Gregg Randahl's Work Life Became a Calling After He Discovered the Rewards of the Water Sector

Natural communication skills, hunger for knowledge and love of fieldwork created the foundation for Gregg Randahl’s rewarding career in utility management.

Gregg Randahl's Work Life Became a Calling After He Discovered the Rewards of the Water Sector

Gregg Randahl (left), shown with David Nusser, utility operator, was nominated by his peers for the 2020 Minnesota Section AWWA Meritorious Operator Award, which he received.

Gregg Randahl’s career of more than 30 years in the utility industry was purely accidental.

Randahl, assistant utility superintendent for the Bloomington (Minnesota) Water Utilities Division, wasn’t looking to enter the water field. Instead, the career found him. It has been a great fit and an ideal way for a natural organizer and communicator to progress, improve and leave a strong legacy. Last October, Randahl retired to enjoy the fruits of his long career in service to the region, after mentoring his potential successors.

Randahl graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and public health, so his migration into water made sense. After college, he began his career as a land surveyor and survey technician.

Then Bloomington, a Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb, offered him a position in records management and utility locating. Over the years that entry-level position blossomed into more technical duties and management of special projects.

Even in Minnesota’s sometimes harsh climate, Randahl enjoyed working outdoors, so when the opportunity came for training to become a certified water and wastewater operator, he jumped at it.

Expert communicator

Soon after earning his initial certifications, Randahl was responsible for customer service work, construction inspection, and coordinating with state and county agencies on various projects in Bloomington jurisdiction and the Twin Cities area.

The utility recognized him as a naturally gifted communicator who would excel as a liaison to facilitate projects needing cooperation and logistics management across multiple agencies and jurisdictions. Randahl and teams he led have been responsible for projects including roadway drainage, water storage, water treatment and wastewater lift stations. 

One high-profile project involved the expansion of Bloomington’s water treatment plant, built in 1972. In 2001 the plant underwent an expansion to double its capacity; it now processes 14 mgd using lime softening. The challenge was the plant’s multimedia filtration system; four of the eight filters were original and had never been rehabilitated, and yet they had retained the same media.

The project involved removing all the media, constructing new underdrain systems with new media, and matching and installing new filters compatible with the older ones.

The utility serves some 87,000 residents with about 50 employees. Randahl manages 38 team members who include Randy Poore and Pat Conrad, water/wastewater utilities supervisors; Steve Roepke, water treatment utilities supervisor; and Deb Weltzin, water quality supervisor.

Connected history

Bloomington has a dual-source water system. An agreement to purchase water from Minneapolis began in 1960; that was the community’s sole source until 1972, when its own treatment plant came online.

Minneapolis draws surface water from the Mississippi River and treats it with lime softening. Water at a designated pH and chlorine residual is delivered to Bloomington through two large-diameter pipelines. From there it is sent to several storage facilities at a pumping station.

The Bloomington treatment plant has six deep wells. Raw water enters treatment at 300 ppm hardness on average. The treatment process uses lime and calcium oxide softening processes with a polymer addition in upflow basins, along with re-carbonation to adjust pH. The water then goes through gravity filters, chlorination and fluoridation, and finally into 4 million-gallon clearwells to be pumped out for distribution.

By some standards the system is new, and Randahl noted that networking and tapping the knowledge of key mentors enabled him to operate the plant and manage his team.

“We regularly attended Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Health events and found those to be our best source of support and unity, learning that our problems were not that much different from other agencies,” he observes. “I encouraged members of my team to accompany me to meetings and neighboring community sites to learn about various projects. These connections were invaluable for liaison work with other state and county agencies.”

Like many utilities, Bloomington faces the silver tsunami as engineers, senior operators and field people plan to retire in the near future. As an industry veteran, Randahl understood the importance of conveying to younger members the importance of water and wastewater services. “I found it’s really important to explain to your team members the significance of what we were asking them to do,” he says. “That includes how to be a liaison with the contractor on a water tank rehab.

“They need to learn that relationships with consulting engineers and vendors need not be adversarial, and the importance of making observations and recording details, either handwritten or electronically. Any knowledge gained is for their benefit, as it will make them more valuable to the organization and knowledgeable resource for the entire group they work with.”

Strong model

Over the years, Randahl developed a strong and sustainable model for project management, rehabilitation and preventive maintenance for the plant and distribution system. Because the system is relatively new, Bloomington has no issues with lead service lines. Most distribution lines are cast or ductile iron, and all service lines and connections are copper.

Randahl was strategically involved in the setup of Bloomington’s computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). The utility recently migrated to Asset Essentials (Dude Solutions), which handles database management, generates work orders, and communicates with workstation computers, tablets and other mobile field devices.

Hydrant inspections are performed in each spring and fall, and the utility has a comprehensive valve operation/exercise program (Wachs exercisers). All valves 12 inches and smaller are operated every other year; 16-inch and larger valves are operated every year. Water storage facilities have been placed on the regular AWWA recommended rotations of inspection, cleanout and rehabilitation.

Excellent record management and upkeep since the system’s inception helps staff members know the locations of all valves, enabling fast emergency response. All asset information is also integrated into ESRI ArcView GIS tools.

Personal favorites

All this data was of great benefit when Randahl was tasked to lead his team in developing a government-mandated vulnerability assessment and preparedness plan. In 2018 the American Water Infrastructure Act began requiring water utilities to perform a risk and resiliency assessment and to certify that they had a plan in place.

Bloomington was required to assess any credible natural threats along with intentional or unintentional human intervention that could create problems. From this grew a response action plan. The bulk of the information was kept confidential for security purposes. As part of the process Randahl had to dovetail his plan with the city’s overall emergency response plans. The documentation began in 2004 and now comprises more than 300 pages.

Although he was involved in many special projects over his career, Randahl most enjoyed water storage tank rehabilitation projects. “I don’t know why they attracted me,” he says. “I guess I just enjoy taking something that had been well maintained and had provided a good service to the community, and rehabilitating it so that it could continue serving us.

“Water tanks are high-value assets, and replacement costs are astronomical, so taking action to keep them in service as long as possible is very gratifying.” Not surprisingly, Randahl noted that there wasn’t much about his work that he didn’t like: every task he and his team undertook helped support the health of the community.

Swan song

One change Randahl and his team made involved fire hydrant maintenance and a painting program. Bloomington has more than 4,500 hydrants, and the utility aims to paint 900 of them every year. “It is these little things that create community pride, and in a small way keep us in the public eye,” says Randahl.

“It’s important that people understand the work we do, and the value of water conservation, and what they’re putting down the drain, and to not use the toilet as a trash basket. Speaking to elementary students has been important, as that is a very good time in their lives for them to be made aware of how little things can make a big difference.”

Randahl’s colleagues wanted to make sure all his years of dedication were recognized and so in 2020 his peers nominated him for the Minnesota Section AWWA Meritorious Operator Award, which he won.

As he planned to leave well-loved workplace and career to enjoy time with his family and play more golf, he worked diligently to set up essential future projects to be executed by his successors. One of these is rehabilitation of a large lift station in the middle of a residential community; it will involve delicate work and communication with the residents about what is being to improve the system that serves them.

“Those who will carry on the work will need to continue championing funding for infrastructure renewal and, more important, training of the future workforce,” Randahl says. “It will be vital to plant the seeds of interest for this industry in middle or secondary school systems and to share the great opportunities available for young operators.

“Equally important is establishing and maintaining rapport and communications with colleagues and with peers from other communities as well as contractors and consultants. We can all learn from each other, and learning is something we should never be satisfied with as being done. We need never be afraid to keep learning.”   


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