Go-To Texas Operator Knows How to Run It All

Award-winner Donald Malovets excels at a large Texas water authority with experience, dedication and a superb maintenance team.
Go-To Texas Operator Knows How to Run It All
Donald Malovets, regional maintenance superintendent at the Brazos River Authority.

Donald Malovets is known as the go-to guy at the Brazos  River Authority (BRA), based in Waco, Texas. If equipment needs repair, his team gets it done. They handle two surface water treatment plants, one raw water intake pump station and eight wastewater treatment plants for seven counties.

During his more than 25 years with the BRA, his troubleshooting, repair, supervisory and management skills have helped prolong equipment life significantly and save money.

Malovets’ contributions earned him the Operator’s Meritorious Service Award from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in 2014. As a licensed water and wastewater operator and the BRA’s regional maintenance superintendent, he understands how maintenance affects plant operations.

His job is never dull: “I never have the same day twice. There is no routine in maintenance work.” One of his most memorable achievements was dealing with a 2007 flood that damaged the intake at the East Williamson County Regional Water Treatment Plant.

“The flooding, along with trees being carried downriver, took the intake out,” he recalls. “My team arranged for a temporary pump so the City of Taylor wouldn’t run out of water. In less than 24 hours we had the pump in place, and we ran it for a few weeks until the intake could be repaired.”

The team worked 18 hours straight to install the temporary pump; Malovets slept in the back of his pickup truck that night so he could keep an eye on the pump.

Long-term job

Malovets came to the water and wastewater business with construction experience and a familiarity with farm machinery. “I lived in a farming community and was working in a factory building school furniture,” he says. “I had worked in construction for a while, but it was up and down. I wanted something long term.”

He applied at the BRA in 1988 and five months later was hired as a maintenance worker at the Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant. He received training in plant equipment repair, and his manager started letting the maintenance crew members do more of their own repair work, rebuilding pumps, fixing composting machinery, fabricating motor stands and running conduit.

In 1998, Malovets was promoted to maintenance crew leader, managing a staff of three. In the late 1990s, the BRA formed an alliance with the Lower Colorado River Authority and began operating several of its plants.

“After that influx of facilities, we had to be creative in covering all the plants with nearly the same number of staff,” recalls Malovets. In 2001, he was promoted to his current position.

His mentors include Leonard Janke, the farmer he worked for near Davilla, Texas, during summers in 1981-84. “He was meticulous and taught me how to maintain things to last forever,” Malovets says. Scott Bloedorn, his boss at the Temple-Belton plant, taught him the electrical and instrumentation side of the industry. He also learned from his future father-in-law, J.P. Morgan, while installing ceramic tile: “He made sure you did it right the first time, to make it last and to be proud of your work.”

Malovets has seen many changes in the water business. “In the beginning, it seemed like just a job, but people are now more involved and more educated about the environment,” he says. “They understand that what we do can have a huge effect. If I worked for someone who just looked at the bottom dollar, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this. The BRA has allowed me to make decisions and experiment to try to make things better. It keeps my mind working and I never get bored.”

Multiple plants

The BRA is the oldest river authority in Texas. It owns and operates the 13.8 mgd East Williamson County Regional Water Treatment Plant, which sells water to the City of Taylor and Jonah Specialty Utility District.

The authority also operates the 12 mgd Sandy Creek surface water treatment plant for the City of Leander and a raw water pump station on Lake Stillhouse that transfers water through 26 miles of pipeline to Lake Georgetown. In addition, the BRA operates and maintains 30 lift stations for the City of Temple and one for the City of Belton, plus eight wastewater treatment facilities:

  • City of Sugar Land North (6 mgd) and South (7.5 mgd) plants
  • City of Hutto Central plant (1.5 mgd)
  • City of Round Rock Brushy Creek West plant (3 mgd)
  • Cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Austin and Leander Brushy Creek East Regional plant (22 mgd)
  • Cities of Temple and Belton plant (10 mgd) and composting facility
  • City of Temple Doshier Farms plant (7.5 mgd)
  • Cities of Clute and Richwood plant (4 mgd)

The maintenance team rebuilds pumps, changes out bearings and seals, orders parts, and welds, cuts and lays out parts for fabrication. They also perform plumbing and electrical troubleshooting and repair; backhoe, trenching and tractor work; plus carpentry, painting and Sheetrocking. They maintain the biosolids composting equipment, grind the brush and screen the product.

“They can do pretty much everything except rewind motors or perform actual machine work, which we send outside,” says Malovets. His own duties are broad: maintenance and pipeline personnel management, plant safety inspections and repair, emergency response, budget preparation, vehicle fleet management, and employee training and development. He also fills in for Jay Middleton, regional operations superintendent, and Kyle Headley, deputy regional superintendent.

Greater efficiency

On a typical day, Malovets may visit one of the plants, attend a meeting or go to his office. His staff sends him reports with scheduled jobs for the week ahead and a list of crew members on call and off duty.

"With this report and my calendar in hand, I decide where I will spend my time that week,” Malovets says. “I usually visit the plants and look at things the maintenance crew leaders need to add to the weekly work schedule. Or I may just walk the plants and discuss how and when we will schedule larger projects.”

Malovets also works with the purchasing department to plan the larger projects’ scope and prepare bids. “My job depends on surrounding myself with good people in the organization,” he says. “There are many who play different roles and who make everything come together. They allow me to succeed along with them.” His boss, David Collinsworth, Central and Lower Basin manager, is strongly supportive.

Malovets is always looking for more efficient ways to do his job. “Our Sandy Creek surface water plant has a floating intake, which is a barge that sits in a cove on Lake Travis,” he says. “The water in the cove is usually 75 to 80 feet deep. When the lake level dropped 50 feet during a drought that began in 2010, we shortened the seven vertical turbine pumps so they could stay on the barge longer and we could leave the barge in the cove.” Team members pulled one pump at a time over two months, saving the City of Leander several thousand dollars by doing the work themselves.

Regular training helps the team do the best possible job. “We receive regular equipment training either through the licensing agencies or by bringing the trainers to us,” Malovets says.

Deserving recognition

Malovets describes his management style as straightforward: “I have high expectations and expect good results. I also hold people to what they say. Sometimes I may come across as too harsh, but I feel that I am fair and try to follow the rules. Basically, I want to make things better and am kind of a perfectionist.”

This dedication won him the Operator’s Meritorious Service Award. Cathy Dominguez, regional government and customer relations manager for the BRA’s Lower Basin, nominated him. Malovets was surprised to win: “Here I am on the maintenance side and I don’t consider myself an operator. I’m not one who expects a pat on the back.”

After he received the award, his boss wanted to take him to a BRA board of directors meeting. “I said that was fine as long as I could take my supervisors with me, because they deserve the recognition, too.”

Malovets was a member of the operating team at the Temple-Belton facility, which won a U.S. EPA award for beneficial use of biosolids and innovative technology. The facility was one of the first in the country to establish a mulch and compost product made from biosolids and the city brush collections.

“We produce a Class A biosolids product that the BRA sells for the cities to help offset the cost of running the facility,” Malovets says. His team maintains the composting equipment, which includes a wood grinder, windrow turner, compost screen and several front-end loaders.

Experienced crew

Most of his team members have water and wastewater certifications. All are well experienced. They work 10-hour shifts four days a week and rotate on-call weekend duty. They interact regularly with plant operators. “The operators understand and appreciate what we do,” Malovets says. “I feel that they are our customers.”

Malovets holds Class C surface water and Class B wastewater certification. Reporting to him are:

  • David Koslovsky, pipeline/maintenance crew leader (10 years with the BRA)
  • Maintenance crew leaders John Heaps (Class A wastewater, 28 years), Dirk Bland (Class B wastewater, 26 years) and Greg Graf (Class B wastewater, 17 years)
  • David Lesikar, maintenance floater (Class D wastewater, one year)
  • The crew leaders supervise 17 maintenance technicians.  

Future challenges

Malovets says his greatest challenge is dealing with trash. “In wastewater treatment, we see a huge amount of trash in the sewer system, especially rags,” he says. “More public education is needed to inform everyone about what they can and cannot flush.”

His crews are constantly pulling rags out of the lift station pumps: “The rags seem to form into a ball and they get sucked up into the pump.  We even found a radial tire in a pump one time.” The BRA is starting to work with the cities toward a solution.

Another challenge is finding parts for older equipment. “When I started in this field, you could buy parts needed to fix things, but no one is stocking those anymore,” Malovets says.
Malovets plans to stay with the BRA for five to seven more years, then retire and “perform minor tractor or road work to keep busy.” Looking back, he is happy with his career choice: “I’ve seen a lot, but I’m sure there are things I haven’t seen yet. It’s been fun, I tell you.”

Outdoor adventures

When Donald Malovets isn’t taking care of business as regional maintenance superintendent at the Brazos River Authority, you may find him on his property moving hay, cutting wood or hunting deer: “There are lots of good deer out there. I once killed an 8-pointer that scored right at 135.”

He enjoys camping with his family several times a year at area lakes and Goose Island State Park on the coast. He also takes his center-console bay boat to the coast for trout fishing or to the region’s lakes for catfish. “Fishing gives me the chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors. And to get away from it all — especially from that cellphone!”


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