Jeff Pippel Relies on Plain-Spoken Management and a Mentoring Focus to Build an Award-Winning Career

Jeff Pippel uses plain-spoken management skills and a sharp mentoring focus to build an award-winning career at West Virginia water and wastewater plants.

Jeff Pippel Relies on Plain-Spoken Management and a Mentoring Focus to Build an Award-Winning Career

Team members at Jefferson Utilities include, from left, Greg Williams and Timmy Tumblin, operators; Stephanie Reel, general manager; and Jeff Pippel, operations manager.

Dependable. Dedicated. Easy- going. Awesome. Those are some labels executives and direct-reports apply to Jeff Pippel, operations manager for Jefferson Utilities, which operates 12 water treatment plants and three wastewater treatment facilities in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

A 25-year industry veteran, Pippel draws rave reviews for his work ethic, self-effacing manner, and commitment to operator training — so much so that he received the 2016 Perkins-Boynton Award from the West Virginia Section of the American Water Works Association and the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health. The award came in the Small System category, for utilities serving less than a 3,300 population.

AWWA officials say the award, named for the Mountain State’s first certified public water service operator, goes to active licensed plant operators who have demonstrated exemplary ability in water plant operation and showed desire to increase their water treatment knowledge.

Low-key style

Shrugging off the praise, Pippel was thrilled to hear that he’d won the prize: “The state health inspectors nominated me, which was quite an honor. It definitely wasn’t on my radar, and I’m really grateful to them and to my bosses and operators. It’s their award as much as mine.”

Such quiet candor is typical of Pippel, who grew up in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a borough of 7,400 near Philadelphia, and graduated from Upper Moreland High School. In 1989 he earned an associate degree in ecology and environmental technology from Paul Smith’s College near Lake Placid, New York. While there, he worked at a wastewater treatment plant. Two years later, he received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.

In 1992, he joined Snyder Environmental Services, a private company in Kearneysville, West Virginia, that does construction and contract operations for water and wastewater utilities. Pippel largely focused on wastewater and landfill treatment. When owner Lee Snyder formed the sister company Jefferson Utilities in 1995, Pippel moved over to water treatment operations and became a mainstay.

Steps to success

For CEO Snyder, whose family has been in the water and wastewater business since 1966, hiring Pippel was a total win-win. Since 1979, Snyder Environmental Services has grown to $20 million in business annually, with 90 employees in six states and the District of Columbia, and on the utilities side to about $2 million a year and 14 employees.

“Jeff is a very dependable operator who really knows what he’s doing,” Snyder says. “He has been an important part of our growth for all of the years he’s been with us. Beyond his broad knowledge and technical skills, Jeff is an excellent mentor and teacher, and that makes him a great asset.”

Pippel sees things a bit differently: “I found water and wastewater an ideal career because of the opportunity to serve the public and provide clean, safe water. The hard part is getting the younger generation to step up and commit to the business. Many want careers that are more glamorous. That’s why I try to be a good boss and mentor, so they’ll see how much opportunity the industry offers.”

Nonstop effort

As chief operator, Pippel has helped Jefferson Utilities dramatically improve small water treatment facilities that were once failing and in receivership, to the point where they’re now thriving. The six water plants under his direction are: Walnut Grove (886,000 gpd), Deerfield Village (57,600 gpd), Mountain System (202,000 gpd), Deerwood (72,000 gpd), Apple Orchard Acres (5,000 gpd) and Cacapon State Park (72,000 gpd).

The groundwater system comprises a network with 18 wells that serve customers, including residential subdivisions, schools, hotels, RV parks, industrial parks, restaurants, and retail and manufacturing businesses. Most of the treatment plants are chlorination-based. In a cost-saving coup for the county, Pippel in 2015 acquired and installed a secondhand 40 gpm MEMCOR membrane system (Evoqua Water Technologies) for the Deerfield Village plant. Its well had been designated by the state Health Department as “under the influence” of groundwater, thereby requiring filtration, which also included new membranes and controllers. 

At the Cacapon State Park facility, Pippel and his team put in greensand water filters, without any rate increase, to help with manganese removal. They did a similar greensand filter installation for the Mountain System’s Harris Campsites and Keyes Ferry Acres treatment facilities to address iron and manganese issues that a sequestering agent couldn’t solve. In fact, the Keyes Ferry Acres didn’t even feed chlorine into its treatment systems. Pippel had to find chlorine contact tanks and start feeding them. Customers thanked him; one says, “Thanks to this, our kids’ ear infections went away.”

In addition, the team recently completed a 16-inch waterline extension and installed a third water tank in Jefferson County to support a $150 million expansion of ROXUL, a Canadian maker of insulation, sound absorption materials and adhesives for the construction industry.

Quality water, quality boss

Maintaining high-quality water permeates everything Pippel does, from taking water samples to test for nitrates, inorganics, volatile organic compounds, lead and copper, and others, to doing maintenance and even some plumbing and electrical work. In 2015, when the waterlines for one of the mountain systems broke during a cold snap, Pippel and his operators spent the entire weekend finding and repairing the leaks, eventually installing an entirely new water main. 

“Jeff is a dedicated employee, no matter the situation — good, bad, or indifferent,” says Stephanie Reel, Jefferson Utilities general manager. “He has helped our system work so much better than it had. He’s easygoing and a lot of fun to work with. He’s got a great personality. Jeff works closely with the three operators who report to him to make sure the system is running as efficiently as it can.”

Reel credits Pippel’s broad knowledge and inclusive management style for his and the company’s success: “Jeff works with the Health Department nearly every day and knows what needs to be done in terms of maintaining compliance. When new employees come on and want to learn water treatment or wastewater operations, he’s the one they turn to because he knows so much and can guide them. He understands how to build employees up and help them grow.”

Managing a big project

At present, Pippel is too busy to acknowledge the kind words. He’s overseeing a major upgrade of the Walnut Grove system that will feature state-of-the-art membrane filtration and is expected to come online in 2020. The new plant, which Pippel calls “the Taj Mahal of our system,” will be in Charles Town, about 10 minutes from Kearneysville, at an existing subdivision. Basically, Jefferson Utilities is transforming its present plant into an entirely new facility. The new plant covers 6,000 square feet and has six membrane filtration units. Once it is up and running, the old plant will be taken down.

Once the upgrade is done, the Walnut Grove system and its 1,845 customers will be interconnected with the neighboring Burr water system (415 customers) and the Deerfield Village system (41 customers). The interconnection will enable Jefferson Utilities to supply all lower Shenandoah Valley customers from both of its 510,000-gallon water towers and will provide a backup water source in case one well has to be shut down for an accident or spill that could endanger public safety.

“We’re really excited about the new plant,” Pippel says. “There are a ton of details to be worked out with a project of this size to make sure we keep costs under control and keep the existing system functioning for our customers.”

Work-home balance

When not troubleshooting, managing, or mentoring, Pippel enjoys photography, traveling, and spending time with his wife, Julie, retired in 2016 from her job as director of the Division of Environmental Management (covering water, wastewater and landfill) in Washington County, Maryland. Their daughter, Natalie, attends Hagerstown Community College in Maryland.

As for the future, Pippel is happy where he is, being a standout chief operator and serving area residents to the best of his ability: “I plan to stay here the rest of my career. I have about 15 years more to go, and if Jefferson Utilities still wants me, I’ll hang around until retirement.”


Mentorship and leadership, Pippel style

For 25 years, Jeff Pippel has made mentorship and leadership priorities at Snyder Environmental Services and later at Jefferson Utilities, where he applies commonsense principles to get the most out of water and wastewater operators. Here are his thoughts on bringing out the best in team members:

  • Talk to the people, learn their skills and try to enhance those qualities.
  • Lead the team toward a goal, and see how they develop their thoughts and actions to achieve it.
  • Help team members understand how everything interacts and how the whole process works.
  • Have a grasp of the process so that if something goes awry, you can help the team fix it.

As for leadership, Pippel is straightforward: “A good leader is someone who listens to other people on the team and understands that he might not have all the answers, or that someone might have a better one. Somebody else might see something differently than you do and have a fresh perspective. A new set of eyes just might see something that was overlooked.”

How has Pippel done as a mentor and boss? Pretty well, according to his boss and operators. “Jeff provides good mentorship to those who work for him, including new guys and those with experience,” says Stephanie Reel, general manager. “He works with his operators every day and makes sure he always answers their calls, responds to their questions and gets the answers they need.”

Operator Greg Williams says, “He’s great about getting me answers, no matter how busy he is. Plus, he’s been a big help as I prepare to get my certification.”

Operator Joey Carter adds, “Jeff is real good at explaining things and helping people learn the job. That’s what he did for me. He can make you understand just about anything connected with our water and wastewater operations. He goes above and beyond what’s required to help us succeed.”




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