast, we welcome Alando Chappell from the Lansing Board of Water & Light. In this episode, Alando will describe some of the opportunities he's had in the distribution field as well as his perspective on diversity. I'm here today with Alando Chappell. He is a manager of water and steam distribution for the Lansing Board of Water & Light. Alando, welcome.

Alando:    Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Pat:    So, you've got quite a diverse title there with steam and water. Can you tell me a little bit about your job?

Alando:    Well, I’m a manager of water and steam distribution, so a little bit different for the board. We have a manager that's over water production and then we have a manager that’s over the distribution side when the water leaves the plant. So, I'm the manager of the distribution side. So, the board decided to also put the responsibility of steam on me as well. So, I actually manage 2 utilities in that respect.

Pat:    Oh, that’s interesting. Not many cities have steam. Do they or is that typical?

Alando:    It’s not as typical as you might think. We actually have about 200 steam customers. They’re primarily in a downtown area, so some of the big names. GM, obviously State of Michigan are some of our largest customers in this primarily downtown area.

Pat:    So, Alando, how did you end up in that wonderful capital of Lansing?

Alando:    Well, I was born and raised here in this beautiful city of Lansing, Michigan. I spent all my life here. I graduated from Sexton High School. I then went off to college out of state for a bit. At the Lansing Board of Water & Light, I started in 2001. So, when I first graduated high school, I went to DeVry University in Addison, Illinois. I did the typical 1 year college kid type trying to figure out life situation. I came back home. I was looking for something primarily local and there was, you know, the big 3 what we call it. The GM. You know, work in a factory, the State of Michigan, or the Board of Water & Light. Those are like your options here in Lansing. I was fortunate enough to get hired in at the Board of Water & Light and that was the start of my career. I started in when I first hired in as a coal sweeper for the Lansing Board of Water & Light. And through that experience, I’ve seen the opportunity that the board presented. So, I went into constructive services for about a year and then I got really interested in electricity. So, I actually went to school and became a journey line worker. And so, I was the guy when the power and the light went out— I was the guy that put it back on. So, I did that about 8 years. Within that stint, I was very successful in completing that job and I went into management at the electric level. So, I also got actively involved in multiple boards from around the community. Lansing Chamber of Commerce, I’m an ambassador currently for them. The Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, I'm on their board as well as I’m chair of the diversity committee for the AWWA of Michigan section. Our diversity group for the Michigan section, one of the things that we wanna value is we wanna try to make sure that we educate and promote diversity in the water industry. When I say diversity, it’s not just a black and white thing. I'm talking about, you know, the different races, the different religions, the different cultures. And also, race is a part of that, but just bringing out the value. Again, I think the value of people no matter who they are is what makes a person, or a company, or an individual section successful. I think the most successful companies in the world is the most diverse companies. So, those are some of the values that I wanna bring out as we look at to the water section. You know, when we look in the water section, there's a lot of people that have been in there for a long time. A lot of people are retiring. So, how do we replace all that knowledge? How do we replace that skillset? So, we gotta go out and educate people about what does water really mean, how can you add value, what careers are in water in. And so, I wanna be able to be that voice to be able to discuss some of those things and try to bring any and everybody into that industry.

Pat:    Alando, can you please tell me a little bit about the Boys and Girls Club and how that affects your life?

Alando:    I got involved with the Boys and Girls Club because I just had a passion for kids that may be a little bit under privileged if you will. And I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth either and it takes hard work to be successful. So, I joined that organization to be an example to these younger kids and let them now even though the road may be a little rough in the beginning, if you work hard and surround yourself with good people, you can and will be successful.


    The other thing about that is it gives me the opportunity to shed light at a young age into the water industry, which is commonly unknown for a lot of younger people, understanding what the value of water really means and what career opportunities may happen or may have in water. So, it gives me the opportunity to share those types of things as well.

Pat:    It sounds like Lansing may have some opportunities for children that don't have college opportunities. Can you give us a little glimpse into what Lansing may have to offer?

Alando:    One of my biggest focuses is actually on the water engineering side. We have a program at the Lansing Board of Water & Light called our First Step Program. And we actually will go into the high schools and we will select a senior and we will let them job shadow us for part of their senior year. And I actually have been a part of that program since existence. Actually, one of my students, which graduated from high school and is now attending Michigan State University, I've had him since high school and he's worked directly in the water industry with me and my team of engineers. I mean, he is progressively achieving his engineering degree. And the hope of that is to, first of all, educate, at a younger age invest, and to get a return on your investment. So, my goal is to be able to bring him aboard once he graduate and then he’ll have experience in the water industry, which should be a value to not just himself, but also to Board on Water & Light.

Pat:    You must have some interesting stories from your time out in the field and how did that help you when you eventually ended up managing those types of people?

Alando:    It helped me out tremendously. I consider myself a people person. So, I utilized my skillset on the electric side and my ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with staff. I will always consider myself a team player. I always believe that every person, every individual has value. It is my job as a manager to be able to bring that individual value out. So, I use those kind of techniques on the electric side and it got recognized quick. So, opportunity came up in the water for the water and steam manager's position. And I applied for that position, was successful in my interview process. And that’s the position I currently hold as we speak today.

Pat:    Lansing has had some challenges with lead services as other water systems throughout the nation. Can you explain to me how Lansing took on that challenge and has become a leader?

Alando:    Yes. So, when I first took over the department, actually, the initiative for the lead service replacements was established by our former mayor, Bernero. He was the initiator in that process. And because we work so closely with the City of Lansing, we partner with them on a lot of projects throughout the city. We got involved with the lead service replacement probably over 10 years ago. I’ve been in this area in that department as manager for about 6 years. So, I was able to take over that initiative and then take the final touches to complete it. One of the things that was different for us in Lansing, we’re one of the few utilities that actually own the service from the actual main all the way to the house. Most cities will stop at the curb stop. So, they only own half of the service. So, the question is who’s responsible for replacing that lead service. Is it half the city or is it half the homeowner? Well, fortunately for us, we took on the entire responsibility from the actual main to the house. So, we were able to really strategically plan how he was gonna replace those services, how he’s gonna budget for those services, what kind of crews he’s gonna have, our customer contact. Everything was spelled out to the T. So, we were able to get it done, but there was challenges because you’re dealing with customers. You’re dealing with people that don't wanna let you in your home for various reasons. You’re dealing with services that may be challenged to replace. So, we did have our ups and downs. But overall, we were able to effectively replace them and we were actually the second utility in the nation to be able to complete all active lead services replaced.

Pat:    Congratulations. That’s quite—

Alando:    Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Pat:    Can you just give me an idea of the scope? How many approximate services were replaced and what was the timeline that it took?

Alando:    Well, that project was over about 10 years and we replaced thousands, and thousands, and thousands of lead services. I hate to quote the wrong number. But if I had to guess, I think it was somewhere around 15,000 to 16,000 services that we had to replace. It was over a 40-million dollar project over the course of time. It was quite the challenge to get done.

Pat:    That's great. Another challenge that Lansing has had to do with the electrical side that you have some experience with. The weeklong power outage had an effect on all residents here. Can you explain how the water utility handled the outage?

Alando:    Yes. That was a very interesting question because when we did have that power outage, most of the residents here obviously didn't have electricity dead of winter right around the Christmas holidays. So, you know, not having power, it’s cold outside, but to have it during Christmas just kind of put in a little bit of icing on the cake for our customers.


    But what people didn't realize is that without power, our services froze. So, we ended up having over 800 plus frozen services over the course of that outage. And that was very interesting because nobody never really heard about it. Nobody ever reported it because my crew and my staff, which I have such excellent staff, we were all on top of it. So, we had to coordinate with our surrounding communities. We had to work 24 hours around the clock in order to replace these services or to thaw the services out. And it was quite an ordeal for us, but we were able to get water back to our customers in a timely fashion. And actually, nobody stopped working until every customer had water.

Pat:    That sounds like quite the customer service and quite the challenge for your employees. Can you take us through a night or a 24-hour shift of that type of scenario please?

Alando:    Yes. So, you know, when we first started getting reports of customer service lines being frozen, you know, we took it as a typical you may get one or two of those or you may have a main breaker too throughout the city. So, we just took it as a standard emergency. But what we quickly found out is that it went from 1 to 2, to 10 to 20, to 20 to 40 and then the number just continually grew. So, at that particular time, I had to go into action and setup an incident of command for my water distribution area, notify the proper authorities as far as upper management and let them know what is the possible risk that we have here. So, we established a 24-hour operation within our own distribution area where we have crews working 24 hours around the clock. We had our supervision staff in 24 hours around the clock obviously in shifts. We had my engineering staff in 24 hours around the clock. We had contacted our surrounding partners in our other communities in East Lansing Radiant as well as in Delta and all our other surrounding communities just to put them aware of that we may need assistance, which we did pull on them. So, we just really took the bull by the horns if you will and just prepare what we had in front of us and then we just went out and did it and make sure that we were able to get water back to our customers.

Pat:    So, I'm sure a good plan helped in a relationship with your neighbors and others. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Alando:    Yes. Obviously, a good plan where you always had to have a plan to know what you're gonna do. You can't just go out there and just waste money and just try to make things work. We're very successful in planning our projects. We’re very successful in reacting to any type of emergencies that may happen. Obviously, the goal for our system at the board or online is to be more proactive than reactive. But in the event that we do have to react in the case of emergency, we are well prepared. I owe a lot of that too much of them in the staff. Without my staff, you know, I would be nothing. So, I have a great staff of workers in the field with a ton of knowledge, a water experience. I have a great staff of supervision. And I have a great staff of engineers that work directly with me as well. So, again, it goes back to my training in the earlier stages of my career. Being able to recognize the value that individual has and being able to bring a team together and make that work I think is one of the keys that has made me very successful in my current position.

Pat:    So, Alando, as you’ve risen through the ranks, do you ever get nostalgic for those days in a wet trench?

Alando:    Well, I don't say that I miss being out there. Unfortunately, I never had to get out and dig a hole in the waterside. So, the majority of my time was actually on electric side where I had to climb a pole, you know, 60-70 feet near in a backyard at 3 o’clock in the morning was 0-degree weather with rubber gloves on working on live electricity. So, that was my journey and my path. I don't say that I miss it as much, but I do appreciate it. One of things that I do appreciate going through that type of work is you can have an understanding of what your actual workers are out there doing. You can be able to better share that story customers so they can understand that these people out here working in 0-degree weather in the water and the wind risking their lives at certain times as well as try to provide that service for the customer. So, the BW has the hometown community. The hometown power is really a true slogan. I think we live by that. I think we honor that. And I think that our hearts really go out first to our customers and then we try to provide that service the best and the safe way as possible.

Pat:    When you had the power outage, there were some changes that went at the Lansing Board of Water & Light. And can you explain, you know, how that affected the rest of the community and your department in particular?

Alando:    Yeah. There was some changes in the leadership. Fortunately, I've have great relationships with both leaders, the previous leader as well as the current.


    So, for me, I was more focused on my department individually. Sometimes you wanna leave some of the politics to those politics and you wanna be focused on your current, which my current was making sure that my water customers had service. So, even with the change of administration there, I was still focused on making sure that I was doing the job that I was being paid to do and which is manage the water distribution system.

Pat:    Alando, there are many challenges in the water industry. The latest being the PFAS that we’re dealing with. So, how do you, as a manager, try to stay one step ahead of the next emergency?

Alando:    Well, I think communication is the key. I think being associated with organizations like this AWWA, staying current on the up and coming changes, staying current on things that are happening LES station as well as any rule changes that may affect us in the water industry, just keeping that networking up, keeping all those type of things is what I think keeps us rooted and grounded. Things are changing in the world and things are changing just where we’re at currently. So, you gotta be able to adapt. So, I think that staying current in those type of things and being able to adapt with the situation makes you a positive and successful manager in the organization as well.

Pat:    So, is your day typical or are you facing challenges everyday?

Alando:    Challenges everyday. I run a department where I have about 60 employees. I have a lot of different personalities from the actual workers in the field, to engineers, to supervision, to safety and training as well. So, you know, there’s something new everyday. You know, they keep me on my toes, but I like the challenge. I like to be able to take a problem and solve a problem or say that I had a part of it, but I also like to make sure that what the situation is I can bring that team in so they can make sure that they feel like they're part of the solution as well. I think, again, it goes back to the value. So, I think that's one of the reasons why we are so successful in our area in water distribution. So yes, there's challenges everyday. We work outdoors, you know. We dig 90% of the time. There’s a lot of unknowns out there. So, the challenges change. Delegates change. Situations change. And you gotta know how to adapt to those types of things.

Pat:    If I were somebody that was interested in getting into the water industry, can you tell me a little bit about why I would put up with the black cold nights and what that really means to provide that customer service and safe water?

Alando:    Well, I think, first of all, you got have a heart to be able to serve. You gotta ask your questions. What is the reason? Why would you wanna go into the water industry? When I first took the position on as manager, learning the water industry was new for me. But once I got exposed to it and started understanding the value of water, which is one of the most valuable resources, but the most underappreciated resource until you have an issue, then you start to really understand what it means. So, I really took it to heart and started educating myself by being involved with committees, by being involved in organizations like AWWA, going back to school again, finishing up my degree. I got a master’s in organizational management as well working towards the S licenses. Just educating yourself and making yourself better prepared and more knowledgeable about really what is the value of water and what does it really mean. I think those type things is what keeps us moving and keeps us going forward and understanding where we should be in the water industry.

Pat:    Tell me a little bit more about what challenges there are for the water distribution system with respect to Legionella disease. There's a new article out talking about that. Is Lansing prepared for that challenge? I think that we're prepared for any challenge that comes upon us. Again, we try to stay ahead of the game and we try to stay current on any kind of information or any situation that may try to present itself. We have a very strong team from our water distribution, to our environmental, and to our own present distribution area. So, any challenge that come I think we're able to adapt. One of the more interesting things for me is really understanding the infrastructure and replacing the infrastructure in a timely manner, which I believe is a situation that is not just Lansing driven, but nationwide driven if you will. The infrastructure needs to be replaced. So, based on that, how do you replace the infrastructure with the money that you have and which infrastructure is gonna be the most critical area to be replaced versus area where you may just have a number of main breaks in that area? It may not mean that you don't have the same water quality, you know. So, you got a lot of different analytics that you need to take into factor in order to what infrastructure to replace. But the point of it is all the infrastructure need to be replaced. I mean, it’s not just in Lansing, but it’s worldwide. So, how do we do that? How do we combine our resources, the money that we get from our ratepayers to replace that infrastructure as well as think strategically and outside the box? Like we do at the board, we team a lot with the City of Lansing. So, when they have a road reconstruction project, we can team with them and try to save some costs not only for the taxpayers, for the City of Lansing, but for the rate players for the Board of Water & Light.


    So, we always are thinking strategically on saving money, but being able to move forward to replace infrastructure on both sides.

Pat:    Can you tell us where the listener can contact you?

Alando:    I'm at the Lansing Board of Water & Light. I guess e-mail would probably be the best way, which is Please if you have any questions or want to discuss anything further, shoot me an e-mail and I'll be more than happy to return it and have a conversation with whoever is interested.

Announcer:    Thank you for listening to this episode of Talking on Water by the Michigan section of the American Water Works Association. Please contact us at (517) 292-2912 or feedback at with any comments or ideas on future shows. We'd love to hear from you.

[0:20:58]    End of Audio

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