Aging infrastructure high priority for Truckee Sanitary District
February 9, 2016
TRUCKEE, Calif. — With 2016 being an election year, the Sierra Sun is devoting time each week to conduct interviews with officials and board members who work for the many public districts and government agencies representing Truckee and North Lake Tahoe.
This week, we feature a Q-and-A with Truckee Sanitary District General Manager Blake Tresan:
Sierra Sun: How would you describe the state of the district right now?
Tresan: The district is extremely strong. Financially, we're in sound shape. We've got highly qualified employees that know how to do their job. The majority of our work is preventive instead of reactive. We have virtually no spills because of the proactive work we do out there. The district is in a very good spot.
Sun: What is the top one or two biggest challenges the district faces in 2016?
Tresan: We're dealing with the retirement boom; the baby-boomers leaving. I've been general manger for 18 months and in those 18 months I've had 150 years of experience walk out the door already. So I've got more retirements coming. The big challenge is filling in those spots and having a good succession plan. And so being able to recruit and retain qualified individuals for those spots (is a challenge). We're trying to address that issue by really pushing hard to work on information transfer from the people leaving and trying to train our employees in house so we can back-fill those spots with folks we already have, and recruit from the bottom and train them up. So we've been fairly successful so far with that. I've already had two people give notice of their plans to leave the district coming up and there's probably more on the way.
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I'd say another kind of challenge for me personally is to continue to try to educate the public about what we do and what they can do to utilize our infrastructure properly. Both locally, state and nationally, there are issues in particular with one household item called a "flushable wipe." They're not flushable, and they're wreaking havoc on the sewer system. These things don't break down, they hang up in the pipes, they clog the pumps, and they cause a lot of additional — over time — cost to the district as well as the potential for spills. So that's going to be a continue push on our part, trying to educate the community on not only what we do, but also what they should and shouldn't put down the drain.
Sun: What improvements would you want to see with the district by 2020?
Tresan: I'd say we're already a high-performing district, so I just want to continue the quality of employees that we have so we continue to do a good job and protect the water resources that we have. Specifically, I would like to try and put more technology in the field with our crews. The use of tablets and web-based applications so our crews can bring with them mapping and work-order information so they can respond even quicker to issues that may arise — be more efficient.
Also, over the next five years our infrastructure is aging. It's still in pretty good shape, but — based on conventional wisdom — their engineered lives are starting to come up, so we expect to see some significant needs for the replacement and rehabilitation of our infrastructure, so we need to start to build the cash reserves so we can address those issues when they come.
Sun: In this modern era of smartphones and social media, how is the district changing how it communicates important information with the community?
Tresan: We try to be very targeted with our outreach. In general, if we're not in the paper, or in the news, it's a good thing. So we've got a website and we're trying to build a database of emails with our customer so we can communicate that way. We do a lot of targeted information toward homeowners associations using their resources to communicate to their customer base, working with other agencies to communicate. I'd say we're still a little bit old school. With our communication about what's the means of proper disposal, we're just getting into a program of door hangers. When we see individual laterals where there is perhaps evidence of the use of flushable wipes, we're going to put door hangers out to communicate to people.
We do an education program through the sixth-grade science classes, trying to educate the students every year. We've done that for the last decade, teaching kids about the urban water cycle and what we call the Truckee underground, because all the stuff — the water and the sewer — is all out of sight. So (we're) trying to educate the kids so they can educate the parents.
We've looked into social media but have not yet really entered that realm. We haven't had a demand. We're trying to be as transparent and communicate as best we can, but there hasn't been a call for people wanting tweets about the sewer system.
Sun: How does the district balance the needs of locals versus second homeowners and tourists when delivering service?
Tresan: Our infrastructure's out there to serve everybody. We bill on a flat rate so a second homeowner is going to be billed the same amount as a full-time resident. And they have the access to the exact same facilities and services, so there's really not a distinction there. How we address our seasonal occupancy up here is — particularly on the big holiday weekends; New Year's, Christmas, Fourth of July — increase our staffing on our on-call response team so we can address anything that might come up over those high-flow scenarios. But in general, we proved the same services to both full-time and second homeowners.
Sun: Is there anything else you'd like to add regarding the district and its future?
Tresan: The value what we provide, without it … you know, think of a sewer spill in Donner Lake in the summer or the Truckee River? It would be a very, very different place if that were happening. And I commend my employees, the people who are willing to work in sewer and recognize the value of that and the great job they do. And keeping our pristine mountain environment free form any spills.
I'd say that our board is particularly proud of the cooperation they've had with the community. The district owns properties and in particular, they're very proud of the fact that the regional park, the Riverview Sports Park, the local legacy trial, all lie on TSD properties. We've granted leases and easements to make those happen. The board is very proud in cooperation they're bringing non-sewer related services and being open-minded to making the community a better place and working with the other public agencies to provide that.