Small Staff, Big Rewards: Water and Wastewater Program Keeps AWWA Members In the Know

Small Staff, Big Rewards: Water and Wastewater Program Keeps AWWA Members In the Know
Tim Worley, Ph.D., has led the California-Nevada section of AWWA as executive director for almost three years.

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With 5,400 members, the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association is the largest of the organization’s 43 sections. And just like its parent organization, the section’s staff of 10 works hard to keep members updated on best practices in drinking water and wastewater plant management with a variety of programs, conferences and, more recently, online courses. 

Tim Worley, Ph.D., has led the section as executive director for almost three years. With 20 years of experience under his belt working for two different California water utilities, he joined the AWWA staff in Denver, before returning to California to lead the California-Nevada section a year and a half later. 

Worley spoke with Treatment Plant Operator recently on the organization, their extensive Water College course offerings and the success of their new H2O Know online training program. 

TPO: How has CA-NV AWWA evolved since its inception in 1920? 

Worley: The California Section of AWWA was founded with just 52 members. By 1938, we’d grown to 440 members. Nevada officially joined us in 1977 to form what is now the present-day California-Nevada Section, giving us well over 5,000 members. And, while our focus has always been on drinking water, many of our members manage both drinking and wastewater facilities. In addition, companies that provide a wide array of products and services to the water community are another important part of the organization. 

We currently have over 50 standing committees that help plan and direct our training curriculum, our annual spring and fall conferences, and many specialized conferences throughout the year on topics such as water resource management, watersheds and inorganic contaminants. 

TPO: How many courses and programs do you offer each year? 

Worley: We provide literally hundreds of training classes annually, largely focused on what water system operators need to know regarding drinking water treatment and water distribution management. There also are many specialty offerings that may not apply to every member’s role or need, but of interest to certain member segments. These include topics such as backflow protection and cross prevention control, water conservation, and a variety of utility management issues. 

We just wrapped up a well-attended emergency response workshop where students learned what the state and federal government expects in an emergency plan, and how to instill the necessary planning into an agency’s culture. We utilize industry standards and top-notch training materials as much as possible. Overall, we try to cover the widest possible range of needs of the drinking water utility employee. 

TPO: What certifications does the section offer? 

Worley: We currently offer six water profession certification programs: Water Distribution and Water Treatment would enable those certified to walk into just about any state and pass their state-specific exams, in addition to Backflow, Cross-Connection, Water Quality Lab Analyst and Water Use Efficiency. 

TPO: What are the water system operation challenges in California and Nevada? 

Worley: The biggest difference in California from other parts of the country is that we frequently have to move water very long distances from where it’s available to where it’s needed. Sometimes the local infrastructure or water source provides unique challenges, too. 

There are places here with colored water, manganese and other contaminants, so the knowledge operators require can be very specialized. For instance, we’re seeing increasing use of membrane treatment and reverse osmosis, both of which require additional technical knowledge operators need to acquire. The same is true with ozone or ultraviolet disinfection techniques, which are becoming more and more common. We are looking at providing more of these specialized workshops in the coming years. 

TPO: How do you offer so many courses with such a small staff? 

Worley: Like many others around the country, we offer some training classes with multiple tracks that are led entirely by volunteer instructors from utilities, manufacturers and distributors, and consulting firms. It’s a great advantage of such a large and well-rounded association, that members with tremendous expertise are willing to share their knowledge, just to benefit the whole community. This helps us do more as well as helps us keep registration costs low. 

For instance, we just had 600 people attending our annual Water Education seminar. The cost was just over $100 for a full day with multiple tracks with six contact hours awarded – a very affordable price. The wide variety of topics offered – from water operations, to distribution, water treatment, technology, safety and regulations – was possible due to the participation of so many volunteer instructors. 

Workshops on special aspects of a water utility are also typically led by volunteers from our committees, such as a recent workshop on water well design and construction. We also contract with instructors to deliver classes repeated several times a year, such as Introduction to Water Treatment, at a variety of locations throughout both member states. 

TPO: Why was the decision made to start offering H2O Know online classes as part of your Water College? 

Worley: We try to offer a broad array of opportunities in both our offices and at other sites, but the need to be online was of growing importance in order to increase the educational resources and information we provide members. The geographic size of our section meant that travel time, expense and lodging costs were an increasing factor for budget-strapped municipalities. The flexibility of online training was also becoming more attractive. 

We partnered with a company with a platform for online safety training, TargetSolutions, and worked with them to develop our curriculum. H2O Know was launched in 2011 as part of our Water College and, barely two years later, has become an important part of our educational offerings. 

H2O Know delivers online training enabling those in the water industry to take advantage of human resources and OSHA curriculum along with regular CA-NV AWWA training offerings. Online registrants enjoy access to H2O Know courses whenever they want, from any computer, for self-paced learning. Another benefit is that once completed, they can instantly print their course certificate. 

TPO: Can you explain the process of getting your online offerings up and running? 

Worley: It took approximately six months after partner selection to launch our online offering. The cost of the H2O Know program is covered through annual subscriptions, which include unlimited online access to all courses. Utilities with 15 or more users can save money with a group subscription with additional savings for two-year subscriptions. 

We have 75 classes available online today, each eligible for at least one contact hour. There are 34 technical water offerings available – 15 we created and 19 created by TargetSolutions – for a total of 53 possible course hours. And we have over 40 safety offerings providing a total of 49 course hours. Anyone taking all would gain 102 contact hours. 

We have an evergreen contract with TargetSolutions until either party decides to terminate. We broke even by the second year, and now we’re starting to bring in some modest revenue beyond what we pay them. 

Although we’ve incurred additional costs to develop several new offerings this year, it’s still more about providing a service to our members and other customers than about revenue. We are continuing to learn how to effectively market the program, and believe its potential is much greater. But however it develops, our members told us they needed this flexibility, and we think it’s important to meet their needs even if it’s just a portion of our total education program. 

TPO: How successful has the H2O Know program been? 

Worley: We began with approximately 20 offerings in 2011. In 2012 we added another six and this year, another five. We’ve seen online registrations grow almost 20 percent between 2011 and 2012, so we can see there’s a need for an online offering. 

TPO: What is your opinion on the work that ABC is currently undertaking to craft national operator certification standards? 

Worley: We are involved with ABC and aware of the work they’re doing, although not closely involved. However, we do rely on ABC for some of our certification exams. For instance, we recently set up a computerized exam system to improve member convenience. Operators can take exams at any of 25 testing locations throughout California and Nevada. We partnered with ABC to provide questions for the exams, which can be scheduled at any time convenient for the operator. 

We also offer post-class testing for some programs. The backflow prevention class – the most heavily attended of all our offerings – is one of these. Protecting water quality right up to the faucet is so important today, so we emphasize this training. Backflow prevention devices have to be tested and monitored to ensure they’re working as designed, and operators need training in this. The course takes a full week, Monday through Friday, with the exam offered on Saturday. 

TPO: What gives you the most satisfaction about your job? 

Worley: I couldn’t be more pleased with the work we’re doing. Although there’s a lot more we can do, we are always doing everything we can to keep up with all that water system operators need to know – which is ever increasing.


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