As we work together to get through this global health crisis, Valley Water remains focused on continuing to deliver safe, clean water to our community, and protect residents and businesses from flooding.
The COVID-19 virus is not impacting the safety of your drinking water, or our ability to supply water in Santa Clara County.
Under the state and county’s shelter-in-place order, Valley Water is considered essential as an organization from a utility and public works perspective. Critical operations are continuing in support of our core mission of providing clean, safe water, essential infrastructure, water supply, flood protection projects and creek maintenance.
Like much of the Silicon Valley workforce, many of our Valley Water employees are teleworking during this crisis.
But countless others are continuing to work around the clock in our most critical and essential business operations, onsite or in the field, to make sure we maintain our commitment to the community to provide a reliable supply of safe, clean drinking water, and protection from flooding. Many workers are juggling responsibilities at home, including childcare challenges or caring for dependent family members, while continuing to serve their community.
As our local, state, national and global community continues to respond to COVID-19, we are going highlight some of the work that continues to be done by Valley Water employees to deliver safe, clean water.
Rachel Guerrero | Tyson Enzweiler | Katie Vigil | Alex Torres | Scott Condon | Jeff Lewis and Chris Van Amburg | Janice Lum | Damaris Villalobos-Galindo | Reuben Castro and Ron Tarabetz
Have you wondered how Santa Clara County gets safe, clean drinking water? Or how water is reused by refreshing it into purified water? Valley Water hosts a variety of water infrastructure and facility tours to educate the public on how it all works together to provide safe, clean drinking water for Santa Clara County.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve hit pause on our in-person water supply outreach and volunteer programs. This includes our Water 101 Community Ambassador program, the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center tour, and our water infrastructure bus tour, which was launched earlier this year.
The team delivering our outstanding outreach and volunteer programming are Gina Adriano and Albert Le. Adriano is a Public Information Representative and finds joy in interacting with community members and educating the public on the importance of Valley Water’s work and projects. Le is also a Public Information Representative and enjoys helping the public understand the infrastructure that provides them with safe, clean water through our outreach programs.
Although in-person tours have momentarily paused, Adriano and Le were instrumental in adapting the water infrastructure bus tour content within weeks of the shelter-in-place order and presenting it virtually through Zoom. “This experience has been recognized across the organization and by other local agencies for how quickly we shifted to a virtual platform,” said Le. “Valley Water’s work to provide safe, clean water obviously didn’t stop, so neither does our work in engaging and educating the public,” said Adriano. “We just had to adapt and shift gears.”
Like many agencies, the last few months have challenged employees to work in a different format. Adriano and Le quickly embraced the new “face-to-face” normal, behind a computer screen and in front of a virtual background. Our virtual events have garnered much more interest than expected and have allowed us to reach new audiences and even people from all around the state.
When Adriano and Le were asked what they would like their friends and neighbors to know about their work, they shared similar sentiments. They take pride in their efforts to educate the public on protecting our valuable natural resources. They are also committed to helping our community understand the value of water and the vital work we do as a water resource management agency to provide residents and businesses with safe, clean drinking water.
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place?“I had a baby in December, right in the middle of flu season, and I am going on 6 months of shelter-in-place. We have been doing long walks, FaceTime calls with family, and catching up on Netflix.”
- Hobbies or interests?“Catching up on my stash of TIME magazines, reading, yoga, traveling pre-pandemic, and photo scrapbooking.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment:“Giving birth to my first child and returning to work and leading my team with an average of 5 hours of sleep daily!”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment:“Managing the flood awareness campaign for four years and receiving five awards.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place?“I was fortunate to have a comfortable work desk with additional monitors at home before sheltering-in-place. This helped with the work-from-home transition, especially in light of the increased volume of work meetings over Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The additional monitors were extremely helpful as our team launched virtual tours. There is a lot of juggling between screens on the back end that a participant would not be aware of. Lastly, noise-canceling earphones.”
- Hobbies or interests?“Frequent travel, eating, and consumer of global pop culture.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Driving the entirety of the Oregon Coast right before shelter-in-place orders.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “Attending the Water Education Committee conference in Santa Barbara and meeting other water industry public engagement professionals.”
Reuben Castro and Ron Tarabetz do some heavy lifting for Valley Water. They are a part of a team that recently received a massive supply of boulders weighing in at 5,800 tons. These boulders are going to local creeks, like Coyote Creek in San Jose and Upper Llagas Creek in Morgan Hill, to help with erosion, strengthen levees and solidify creek banks as part of the seasonal work done through the Stream Maintenance Program (SMP).
Castro is a senior maintenance worker and has been with Valley Water for 19 years. Tarabetz is a heavy equipment operator and has been with Valley Water for 18 years. They both enjoy working with the community while helping support flood protection in Santa Clara County.
During the SMP season, Castro leads one of his crews into creeks and streams to remove sediment, vegetation, trash, and debris –items that can block the natural water flow.
Tarabetz operates heavy equipment, like excavators and cranes, and uses them to remove trees and large debris, and also places boulders into our creeks to help stabilize the banks.
Castro and Tarabetz worked together to bring in the 5,800 tons of boulders. Castro is responsible for coordinating efforts for the purchase and delivery of the boulders, while Tarabetz operates an excavator to stack those huge rocks. Keeping the trucks running smoothly and maximizing the available space for the rock storage requires a lot of planning and strategy. It’s like playing Tetris, only with large boulders.
Castro and Tarabetz are part of Valley Water’s essential workforce. They continue to report to work each day because their job duties help reduce the risk of flooding and keep our communities safe.
“During these uncertain times, we are still performing watershed operations and maintenance in the community every day,” said Castro. “Keeping creeks and facilities cleaned and maintained for flood protection in Santa Clara County is important.”
They enjoy their public service roles at Valley Water and are dedicated to keeping residents and businesses safe.
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “When not fulfilling my regular duties at Valley Water, I am following the guidelines of washing my hands frequently and staying at home.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Before the shelter-in-place order, I enjoyed hanging out with my family and friends, cruising classic cars with my dad and brother, attending sporting events such as baseball, football games, motorsports events. Also, visiting with my 98-year old grandma and listening to her tell me stories from back in the day.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “I purchased a 1941 Chevrolet pickup truck as a surprise for my dad, which is also his birth year. I wanted to show my appreciation for always providing for me and my three older brothers while we were growing up.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “My most interesting experience is participating in the employee recognition awards committee for two years and playing on the former Valley Water softball league. Those experiences allowed me to meet many coworkers from other departments.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “I’m avoiding unnecessary exposure to people, utilizing face masks, 6 feet physical distancing and washing my hands as often as necessary.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Hunting, motorcycling, welding fabrication, and ranching.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Married for 30 years.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “Completing a project management course in less than one year.”
Associate civil engineer Damaris Villalobos-Galindo loves the technical aspects of her job at Valley Water, but she finds her greatest fulfillment working with the Santa Clara County residents. “My work is satisfying, not only the technical aspects of engineering, but you work closely with the community, hearing from them and learning about what they would like to see in their surrounding community,” Villalobos-Galindo shared.
She’s part of the team working on the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project. Reducing the risk of flooding in neighborhoods and keeping communities safe continues to be a top priority for Valley Water during this public health crisis.
This project underscores Valley Water’s commitment to the safety and protection of residents and businesses. The primary goal of the project is to reduce the risk of flooding from a flood event equivalent to the one experienced in February 2017, while preserving and improving the creek’s natural functions and habitat.
Villalobos-Galindo manages all aspects of the planning phase of the project, which is near completion. She spends much of her time actively collaborating with the City of San José, different units within Valley Water, environmental planners, and interacting with the community. Although in-person meetings have paused, Villalobos-Galindo and her team continue to meet regularly with the various stakeholders through virtual meetings. The team has also been planning a series of virtual public meetings scheduled for June 2020.
When asked what she would like her friends and neighbors to know about the work she does, Villalobos-Galindo said, “I love nature and would like for the world to be less polluted and for other species, besides our own, to be respected.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “Just taking it one day at a time.”
- Hobbies or interests? “I used to be a professional ballet dancer and still take a ballet class from time to time.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Paying off my student loans!”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “To be near the completion of the planning phase of the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project.”
Video conferencing and virtual presentations are the new normal for many Valley Water employees like Janice Lum. Lum is a management analyst in the Benefits and Wellness Program in the Office of Talent & Inclusion at Valley Water. A large part of her job involves teamwork and collaboration within Human Resources, one-to-one support and guidance for employees, and engagement of the Valley Water workforce as a whole. Valley Water is considered a critical and essential organization from a utility and public works perspective. Lum and her team continue to work during this public health crisis to help support and provide guidance to our Valley Water employees.
Valley Water put into place a teleworking policy shortly after the county’s shelter-in-place order. Lum and her team were able to quickly adapt to the new teleworking policy and transition from what was traditionally done in-person to online. One of her responsibilities is facilitating the new employee orientation and onboarding process. To virtually onboard new employees takes coordination and a collaborative effort, and Lum and her team successfully put together a plan to onboard their first batch of new hires at the end of March. They have been able to conduct all necessary onboarding and various communication efforts through email and video conferencing.
“Valley Water has a highly specialized, technical, and talented workforce, and I enjoy supporting our essential workers in staying healthy and engaged, enabling them to perform at their very best to execute the important mission of Valley Water,” Lum shared.
Lum joined the Benefits and Wellness Program team a year ago. “The Benefits and Wellness Program team is friendly, customer-focused, and responsive. I am proud to be part of our award-winning wellness program—we won Healthiest Employer of the Bay Area for the second year in a row in 2020 in our size category,” Lum said.
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “A lot of Microsoft Team and Zoom video meetings, journaling, reading, gardening, using FaceTime to connect with friends and family. I bought a stationary exercise bike for home.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Spending time in nature—the desert, the coast, the mountains, lakes, tropical places. I can’t wait to be able to enjoy these places again!”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “During the shelter-in-place, I’ve been building a Zen garden in my backyard.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “I joined the Benefits and Wellness Program team one year ago and have the unique role of coordinating the ValleyWaterWELL wellness program. I enjoy knowing that I have a positive purpose within the larger mission of Valley Water.”
Protecting wildlife and habitats in our creeks and rivers is part of the essential work that associate biologists Jeff Lewis and Chris Van Amburg continue to perform during this global health crisis.
For Lewis and Van Amburg, who have been with Valley Water for four and five years, respectively, their work supports Valley Water’s Stream Maintenance Program. The program exists to ensure flood protection projects continue to function as designed to protect homes and businesses along our waterways.
“My role in this program focuses on the avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of impacts to wildlife and habitats that our maintenance efforts may require,” Lewis explained. “We survey for wildlife prior to such activities to ensure birds, wildlife, fish, or endangered species are unharmed during permitted vegetation management, maintenance work, or flood control work along the creeks of Santa Clara County,” Van Amburg adds.
Some of their activities include working with engineers, vegetation management, and field operations staff to design and implement efforts that have the lightest possible impact on the environment. Additionally, communicating their work with the federal and state regulatory agencies that issue our permits and monitoring our revegetation sites to verify that they are meeting the goals of establishing native plant communities.
In a recent field visit, Lewis and Van Amburg conducted night surveys for threatened California red-legged frogs in southern Santa Clara County near the confluence of Pajaro River and Uvas-Carnadero Creek. These surveys were done in preparation for work to control invasive plants in one of our mitigation sites.
For Lewis and Van Amburg, a good portion of their responsibilities are performed out in the field, and how they work has undoubtedly changed. There have been modifications made to adhere to the county health guidelines. “We have been driving separate vehicles to work sites and practicing social distancing when out in the field,” said Van Amburg. “Wearing face masks when appropriate and disinfecting equipment,” Lewis adds.
Lewis and Van Amburg would like people to know that they continue to work during this pandemic because their job duties are essential to help protect natural resources, wildlife and habitats in our waterways.
And maintenance on our creeks and rivers is critical in reducing the risk of flooding and keeping our communities safe.
Their work remains necessary and vital to Valley Water’s commitment to keeping residents and businesses safe through its flood protection programs. While also protecting our environment and working to restore habitat along creeks and the bay, clean toxins from the water, and make sure water is used efficiently throughout our community.
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “I have been working from home for all work that it is possible to do in an office setting. For field work, we have implemented several strategies to reduce the potential for virus transmission. These include driving separate vehicles to work sites, maintaining social distance while in the field, wearing face masks when appropriate, and disinfecting equipment.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Much of my free time has been spent reading. While not sheltering in place, I enjoy traveling and spending time in the abundance of beautiful places that are within a day’s journey of where we live.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “The Stream Maintenance Program is nearing the completion of an involved process to renew many of our permits and revise the manual that guides Valley Water’s maintenance work. I think that we have been able to make improvements to our program during this process, and I am proud of the role that I was able to play in it.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “My favorite things about working for Valley Water include the chance to work on the complex set of issues that arise for an organization that is working to provide several different types of public benefit and the potential to think on longer time scales when working for an organization that is managing land for the long term. I like the chance to work with people from a diverse set of disciplines and the potential for the work that I do to have an impact beyond the span of my career.”
Chris Van Amburg
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “My work is predominantly field related throughout Santa Clara county. We generally work in teams of two and have been driving separate vehicles to work sites and practicing social distancing when out in the field.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Hunting, fishing, camping, boating, wake surfing and restoring my 1972 GMC truck.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Birth of our daughter Braelynn in August 2019.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “Completing the construction of the Los Gatos Creek habitat restoration project for steelhead in the summer of 2019.”
Scott Condon begins each morning with an hour of quiet time, walks his dog Jada, and then heads off to work. Condon continues to report to work to provide daily direction to staff at our Winfield Warehouse to ensure that our Valley Water employees are equipped with the supplies they need to keep our agency running during this public health crisis.
As senior inventory control technician, Condon is the lead at the Winfield Warehouse. The warehouse is a critical point in the receiving, storage, and distribution of materials that support the many facets of our agency, such as Water Utility, Watersheds, External Affairs, and IT. It is also home to over 3,000 stock keeping units and houses bulk storage for many of our units. During this shelter-in-place order, warehouse services have been vital in the distribution of personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies to our on-site workers and have managed the assembly and pick-up of supply kits for our teleworking employees.
“The majority of my time has been focused on Emergency Operations Center (EOC) response-related activities in the Logistics/Supply-Resource Unit, which means tracking supplies, developing distribution plans, and a lot of communication with Valley Water employees, explaining these plans,” Condon explains.
It is critical to think quickly, as new information is relayed frequently regarding this public health crisis. “The day-to-day is not typical, so I have needed to alter the team’s schedules and adjust priorities more often than usual.” Condon shares.
Condon would like friends and neighbors to know, “While supporting and providing leadership in the daily business of Warehouse Services, I do so with an eye towards how to improve process efficiency and measurability, with the purpose of improving and expanding the services we offer to Valley Water.”
It is the work of Condon and the warehouse services staff that allow employees to safely continue their work, with protection measures in place. Together, they help to keep Valley Water running as an essential organization — providing safe, clean water supply, stream stewardship, and critical flood protection.
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “Much of the day is business as usual, with walks with my dog Jada, hanging out with my mom, relaxing and continuing interactions with others virtually rather than in person.”
- Hobbies or interests? “Spend time fellowshipping with others who share some of my experiences and challenges, hang out with my mom and dog, relax a bit. It is through my interaction with others that I have the opportunity to grow and experience things I might not if I were focused only on my own personal interests.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Helping the warehouse team in maintaining the high level of service we provide to our customers while taking part in Project InForAll and directing a lot of my attention towards EOC-related actions.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “In 2019, after receiving some positive recognition, I was shown the need to improve in certain areas. By working on these issues, I feel I have improved my performance and I have gained a greater degree of satisfaction in my daily work at Valley Water.”
Did you know that water quality grab samples occur every four hours, confirming water quality standards are met? That is all a part of the essential work that Alex Torres and the team of skilled plant operators do on the daily that supports the water treatment plant process, and ultimately ensures the supply of clean, safe water to Santa Clara County during this public health crisis.
Torres is an assistant plant operator and has worked for Valley Water for over two years but has been in the industry for about five years. After taking a tour of a water treatment plant, Torres knew right away that he wanted to contribute his skills to an organization that is responsible for providing clean, safe water to local businesses and residents. He researched various treatment plants in the area before deciding on the Santa Teresa Water Treatment Plant at Valley Water.
Torres and his team continue to work to make certain the operations of the water treatment plant are continually met.
“Daily we must think critically, use mathematical formulas, chemistry, and analytical data to optimize and ensure the best quality of water is produced for the customer,” Torres said.
Torres is proud to share with his friends and neighbors, “We work to take water that is not drinkable and make it safe for businesses and residents to use.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place: “Finding projects at home that I wanted to work on in the past but never had time until now.”
- Hobbies or interests: “Going to the beach and surfing.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Passing the water treatment grade 4 exam.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “Being nominated by my peers and receiving a reward for my hard work and dedication to the operation of water treatment plant.”
Ensuring the water that we provide Santa Clara County is safe and drinkable is no simple task. It takes a team of scientists, people like microbiologist Katie Vigil, who play a vital part in ensuring that our water is safe for consumption and continues to meet the federal, state, and local regulations during this public health crisis.
Vigil, who has worked at Valley Water’s Water Quality Lab for six years now, is responsible for performing a wide range of microbiological and analytical testing of source and treated water, recycled, groundwater, and other samples used in the treatment process. It’s the work of Vigil and other lab staff that help Valley Water continue to deliver a reliable supply of safe, clean drinking water to our community. She also operates, calibrates, and ensures the laboratory equipment meets their testing needs. It is no wonder the Water Quality Lab recently completed its annual performance evaluation and achieved a remarkable 100% passing score, this achievement highlights the outstanding work of Vigil and the team of dedicated employees.
Vigil is proud to let her friends and neighbors know, “I am an essential worker that analyzes the communities’ water sources according to federal, state and local regulations.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place? “Zoom skate dance classes, YouTube yoga class, reading, organizing, cooking and art.”
- Hobbies or interests? “I like to exercise (do yoga), roller-skate, read, create art and volunteer for various events for the unhoused in San Francisco.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “I tried out for a national skate team called the Rebirth Rollerz and made the team in January 2020!”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment:“Learning how to drive and trailer the laboratory boat for sample collection at our local reservoirs.”
As a senior water treatment plant operator for Valley Water, Tyson Enzweiler is one of the people responsible for ensuring the water that comes out of your tap is clean and safe.
Enzweiler and his co-workers continue to report to work every day at our Santa Teresa Water Treatment Plant to make certain Santa Clara County has a reliable supply of safe, clean drinking water during this public health crisis.
Enzweiler is one of a group of highly skilled operators at Valley Water responsible for the entire drinking water treatment process. These individuals see to it that Valley Water meets all state and federal regulations, and processes water that’s free of bacteria and viruses.
Every day our operators take samples regularly to verify water quality, analyze data, and calculate and adjust chemical dosage. They also troubleshoot, coordinate work with facility staff, meet pipeline flow demands to retailers and continuously monitor all treatment processes, along with the water delivery system.
“We’re proud to serve the community and protect public health,” Enzweiler said. “We are operating business as usual during this challenging time. We are continuing to work, day and night, to make sure that the water being produced at the Santa Teresa Water Treatment Plant is, and continues to be, reliable, safe and uninterrupted.
“The public doesn’t have to think twice about getting water from the faucet.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place: “When I’m not working, I’m sheltering at home, running errands when needed.”
- Hobbies or interests: “Anything outdoors. Fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping. fishing.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “Being a dad is awesome.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “I recently passed the Advanced Water Treatment Operator, Grade 3 Exam, one of the first operators in California and Nevada to earn it. I also just participated in Valley Water’s coaching program, which provided some great tips on networking interviewing and career development.”
Rachel Guerrero is never sure what challenges her workday may bring. Whether it’s a faulty pump or a leaky valve, there are often unpredictable tasks that get added to her daily list of responsibilities as an assistant water treatment plant operator for Valley Water.
But Guerrero and her co-workers at the Rinconada Water Treatment Plant continue to work around the clock during this public health crisis to make sure water keeps flowing across Santa Clara County.
The Rinconada Water Treatment Plant can treat and deliver up to 80 million gallons of water each day for retailers who supply residential and commercial users in the West Valley, including the cities of Santa Clara, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Mountain View, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and Los Altos and the towns of Los Gatos and Los Altos Hills.
For Valley Water employees at the Rinconada Water Treatment Plant, a typical day includes regularly monitoring the water treatment process, recording instrument readings, monitoring water quality analyzers, operating equipment such as pumps and valves and make chemical dosage changes if necessary, to optimize the treatment process and ensure that water delivered to the community meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements.
“I am part of a large team of operators, mechanics, electricians and instrument technicians working at our beautiful Rinconada treatment facility, making it possible to provide clean and safe drinking water for our community,” Guerrero said. Guerrero acknowledges that many people are not aware of her work. “However, we’re grateful to provide this service to Silicon Valley.”
- What are you doing to adapt to shelter-in-place: “If I’m not working in the evening, I’m home with my family.”
- Hobbies or interests: “I enjoy many outdoor activities with my family such as hiking, boating, archery and going to the beach to appreciate the ocean. I love puzzles and painting. I also enjoy spending time with my friends and having game nights.”
- Recent proud personal accomplishment: “We purchased our first house in Boulder Creek, Ca.”
- Most interesting Valley Water experience or accomplishment: “I completed my first year at the Rinconada Water Treatment Plant and am part of the best team at Valley Water.”