On The Job: Water Treatment Supervisor Uses Brains, Heart And A Little Muscle

By Warren Tenney

Luiza Yordanova appreciates the Valley’s winter weather as much as we all do but winter makes her job as supervisor of a City of Tempe drinking water treatment plant a bit more complicated. She sat down on a beautiful day earlier this winter to explain why.

In the winter, the Johnny G. Martinez Treatment Plant gets raw water from the Verde River instead of its summer mix of water from the Salt and Verde rivers. The cooler temperatures and the switch to predominantly Verde River water means Luiza and her team need to readjust chemicals and treatment processes to maintain drinking water standards.

Luiza’s plant also was the sole provider of water to businesses and residents because Tempe’s second drinking water plant was shut down for its routine annual maintenance. Luiza’s plant shuts down for annual maintenance in January  and devising a schedule to squeeze in all the work she wanted to accomplish was keeping her up at night.

Luiza also was waiting for a new piece of plant equipment to be delivered and a crew of workers were installing solar panels on the roof of the plant’s water reservoir to provide alternative power. She also had just finished writing a presentation about “enhanced coagulation” that she submitted to this year’s AZ Water Association conference. If accepted, it would be her third presentation at the conference. Luiza called her work as a Plant Supervisor “a beautiful job with beautiful people.”

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Luiza supervises 10 people – plant operators, electricians, mechanics and technicians. Every morning begins the same way: checking on the quality of water being distributed by the plant via the technology available on her computer. Then, at 6:55 a.m. she’s opening the door of the control room where she visits with the midnight operator and the over night crew and welcomes the arriving day-shift crew. They talk together about the quality of the water the plant is producing and maintenance needed on the plant’s equipment. “Communications with technicians, all the trade groups, with the operator, it’s my key,” Luiza said.

On this particular day, “finish water pump” number five had a maintenance problem withluiza-jgm its couplings and seals. It also looked as if pump six would need maintenance at least on its couplings. The plant has eight pumps. This redundancy allows for continual repair and maintenance while drinking water is always being pumped for distribution 24 hours a day every day. Maintenance of the equipment is one of Luiza and her crew’s top responsibilities.

“Equipment runs the plant but operators monitor the equipment, so this is my major job,” Luiza said. She also is responsible for managing people, keeping inventory, ordering chemicals, and ensuring the process used to treat the water is producing safe, reliable drinking water for Tempe homes and businesses. To get it right, Luiza depends on her team members. She spends 80 percent of her time on the floor talking with her crew and sometimes helps them with their jobs.

“It’s not because I have to, it’s because I choose to,” Luiza said. “I choose to because, for me, talking to people and learning the problems from them and thinking about their solutions gives me more opinions. They work around the equipment more than I do, so they can be useful.”

Luiza also uses the time to monitor her staff members and make sure they are concentrating on work and not problems at home, such as a sick child. Luiza can’t afford distracted employees in a water treatment plant and sends her employees home until they can come back ready to concentrate on the job at hand. “This is part of my understanding of leadership,” she said.

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Luiza, 54, explained all this while gently rolling her Rs. She and her accent are from Bulgaria where she managed the country’s largest cement manufacturing plant in Devnya for 19 years. The plant also ran the water and wastewater treatment plant for the city. Luiza is a chemical engineer and is studying to become a certified professional engineer in the United States. It’s simply a matter of learning new technical terms, she said.

Moving to the United States from a country and a job she loved happened quickly for Luiza. It began in January 2005 while exchanging information with a retired Oregon engineer on LinkedIn about industrial materials used in the production of cement. She invited him to visit her cement factory in May 2005 and he accepted. That’s when Luiza said their conversation “veered away from cement.” After several more trips and by January 2006 the divorced mother of a grown daughter was in the United States, married to her engineer from Oregon and looking for a job. She spent time as a quality control manager at a Midwest cement manufacturing plant that closed down and the City of Tempe hired her in 2010 as a water treatment plant operator.

Luiza lives in the City of Chandler. She grew up along the Black Sea and enjoys traveling to beaches on both the west and east coasts. She hikes, plays a mean game of chess and her husband got her hooked on novels about detectives who solve crimes using science. As an afterthought Luiza mentioned she speaks four languages – Bulgarian, Russian, English and German. “I started learning Italian but I’m thinking of switching to Spanish,” she said. “I like Italian pronunciation but I think Spanish is more useful here.”

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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