This series highlights the important roles of women in ensuring safe and reliable water, wastewater, and recycled water services 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Learn more about DSRSD's staff and how they got their start in the industry as we celebrate Women's History Month.
Integrating Science and Art Makes Being an Engineer Interesting
1. Describe your job.
I’m an engineer in the Capital Improvement Projects Division. As project managers, we work closely with consultants and contractors from concept through design and construction of the District’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Currently, we are focused on a seamless handoff of newly constructed facilities to Operations and Maintenance staff and ensuring our facilities are well-documented in the District’s asset management database for future water/wastewater needs.
2. What do you like best about your job?
The best part of my job is interacting with all the people here—allowing different groups to have input on design and working as a team. Right now, I’m working on a new reservoir to replace an aging one, and I’m working closely with our Field Operations, Mechanical Maintenance, and Electrical Maintenance staff.
Each person I’ve met at DSRSD brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to their positions. Everyone works hard and is proud of what they do. The District has always been really forward-thinking, especially where water reuse is concerned. It’s pretty amazing for such a small organization to take on those challenges, and it’s a testament to the fantastic people who work here.
3. How did you get into the industry?
I’ve been at DSRSD for 3 years and in the water and wastewater industry for 11 years, previously with the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Prior to that, I was a consultant. I’m a structural engineer by training, and I’ve worked in the bridge and transportation industry. I worked on some of California’s toll bridge seismic retrofits such as the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and traveled internationally to work on other transit projects in earthquake prone regions. I had a small engineering and planning consulting firm and worked on the Doyle Drive/Golden Gate Bridge approach structures through the Presidio also.
I wanted to work for a public agency to gain a different perspective. Agencies have to think very long-term and plan how they’re going to expand capacity, rehabilitate, and eventually replace aging infrastructure. Applying project management concepts from previous projects was simple, but learning the more technical aspects of the water/wastewater industry are a continual work in progress. I have family in the area, and I have a sincere interest in building resilient infrastructure and providing good value for our ratepayers. It’s been an interesting ride, and I’m grateful to be part of DSRSD.
4. What are some of your favorite projects with the District?
One of my projects was renovating the Field Operations Facility in 2016 when we had to quickly move staff out of a leased location at Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area in Dublin. I really love interior design and architecture, and it also gave me an opportunity to work closely with the Field Operations Division.
I enjoyed managing the expansion of the Jeffrey G. Hansen Water Recycling Plant, which was completed in 2018. The plant operators and maintenance staff were gracious in working with the construction team. Throughout construction, they had the onus of keeping the plant fully operational in order to deliver recycled water to customers on the hottest summer days. I have a much better understanding of the tertiary (recycled water) treatment process now thanks to shadowing the plant operators and as they brought a new pretreatment process online.
5. What are some of the challenges of being a woman in engineering?
I have a bachelor’s in civil engineering and a master’s in structural engineering from UC Berkeley. I remember my freshman orientation when they told us the civil engineering department was only 14 percent women. By the time I graduated, it was even smaller at 7 percent. Earlier in my career, I’ve sometimes been the only woman at the table. Civil engineering has traditionally been about construction and not-so-glamorous) infrastructure. The work often takes us out to the construction site which can mean trekking through the mud and working with contractors to solve issues in the field. At the District, a lot of us are women engineers or scientists. Half of the engineers on staff are female. Things are changing, which is really positive.
6. What is something unique about you?
My grandmother was a seamstress, and she taught me to sew when I was 6 years old. That translated into a lifelong love of good design, craftsmanship, pattern and structure, color, and texture. I have a bad habit of collecting fabrics from wherever we travel and creating new projects for myself—so much so that I’m converting our guestroom into my sewing room/studio. I took classes for several years in interior design at a community college for fun. I see the synergies between my interest in all these things and my career in engineering.
I also have a connection to DSRSD that goes back to when I attended Dublin High School. My first job was actually with DSRSD as a lifeguard and cashier at the Dublin High pool my junior and senior year. The District was originally a community services special district and provided parks and recreation, garbage, and fire protection services in addition to water and wastewater.
7. What are your favorite sports?
Growing up in the Bay Area, I had three boy cousins and one younger brother, and I had to play sports and be outdoorsy in order to have fun with them. I played basketball, softball, volleyball, flag football, went skiing, and took family camping trips. My first summer job was as a lifeguard in high school, and I still enjoy swimming. I’m a huge San Francisco 49ers fan and grew up going to games with my dad. My 10-year-old son recently played basketball in a recreational league, and I was probably the loudest mom on the sidelines. I love going to his games and cheering for his team.
Anna Garcia - DSRSD's First Female Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Likens Job to Being a Detective1. Describe your job.
Working in wastewater treatment is like taking care of a living, breathing organism—there cannot be any malfunction in this beast. There are all kinds of interrelated systems and equipment, and you’re constantly monitoring everything. Even with the automated control system, it’s not like a radar that an air traffic controller uses. Humans must constantly intervene and make adjustments. You have to be very observant. You have to be a detective.
The plant functions 24/7, and we operators are expected to rotate all shifts: 6 weeks of daytime, 6 weeks of swing, 6 weeks of graveyard. Currently, I’m on graveyard shift. During the night, those of us on staff tend to be in babysitting mode, doing rounds, taking readings, and making sure equipment is working appropriately. On the day shift, when our mechanics need to shut down a system to perform work, we have to determine how to best reroute the process. It’s a challenge, but it can be exciting.
2. What do you like best about your job?
We are public servants, and we’re performing a vital function for our community. We’re taking care of our neighbors in a way they don’t even realize. We’re behind the scenes. I take comfort in knowing I’m one of the essential people making our way of life possible. It’s a fulfilling feeling.
I also enjoy giving tours and sharing what I do with the public. I often see a connection and a spark in their eyes when they get a deeper understanding of the everyday science. It’s a passion for me.
3. How did you get into the wastewater industry?
I was in finance before the recession about 10 years ago, and I knew I needed to find another career. I received an insert in my water bill talking about the BACWWE (Bay Area Consortium for Water and Wastewater Education) program. I said ‘Free school? Yeah, sure!’ I started the BACWWE program in 2009 and spent about three years on education and training. I was an operator-in-training with the Livermore Water Reclamation Plant. I trained under all the operators, but the perspective I got from the one woman operator made me aware of the challenges associated with being “the woman” on staff. I learned the lesson that she was not valued for her strengths, but was defined by the one big mistake she made. Errors occur, but for some reason, only hers was the notable one.
After my operator-in-training program, I joined DSRSD in 2012.
4. What is the biggest challenge of your job?
Initially, it could be tough being a woman in this field. Sometimes I was the only female in my class. Occasionally, a man was unhappy to see me. There was even some hazing at first—the field had a lot of applicants and only a few positions to fill. Some guys just feel threatened or territorial, but you can’t let that stop you—I was prepared for that. But a lot of guys already in the industry were very supportive to see me in the classroom.
I was the first woman wastewater treatment plant operator ever hired at DSRSD. I had to be very focused, as I didn’t want others to define me by my weak points or mistakes—I was going to have to work harder and smarter. After contributing my share of troubleshooting to solve some of the day-to-day challenges, I’ve earned my place on the team and feel respected. Your life and safety can literally depend on your coworkers, and we are a great group.
5. What is something unique about you?
I was a classically trained cellist. I played with some smaller symphonies in southern California. I have three kids, and when my youngest was born, I realized my expensive musical instrument was going to end up destroyed if left out, so it’s been put away for years.
6. What is your favorite food?
I love Peruvian food. My dad was Peruvian.
7. What are your hobbies?
I grow an organic vegetable garden every year. I also crochet.
I keep older cars and maintain them. It saves me money. Like most women, I think my husband is pretty lucky. I feel like the modern woman is undervalued. What do I do when I’m off shift? Everything.