| AWWA Member Spotlight – Curt Czarnecki, Kenosha, Wisconsin
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AWWA Member Spotlight – Curt Czarnecki, Kenosha, Wisconsin

Curt Czarnecki is general manager of the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Water Utility. With extensive experience in water management and engineering, he oversees the operation and management of the water, sewerage and household hazardous waste units, while also being an active member of AWWA.

Education/certification: B.S., Civil Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Platteville; P.E., Wisconsin

How and why did you get into the water industry? I began my career as a consulting engineer working with municipal clients and private developers. I found the work with municipal clients much more exciting and rewarding. This, combined with a downturn in the economy and starting a family, prompted me to search for engineering positions in the public sector. I was fortunate to have the opportunity in Kenosha present itself at the perfect time, and I am grateful I stumbled into the water industry.

AWWA Member Spotlight, Curt Czarnecki, Kenosha, WisconsinWhat is an interesting project you’ve worked on? Kenosha recently replaced the membrane filtration technology at our water production plant. We worked with our existing membrane supplier to design a retrofit of new membranes into the existing piping and framework to significantly reduce capital expenses. This retrofit approach also helped reduce the duration and complexity of the project to ensure adequate water could be supplied to our customers during the high-demand summer months in a financially responsible manner. 

What is one of your proudest accomplishments? I am very proud of how our organization has performed during my tenure as general manager. Like many other organizations, Kenosha was hit hard by the retirements of employees in the baby boomer generation. The loss of institutional knowledge was going to be challenging to overcome in and of itself. Unbeknownst to the new management team were the additional challenges on the horizon. The global COVID-19 pandemic, an extremely challenging labor market and local civil unrest were all additional hurdles to overcome. Our team faced these challenges head-on and became stronger because of our experiences. I am very proud of the team we have assembled and how each and every employee responded to these adversities while providing essential services to our community. (Pictured above from left, Curt Czarnecki; with wife, Heidi, and their kids.)

How have you benefited from your AWWA membership? The most significant member benefit is the networking opportunities with other water industry professionals. Since entering the industry, I have been highly impressed by how knowledgeable, dedicated, passionate and humble individuals in our industry are. Like many others in the industry, I have been fortunate to have assembled an extensive network of peers who have helped me personally and professionally throughout my career. 

Describe your family and personal interests: I was born and raised in southeastern Wisconsin, where I met my wife, Heidi, in high school. We have three children, Ethan (14), Isabelle (12) and Andrew (8). Our life currently seems to be consumed with traveling to and from children’s sports and other extracurricular activities. When time allows, we like to travel, visit our lake house and enjoy many outdoor activities. 

What do you find rewarding about your work? First and foremost, I find it rewarding to be entrusted with providing safe drinking water to nearly 130,000 customers in four communities. All our employees understand how important this responsibility is and work hard every day to prove this trust is not misplaced. I also enjoy being involved in daily operations and short-term and long-term planning efforts to help meet the needs of our community. Seeing how these projects and initiatives positively impact our customers and community is extremely rewarding. 

Why do you think young people should consider a career in water? The water industry provides many rewarding employment opportunities. Positions range from plant operators to accountants, engineers to human resources, construction to information technology, and chemists to mechanics. No matter what someone’s passions are, a career in the water industry would undoubtedly fit an individual’s interests and skill set. 

What do you think would help the water sector attract more young people into the water sector? In many respects, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to attracting young talent. The water industry generally operates out of sight and out of mind. While this ability to operate out of the public eye shows we have earned the trust and respect of our customers, it also demonstrates the need to educate younger generations on the opportunities that exist within our industry. We need to educate young customers about the varying positions within our organizations and how rewarding public sector work can be.