Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants: A Q&A with Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez is a Principal and Senior Project Manager and manages the firm’s El Paso office. As the office celebrates 60 years of improving the community of El Paso this year, he shares what motivates him, his approach to successful projects and trends in management services.
Q: What value do you see in the PSC’s approach to building community?
We provide well-thought-out, cost-effective solutions that meet our clients’ needs, that provide quality of life that is sustainable. It’s about the challenges they have and continuing innovations.
Water is the lifeblood of the desert. We designed the Fred Hervey plant. It was in the fastest-growing area of town, the Northeast at that time, far away from the river. The water table was dropping three feet a year. So, we helped El Paso Water treat the water and inject it back into the groundwater table.
We’re here to make sure everyone has safe and reliable systems. We’re able to take care of the city. The City of El Paso has some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the nation. It’s satisfying to know we had a hand in that. Because of Fred Hervey, the life of the city’s groundwater resources has been extended significantly, and it remains a key component of the city’s overall water resource management portfolio. We worked with the client to solve those problems. It was the result of the city pursuing cutting-edge technology. El Paso Water is the cornerstone, foundation for the city’s progressiveness in sustaining water resources. We had a hand in designing or upgrading all of their plants.
Q: What excites you most about our projects right now?
We all come together to make sure our clients have the best solution, and when we do that, it’s magical. It’s rewarding. The more challenging the problem is, the more exciting. An example of this is being part of the first plant in the nation to truly go to direct potable reuse. We have been chosen to design the building for the new Advanced Water Purification Facility.
The Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant was one of the pioneers for indirect potable reuse in the nation and is still winning awards for its cost-effectiveness. I applaud the idea of using microorganisms to come up with a very effective, less costly treatment. That’s why I like the Fred Hervey Plant. It uses all these microorganisms, which saves the plant $2 million a year. The operator was willing to experiment over 10 years to try new things. We provided a plant design, and they took it to a new level. That one is unique, because it uses particulate activated carbon to help treat the wastewater. There are not many plants that use it in that way.
Q: What sets PSC apart when it comes to our design services?
At the end of the day, we are thinking outside the box. We strive for designing excellence. We have been here for 60 years and have a vested interest in our community. Most of us have raised our families here and want to make it a better place. We’re here for the long haul, and we’re a multidiscipline firm. We don’t have a high turnover. We sincerely care about our community. We have built a greater amount of the city’s infrastructure than probably anyone else in the whole city.
Because of the locality of our workforce, PSC was able to quickly and efficiently evaluate the condition of the primary clarifiers at the Haskell Street plant, assist El Paso Water in getting and awarding bids and manage the construction. PSC’s approach and delivery allowed El Paso Water to safely and reliably continue to meet treatment requirements, even though the existing clarifier equipment was near failure. Clarifier No. 3 was rehabilitated and brought online in early 2016 and the rehabilitation of No. 1 and No. 4 are underway. We have a legacy of good projects that have been innovative.
In 2015, PSC evaluated the latest filtering technologies through pilot testing at the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility. The resulting equipment selection, design and construction are making it possible to filter three times the amount of effluent in the same size footprint as the obsolete or failing traveling bridge and filters that they replaced. And we’re using state-of-the-art drone technology to quickly and accurately generate a background for construction drawings of equipment for use in designs for new infrastructure.
Q: What is your approach to coordination among all stakeholders?
The biggest thing is communication – keeping the lines of communication open, keeping them informed, considering their ideas and concerns, listening to them, trying to be respectful of everyone. We all have different goals, but we work on finding common ground, being honest, being transparent. Be sincere that you are doing what you say you’re going to do. A lot of the times it’s about following the rules. TCEQ, for example, governs all sewer and water projects. You want to know what they like and what requirements they have.
It’s definitely an advantage to be local. We know the people. We can take a project from an idea to fruition, even paving the way for federal or state funding. We often help write proposals for funding for smaller communities that have insufficient water and wastewater service. At El Paso Water, they see us as an extension of their staff. We focus on their needs, their wants.
When we did the Westside Master Plan, we painted a vision of how we were going to recommend using 3,000 acres of property there. Kyle Womack in the Midland office led the meetings with the community. We had 10 or 11 concepts. An expert in Albuquerque helped us. Mike Ramirez was also involved, because they needed certain size tanks and water lines. We got everyone to agree on it, but it was challenging.
Q: Of all the types of services that you manage, which is the most sought-after and why?
The hot button is “quality of life.” The general public is really excited about parks, trailheads, and those kinds of projects – all landscape-driven. You see landscaping even on water or wastewater infrastructure, and they want LEED energy efficient or sustainable designs, plus natural landscaping or wildscaping. We are also asked to find cost-effective solutions. Typically for infrastructure, they want the most cost-effective design. In infrastructure, it’s about maintainability and a design life for 20 to 30 years.
The Civil Engineers’ creed is applying our skills for the advancement and betterment of human welfare, public welfare, with humility and divine guidance. That’s what it is for us. I have focused my career on water and wastewater projects that are reliable, safe, cost-effective and affordable, and making them environmentally sustainable.