| AWWA Member Spotlight -- Sergio Escalante, P.E., Los Angeles, Calif.
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AWWA Member Spotlight -- Sergio Escalante, P.E., Los Angeles, Calif.

Co-authors Sergio Escalante and Sepideh Shirkhani with Metropolitan Water District of Southern California published an article about condition-based maintenance in the Summer 2020 issue of the CA-NV AWWA’s SOURCE Magazine. 

Sergio EscalanteJob title and employer: Section Manager, Water Systems Operations, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California 

Education: B.S., Mechanical Engineering; P.E.

Summary of job duties: Manage a diverse section that includes Power & Equipment Reliability, Manufacturing, Construction and Fleet Services. We work closely with other groups in water system operations (WSO) to manage maintenance and maintain our 16 hydroelectrical plants and our high voltage systems. MWD also maintains manufacturing services that reverse engineer, refurbish and manufacture everything from pipes to valves, pumps and gates. Many of these are no longer available and serve a unique purpose in a water conveyance system. These services are available to other agencies on a reimbursable basis. Metropolitan also maintains an in-house construction group that provides support for many of our ongoing heavy civil type maintenance and responds to emergencies such as storm damage that require immediate attention.  

How and why did you get involved in the water sector? By circumstances and a friend who had already made the jump to MWD. I started my career in the defense industry, but when it shrank in the early 1990s a friend who worked at MWD suggested I apply. A few years after starting at MWD, I began working in the field on the Diamond Valley Reservoir project and was awestruck and hooked on water infrastructure. 

What led to your involvement with the condition-based maintenance (CBM) program? As a project manager for many years, I was asked to develop a project in 2014 that addressed infrastructure concerns. It was an oddball assignment because there wasn't the same level of industry discussion as now regarding assessments, condition monitoring or R&R (Rehabilitation and Replacements). MWD wanted to assess our distribution system after 80+ years of service, see how it was aging and develop projects as needed to address issues. We also reviewed our maintenance practices, updated our maintenance management system and documented some updated as-built information. We assessed about 5,000 structures using a risk ranking system that we still use 17 years later. This project introduced me to a lot of infrastructure reliability issues and I then continued implementing reliability engineering principles and improving our maintenance management practices. 

What recommendations do you have for other systems considering this approach? There is a phrase that gets repeated at MWD - people, processes and technology. CBM makes sense for infrastructure reliability, but first it has to make sense for the people who use it. You have to implement the process to make it happen correctly. The technology makes it easier for the first two; the order in how you implement these matters. Start with the end in mind, keep it simple by using pilots, and build on successes. This is a lot easier said than done. 

How have you partnered with your co-author, Sepi Shirkhani, on this program? Sepi is one of MWD’s newer engineers and I’ve encouraged her to write and publish articles since she started working here. We actively promote innovation at MWD. Thinking out of the box and sharing with the industry is a way of creating dialogue toward these goals. 

Did you use any AWWA resources/education as part of this process? Yes – our entire CBM process was born out of looking at what the industry was doing. An article from another local agency allowed us to develop a collaborative relationship to get us started.  

Sergio and Penny travelingWhy did you join AWWA, and how have you benefited from your membership? One of my main focuses is on infrastructure reliability and growing the next generation of leaders and engineers. AWWA has been a resource for me in this and I also see it as a resource for my staff. 

Please describe your family and/or hobbies and interests: My wife, Penny, and I have two adult kids, Jeremy and Kelly. My wife and I have a goal of visiting at least one off-the-beaten-path location in the world every other year or so. We came back from Tikal, Guatemala, about 3 weeks before everything shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic (pictured above)

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you? I tend to be somewhat reserved so it surprises people sometimes how chatty and engaged I can be.