AWWA Articles

AWWA Member Spotlight – Brian Woods, Clifton, Colo.

Job title and employer: District Manager, Clifton Sanitation District (an 80-mile collection system serving a population of 21,000)

Educational background: Associate of Applied Science, Environmental Restoration Engineering Technology; CWP, ORC, Class A Wastewater Operator, Class IV Collection Brian WoodsOperator

Job duties: Manage district activities and operations, including treatment and collection systems, annual budget, capital improvement plans, and future capital and maintenance needs (Photos courtesy of Brian Woods)

How and why did you get into the water industry? Having previously worked in the construction industry, I was attracted to the opportunity for a stable work environment that provided potential for growth and development toward a sustainable and satisfying career. The District allowed me to return to school while working full time and supported my volunteering with the local fire department. Once I was actively engaged with the wastewater industry, I quickly developed a desire to serve the community and positively impact the environment where I had grown up. It has been a great opportunity to be part of a team focused on finding solutions to water quality issues while providing a service to our community at a reasonable cost.

What led you to your current position? I was fortunate to be part of a design and construction team for a new mechanical treatment facility to replace four lagoon systems, consolidate two districts and reclaim property into a facility that is sustainable to the community and wildlife needs for this area. The District collaborated with consultants and local, state and federal agencies to design and build new facilities to meet regulatory requirements and reuse treated water and biosolids to sustain a natural wildlife habitat, landscaping, water features, and agriculture.  It was a unique process that is still being utilized to successfully address current and future community needs. I feel privileged to have these opportunities to contribute to our local community and have a positive influence on its water quality and environment.

Clifton Sanitation DistrictWhat are some benefits of working with a smaller water system? The ability to focus on one service –- wastewater -- establishes a clear focus and direction for our organization and allows us to provide exceptional service to customers. The job diversity provides operators an opportunity to learn many aspects of wastewater and keep the job interesting, compared to a single assignment at a larger facility.

What are some of the challenges? We have a small staff of nine employees, which can be challenging if there is turnover or injuries. We have limited support staff to address human resource needs, capital-related projects, budgeting, as well as the ability to pursue grants.

How do you recruit, train and maintain your workforce? We are very fortunate to have the support of our District’s board of directors. They provide a very competitive wage and benefit package that allows us to attract and retain a highly educated, trained and motivated staff. We internally recognize and reward employees through annual evaluations, safety incentive programs and immediate recognition where appropriate. While it is challenging to attract qualified candidates due to their limited number, we have focused on new strategies such as providing training opportunities, college tuition assistance and some relocation expenses.

Why did you join AWWA, and how you benefited from your membership? We joined AWWA to have access to available industry-related resources and benefits. AWWA has been a great resource for educational opportunities and to network with people in our industry. We have utilized the advertising section of the AWWA for open operator positions to reach a larger audience. 

How are you dealing with growth in your district? The Clifton Sanitation District was established in 1967 and serves an unincorporated area of Mesa County, which has been impacted by the boom-and-bust economic cycle of the energy industry (coal, natural gas and oil). The District was impacted by the oil shale boom in the late 1970s followed by its collapse in the early 1980s. The area recovered in the 1990s and Clifton serves as an affordable housing area to current oil and gas industry employees. It is difficult for the District to plan for future service needs as boom years result in rapid growth and bust years negatively impact revenue and the ability to maintain existing infrastructure.

Beginning in 2005, the District experienced a major transformation to meet the energy industry’ growth needs and to address state and federal water quality requirements. Clifton Sanitation Districts 1 and 2 were combined in 2006 to eliminate a discharge point to the Colorado River, utilizing capital financial reserves from new development tap feeds accrued over the previous 25 years.

Construction of the Clifton Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility was completed in 2009. It is an extended aeration activated sludge plant with a rated capacity of 2.5 MGD and currently operates at 47% hydraulic and 40% organic loading capacity. Reclamation and decommissioning of the three lagoon treatment facilities were completed in 2012. In addition to the new plant, the District was required to upgrade, replace or install about 50,000 feet of collection system improvements.

How have you financed this growth? From 2005 through 2019, the District has accumulated about $36 million in project-related expenses. During this time, we successfully obtained 29 separate grants totaling $5.6 million from:
•    Colorado Division of Wildlife (1 grant - $100,000)
•    USDA‐NRCS EQIP and Basin State Parallel Salinity funds (4 grants - $109,000)
•    Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease Development (7 grants - $825,000)
•    The Wild Turkey Federation (1 grant - $1,500)
•    Colorado Department of Health and Environment (1 grant - $97,000)
•    Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Energy Impact Funds (15 grants - $4,483,000)
We have funded 73 percent of our construction costs with reserve funds and grants, allowing us to leverage our funds to the maximum benefit. The remainder of the costs were Brian and wife huntingcovered by low-interest loans from the State Revolving Loan fund (current outstanding debt is $7,551,941), which are scheduled for retirement in 2027. As reported by DOLA, the median household income for Clifton is 26 percent lower than Colorado’s state median household income of $56,456. Despite these financial challenges, the District has maintained affordable service fees, comparable to or below surrounding communities, while minimizing debt obligations. 

Family and interests: I have been happily married for 34 years. My wife, Vicki, is an elementary school principal and we have a 26-year-old daughter and a 29-year-old son. I enjoy hunting, fishing, camping and any outdoor activity.