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Sanitation Districts' Wastewater Heroes: LA Wrecking Crew return to Chicago

by Wendy A. Wert, P.E., BCEE

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LA Wrecking Crew at WEFTEC Chicago 2019 Kyle Rodman, Jowyn Villanueva, Aaron Martinez and Joe Gevas

Challenging times often bring out the best in people.

When I was a child, my image of a hero was largely influenced by my surroundings, rural Pennsylvania. A hero was someone who could protect us from disasters. Heroes could chase a bear, ford a stream, and summit a peak.

As urban dwellers, our opportunities to brave the forces of nature are limited. But what's unlimited is our resilience to stand up and face the challenges of our times.

Our mission to protect public health and the environment requires many extraordinary heroes with this kind of superpower. And I've had the honor of working with many of them through the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

Why do we need heroes?

Because they represent the best of who we can be. Their efforts to solve the world's challenges demonstrate our values as a community and they serve as powerful examples of how to make a positive difference in the world. They can inspire others to do something heroic too.

If there's ever been a time that we need heroes, it's now. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges. Discontinuing service in the middle of a pandemic is not an option. We stand with colleagues who are on the frontline, responding to emergencies such as, piping failures and flooding every day.

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LA Wrecking Crew at WEFTEC Chicago 2019 Kyle Rodman, Jowyn Villanueva, Aaron Martinez and Joe Gevas

On the frontline protecting public health and the environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that the work we do at the Sanitation Districts is critical to protecting public health and the environment. Consistently delivering our essential services requires all of us to work together as a team.

We have taken our cue from the Sanitation Districts' LA Wrecking Crew (Nick Janicke, Joe Gevas, Kyle Rodman, Daniel Lomeli and Ulysses Ramos Ochoa), who are on the frontline of our wastewater management operations.

The LA Wrecking Crew, of which Nick is the captain, will represent the Sanitation Districts and California in the 2021 Operations Challenge at the Water Environment Federation's Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in Chicago from October 17 to 20. The Operations Challenge began in 1988 to bring together wastewater operations and maintenance professionals and showcase their knowledge and skills.

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Daniel Lomeli, TPO I at JWPCP

The Operations Challenge has expanded from an original 22-team event to its current two-division format Teams from 43 states have competed in Operations Challenge at WEFTEC. WEF has also had teams participate from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, and Germany.

Each 5-person team competes in five events: collection systems, laboratory, process control, maintenance and safety. The competitors represent the often unsung heroes who provide essential services 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Over the years, the competition has been a great way to bring wastewater professionals together in camaraderie and competition. I've watched over the years how men and women come together in mutual support and to cheer each other on. No matter who wins, we all win.

A legacy of leadership.

The Sanitation Districts' LA Wrecking Crew has won 6 national titles and placed in the top 3 a total of 16 times over the last 33 years.

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Ulysses Ramos Ochoa, TPO II at JWPCP

Our team is formed of volunteers who practice and study outside normal work hours to step up to the challenge. Good luck to the LA Wrecking Crew in Chicago. We are all pulling for you!

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As essential businesses, resource recovery utilities must remain open, serving the community. You remove contaminants in waste, converting it into resources such as nutrient rich compost, renewable energy and recycled water. Closing is not an option. You are the behind the scenes heroes that keep us safe. The challenges that we overcame this past year, has shaped the way the water environment profession is valued.

We will get through this, and when we do, the recovery will depend on all of us pulling together like Operations Challenge teams do. Thank you for your legacy of leadership!

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