Public Works Week - Rick Lawrence

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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 IV-On Call -- Rick Lawrence

 Water/Wastewater Systems Operator IV-On Call Rick Lawrence checks the SCADA system computer.
Water/Wastewater Systems Operator IV Rick Lawrence uses the SCADA computer system to monitor and operate DSRSD's water, sewer, and recycled water.

1. Tell us about your job.
When you’re on call, you take care of anything. You can get numerous calls, or it can be quiet. We rotate on-call weeks that start Monday morning and run through the following Monday morning. I take calls from the fire department, police department, the wastewater treatment plant, and occasionally directly from the public. When it’s off-hours during nights or weekends, some calls can be handled remotely with the SCADA system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, a computer system that helps operate and monitor DSRSD’s water distribution, sewer, and recycled water systems). If it can’t be fixed with a laptop, I go to the site. On weekends—and holidays too—we spend about four to five hours doing routine tasks such as adding fluoride and running tests at the turnout points from Zone 7 Water Agency.

When I’m not on call, I can be working on the sewer collection system, water distribution system, taking potable water Bac-T samples (to test for coliform bacteria), repairing a main line break, or working on the recycled water system. Even then, you can be scheduled to do something and totally get pulled from that.

2. What do you like best about the job?
I like going out to a call where I can help someone who needs it. There’s a lot of troubleshooting involved – incorrect water softening tanks, shutting off leaks. We do a lot of interface with the public, and I like helping people who appreciate our efforts. The job can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.

3. How did you get into the industry?
I got involved by chance. It wasn’t the career I was chasing, but it’s been good to me. I used to work at the Santa Rita Jail; I was going to be a cop. During that time, I applied for a street lighting technician position with the City of Livermore because I had some background experience. They called me in for two interviews—one was for streets, and the other was for wastewater collections, which I didn’t even know. I started working in the collections division, and my job was to jet every sewer line running to the treatment plant. Jetting involves flushing the sewer lines to clean them out for preventative maintenance. I also jetted storm lines and performed CCTV (closed-circuit television) inspections of sewers.

I also wanted to learn the water side of things, so I transferred to the water department with the City. I also considered wastewater treatment and took an ROP (Regional Occupational Program) class with an instructor from DSRSD. Ultimately, I didn’t want to work the different shifts plant operators have, and I joined DSRSD Field Operations in 2004.

4. What are the biggest challenges of your position?
A hard part recently has been the growth in the community. Traffic can be bad getting from one location to another while out in the field, and it slows down your day making it longer to respond to calls sometimes.

Springtime is also a common time to have taste and odor issues due to algae blooms. Because of this, Zone 7’s water treatment staff will add chloramine (a disinfectant), and we may get calls about taste or odor. We will respond to calls and test for chlorine residuals in the water coming into the house. I explain to customers the reason why taste or odor are different, how the District tests water quality weekly, and that the water is safe to drink. You try to educate people, which is a huge part of the job. And we, as operators, have to be educated in order to inform the public.

5. What is something unique about you?
I grew up in the western world on ranches, showing horses. My dad was a horse trainer. I rode bulls when I was younger, but I got injured. I eventually got back into it with roping. I’ve won three state titles, a northwest regional final, and taken first and second place at the national finals for the American Cowboy Team Roping Association. The one I want to win is the World Series of Team Roping held in Las Vegas every December. I’ve competed once, and I’ve gone the last few years to watch—you want to see the competitors’ times and how they’re roping. You meet a lot of good people.

6. What do you do in your spare time?
I was a wrestler when I was younger and also did judo. Now I’ve gotten my 11-year-old daughter into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and I take her to tournaments. It’s cool watching her. She’s tough, but sometimes overconfident. She and my 9-year-old daughter like riding horses too. They’ve started raising pigs for 4-H. I’m the vet and everything now.