Public Works Week - Matt McGrath

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People Behind the Pipes

This Q&A profile is part of Public Works Week 2019, honoring professionals in DSRSD's Field Operations Division who help ensure safe and reliable water, wastewater collection, and recycled water services 24 hours a day, every day.

Water/Wastewater Systems Operator III - Matt McGrath

 Water/Wastewater Systems Operator III Matt McGrath holds up a glass vial of water turned pink from a chlorine test.
Water/Wastewater Systems Operator III Matt McGrath checks a water sample mixed with a reagent to test for chlorine.

1. Describe your job.
The responsibilities of a water/wastewater systems operator cover a lot. My job is to get water and recycled water to our customers, and to take care of the wastewater collection system throughout our service areas. Our job involves a lot of critical thinking. There is a lot of troubleshooting and a lot of tackling unexpected things that can happen on a day-to-day basis. We work a lot with SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), a computer system that helps operate and monitor the water distribution and recycled water systems. We also work with chemicals for water treatment and do hands-on work with specialized equipment and vehicles. We work a lot out in the field, which can have its own challenges such as working around other utilities, weather factors, and traffic hazards.

2. What do you like best about the job?
I enjoy being an operator with DSRSD. It’s great helping people in the community close to my home in Pleasanton. I really enjoy working out in the field. I also like that my day-to-day work changes a lot. One moment I may be doing dead-end main flushing (scouring drinking water lines to improve water quality), and the next moment I can be called off to go to a water main break. I like the challenges the work provides and the fact there is so much more that goes into to providing safe drinking water directly to the tap than most people realize.
3. How did you get into the industry?
Originally, I was a reserve firefighter. Servicing hydrants and dealing with pumping was a part of the department’s duties. It gave me a general understanding of how water systems work and provided me a lot of training in working safely in non-ideal circumstances. I received a lot of training in working with specialized tools and vehicles, which helped me transition a lot easier. I became a water system operator with the City of Hayward and did that for six years before joining the District in June 2018.

4. What is the biggest challenge of the job?
We must keep up on government regulations and requirements. They’re constantly being updated. It’s our duty to keep up with the changes. We strive to provide the best water quality to our customers, and staying on top of technology, environmental regulations, and our state certifications is essential. We protect the public, people’s property, and the environment. It all encompasses what we do.

5. What is something unique about you?
Having a background in firefighting provided the opportunity for some exciting experiences. One of the most intense fires I helped with was battling a wildfire all day in a state park. We were having pumping problems with our off-road truck after we were using water we had drafted from a nearby river. I was on the nozzle end of the hose, and had no water coming out. I radioed in to another firefighter who was at the truck, and he told me that we had lost prime on the pump and he was working on it.  The fire’s direction changed, and I was about three feet from the flames really feeling the heat when I heard “water coming.” I heard the hose charging up behind me, and I got water at the nozzle when I was able to knock down the flames.

It’s interesting to have the experience from both fields. Both have given me a great opportunity to work with various challenges and unknowns and require a lot of training to stay on top of your game. Most importantly, both fields have given me a great opportunity to help the public.

6. What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy barbecuing with my family. I especially like doing ribs. I have 2-and-a-half-year-old son and a 2-month-old daughter. I’m also a big fan of the Golden State Warriors and the Oakland Raiders. I like being outdoors a lot, whether it’s camping or even in my own backyard.