CA-NV AWWA recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of the following individuals to the water industry and CA-NV AWWA.

View past spotlights: 2020, 2019, 2018.

Winter 2021 Spotlight

Susan Willis, Senior Engineering Project Manager

Entering the drinking water industry with a background in environmental fluid mechanics, I needed to completely change my way of thinking about water- from the physics of water motion to how reliable, safe, and affordable drinking water is vital for every community. I was introduced to CA-NV AWWA early on and was grateful to find such a warm and welcoming group of professionals happy to help me navigate this transition. I have learned so much about water system operations, source water quality, regulatory requirements, and the nuances of community and non-community water system governance from this group of industry leaders. 

In order to fully engage with and learn about the industry, I attended a few committee meetings at the beginning of a CA-NV AWWA Spring Conference in my particular areas of interest- not just those related to my current work- which became invaluable sources of information regarding current industry issues and professional connections as I’ve navigated my drinking water career. 

I’ve held various leadership positions in Section committees, including the Distribution Water Quality Committee, Women’s Leadership Committee, and the Technical Program Committee. As the current Technical Program Director, I sit on the Governing Board of the Section, collaborating with Section staff and Division leaders to ensure smooth operation of the Section and that we are providing valuable opportunities for involvement, training, connection, and professional growth for our members. 

Membership in the CA-NV Section has been an incredibly important aspect of my work in drinking water. I’ve been able to meet professionals working throughout California, Nevada, and the entire US to discuss ways to improve water quality, system service, source protection, and public health. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to a Section publication (Distribution System Flushing) in my area of expertise. I look forward to engaging with the Section for years to come. 

Fall 2021 Spotlight

David Clark, Design Section Manager
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

I joined the AWWA and the CA-NV AWWA Section in 1995 when I began my career in the water industry. What I have learned since then about my membership is that, like with most things in life, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it.  

As an inactive member, I appreciated the publications I received, the convenient access to reference books and AWWA standards, and the opportunity to attend an occasional conference.  However, it was only after I contributed an article and made a conference presentation that I fully appreciated what other individuals had been giving back to the water industry month after month and the importance of people volunteering to professional organizations in order to keep the water industry moving forward.

After giving a presentation in 2015, I was approached about chairing the CA-NV AWWA Section Leadership Development Committee.  Deciding to tackle this challenge has since proven to be a very good decision.  The extra work required was more than balanced by extra benefits associated with serving in this role.  I quickly gained a new set of friends and valuable professional relationships, and serving as a committee chairperson opened the door to attending and contributing to more conferences and facilitated valuable interactions with many of our Young Professionals, who really appreciated advice from others. I have enjoyed being part of a committee that emphasizes mentoring, and I fully agree with veteran John Holmes that “there is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”

My recommendation is for you to get involved in our section and help yourself by helping others!

Summer 2021 Spotlights

Yan Zhang, Director of Water Quality and Process
Long Beach Water Department

AWWA has always been an integral part of my career ever since I stepped into the water industry as a graduate student.  AWWA provided me with unlimited resources to learn-the publications offer knowledge and experience that was built on others’ success and failures; the conference technical programs allow everyone to share their ideas and findings, engage in meaningful discussions that trigger more ideas and cooperation that move our industry forward; the exhibit halls open your eyes as you discover new technologies and products that fit your needs; and at all these AWWA venues, you get to meet a group of amazing people who share your passion about water, some of which later become your mentors and friends. 

I have enjoyed the benefit of AWWA all along, but it wasn’t until I started volunteering as a committee member and getting actively involved in CA-NV section when I realized how all of the above was possible. CA-NV AWWA section’s mission is to Lead, educate and serve the water community to provide effective solutions and ensure public health; and volunteers are the ones make it happen. As the current Certification Board director, I experienced and witnessed this first hand through the development of Advanced Water Treatment (AWTO™) certificate. This program was successfully launched after 3 years of hard work by many volunteers and subject matter experts from all sides of the water community including regulators, utility operators, consultants and educators. This program is a perfect example how AWWA is fulfilling its mission for water professionals and by water professionals to ensure public health. I’m proud to be an active member of CA-NV AWWA and look forward to working with everyone to carry out our mission!

Dustin La Vallee, Associate Civil Engineer
East Bay Municipal Utility District

My involvement with AWWA CA-NV began in 2017 after joining the section’s Leadership Development Committee. I had been familiar with AWWA CA-NV from working in the drinking water industry and was looking at ways to become more involved. Joining this committee and becoming an active member has been one of the best decisions I could have made. The AWWA CA-NV section introduced me to a vast network of water industry professionals and provided me with invaluable opportunities for leadership and professional development. 

After attending the 2018 Annual Fall Conference, I volunteered as the Leadership Development Committee Chair helping to organize conference sessions, work with section staff and leadership, and coordinate with the Young Professionals and Student Chapter Committees. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend more recent AWWA CA-NV Fall and Spring conferences where I’ve continued to learn more about the section’s various committees and network with other industry professionals. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in AWWA CA-NV is working with younger industry professionals and students. I’ve had the opportunity to take part in mentoring sessions between industry leaders and younger professionals and students. This on-going collaboration offered by AWWA CA-NV is a great benefit for new industry professionals and students looking into careers in drinking water. 

My involvement with AWWA CA-NV has allowed me to step outside of the technical aspects of drinking water projects and collaborate with other section members on conference tracks, career development opportunities, and ways to connect students with working professionals. While I am relatively new to AWWA CA-NV, the members and staff haven’t hesitated to reach out and connect from day one. I look forward to continuing my involvement with AWWA CA-NV and helping to plan for the 2021 Annual Fall Conference.  

Spring 2021 Spotlight

Debra Kaye, President / Principal-in-Charge
V&A Consulting Engineers, Inc.

I have spent my entire 36 year career working in the water industry, holding positions as a customer service rep, meter reader, water plant operator, foreman, design engineer, planning engineer, O&M Manager, General Manager and currently CEO and owner of an engineering firm.  I was introduced to AWWA by Chet Auckly while I was working as a water plant operator in the early 1990’s.  I was working full time at the plant and also going to school full time pursuing my civil engineering degree when Chet asked me to write an article about my experience starting up a brand new 80 MGD conventional water treatment plant.  He proceeded to submit my article as an abstract for a presentation at a conference, which was accepted, and my journey with CA-NV AWWA began!

After that first conference, I got involved with several committees and coordinated a few workshops-I absolutely loved meeting other water professionals and sharing ideas and experiences.  I was very focused on Operator initiatives and served as the Operator Certification Administrator for the State of Nevada for many years and helped craft new legislation around Operator certification in the State.

I also volunteered to be the Local Arrangements Committee Chair for a conference in Reno, NV, which paved the path for an opportunity to serve on the CA-NV AWWA Board of Directors as the Conference Director in the late 1990’s.  Serving in this role taught me negotiating skills, diplomacy, and leadership skills that ultimately led me to the position as Chair of the Section in 2005-2006.  This experience was followed by serving as a Director on the Association Board and being elected to serve as a Vice President of AWWA in 2009-2011, which allowed me to travel all over North America to visit different Sections.  

I returned to the CA-NV AWWA Board as the Certification Director in 2015 and had the wonderful experience of collaborating with our colleagues at CWEA in the creation of the Section’s new AWT Certification Program.  A strange twist of fate landed me back on the Association’s Board of Directors in 2018 as the CA-NV Director and I will be finishing my term in June of 2021. 

My involvement in AWWA has spanned nearly 30 years and the benefits I have received both personally and professionally are immeasurable.  Get involved and volunteer – you will create lifelong friendships and develop skills that will help you advance your career!  And more importantly, you are giving back to an industry that plays such a vital role in protecting public health.

Winter 2020-21 Spotlight

Michael Malone, Water Director
City of Vallejo Water Department

My association with AWWA began in 1989 after my promotion at San Jose Water Company.  That first introduction was watching the team prepare to compete in the tapping competition. While in Sacramento I was pleased to support the Department of Utilities sending their first women’s team to the Tapping Competition, “Meter Madness and Hydrant Hysteria.” 

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to share information as a presenter and gain useful information by attending sessions at the local and national events. AWWA has provided a platform for me to encourage others to submit presentation ideas and share their experiences with our colleagues in the industry.  

I also found that spending time checking various exhibits provided insights on changing technologies from meters, advancements in meter reading, CMMS/asset management software to better hand tools - just to name a few. These take-a-ways helped keep my approaches current, and support my teams in efficiency and effectiveness.  

An article in the Journal on performance indexing started me on a path of performance measurement and challenging myself and organizations I’ve worked in to always seek ways to improve delivery of services to our customers and the communities we serve. 

Student Spotlight

Catherine Morales-Sandoval
UC Davis - AWWA Student Chapter Vice President (2020-21)

I joined the CA-NV Section at the start of my junior year after participating in a group project, which focused on creating a video informing 6-12th graders about the importance of water. My engagement with this project connected me to the AWWA Chapter at UC Davis since several members who participated in the project were also involved in AWWA.
As a junior, I participated in informational sessions and site visits that were hosted by the student chapter. In my 4th year, I became more engaged with my chapter by joining the board as president 2019-2020. As a board member, I have been introduced to many opportunities available in the water industry. I met many professionals and connected with many undergraduate and graduate students interested in water quality and water management. These connections along with my involvement in AWWA inspired me to pursue a graduate degree in civil and environmental engineering which I then applied for and was then accepted at UC Davis to start my master’s degree in January 2021. I continued to stay involved with the AWWA Student Chapter Board as vice-president for 2020-2021.
As I wrapped up my undergraduate degree, I took advantage of the opportunities available to grow as an engineer in the water industry. I attended the virtual AFC in October and the information sessions hosted by my student chapter. With events being virtual, it was easier for me to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities since most events were also recorded and I did not have to worry about the logistics of attending an event. I also participated in the WE Build Water Tower Competition, which was a fun experience. It was nice to do something hands-on and design a water tower. I am very excited and stunned that I won the individual student category. I look forward to attending the 2021 YP Summit in Atlanta!