For a brief time between jobs, Dale Christensen went back to school, and considered a career in business law. But then Salt Lake City Public Utilities called, offering him a job as an instrumentation technician at the City’s water reclamation plant.
“I figured I could stay in school,” Dale says, his voice low, the cadence slow. “Or I could go to work and feed the kids. So I went to work.”
The kids kept eating. Over the course of 29.4 years, Dale worked his way up to Water Reclamation Manager. He retired on March 14, leaving a legacy of environmental stewardship and many friends.
“The residents of Salt Lake City have been well-served by Dale’s decades of dedication and service,” says Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “He will be missed at Public Utilities but never forgotten.”
“Dale is a committed public servant whose legacy is environmental protection and public safety,” says Department Director Laura Briefer. “He is a wise steward and a mentor to me. I wish him well in his retirement.”
The water reclamation facility, online since 1965 at 1365 West 2300 North, treats wastewater from Salt Lake City homes and businesses by breaking down solid wastes and removing pollutants. Wastewater contains nitrogen and phosphorus from human waste, food, and certain soaps. Once the water is cleaned and tested to meet standards set and monitored by state and federal officials, it is released into fresh waterways and reenters the natural water cycle.
When Dale started in 1989, the plant had struggled with non-compliance challenges. His greatest point of pride is that for 24 consecutive years, the facility has met or exceeded all environmental regulations, and has been recognized for its diligence by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).
To earn NACWA recognition, a treatment facility must meet the Association’s 5,873 points each year for complying with environmental health and safety regulations. The team at the plant monitors daily for potential pollutants and toxins in wastewater, sampling influent and effluent flows for e-coli, phosphorous, nitrogen and more.
Dale retires just as the City embarks on the long-anticipated construction of a new, fully modern water reclamation facility. The project, now in the design phase, is expected to take until 2025, at a cost of about $300 million, and will keep pace with population and business growth for at least 50 years. The current plant, still functional but feeling its age, will continue operations as the new one is built out.
The new plant will be built with sustainable technology and ensure the City meets stricter federal rules for removing polluting nutrients, such as phosphorus, which must happen by 2025.
“It’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” Dale says. “We’re the capital city. We deserve a state-of-the-art facility.”
So Dale moves on, looking forward to spending more time with his wife Kristine, their two children, three granddaughters, and one great-grandchild with another on the way in June. He wants to cook more often (pork shoulder roast and corned beef and cabbage are two of his favorites), and, he says, “I’m going to start going to the gym.”
Facility team member Jamey West, 39, has been promoted to facility manager. Jamey built his knowledge of water and wastewater systems through 21 years of service in the Air Force. He transitioned from three years of active duty in 2000 to the Air Force Reserves, where he currently serves. Jamey has completed two tours of duty and has served in 13 countries.
“Jamey brings considerable skill and experience to help shepherd the City through significant transition and beyond,” Laura says. “He is charged with building our new treatment facility and meeting more stringent environmental requirements—all while running the existing facility. I have complete confidence in Jamey and his team to excel.”
The complexities of the role aren’t lost on him, but Jamey says he loves a challenge. “I’m looking forward to a one-team approach as we continue to come together to grow our knowledge and skills to plan, build and transition into the new facility,” he says. “My goal is to make sure each member of the team is competent and confident in operations and maintenance.”
And one more thing, he adds. “There’s no question we will continue Dale’s legacy of perfect compliance.”
Contributed by Holly Mullen of SLCPU.