Longtime CWEA member Dan Cortinovis

Dan Cortinovis, Wastewater Operator Certificate #145, Reflects on the Clean Water Act

Featured series: Clean Water Act at 50
By Jim Force, Staff Writer, Career Stories, Members in the News

Perhaps more than anyone else in the clean water profession, Dan Cortinovis, P.E., has been directly affected by the passage of the Clean Water Act.

His tenure in our industry dates back to 1967 when he was trained by the U.S. Air Force to operate the treatment plant at the air base in Merced where he was stationed.

Following that, he took advantage of CETA funding for veterans to land a job at the Merced municipal plant. Dan remembers that as a good deal, since it was a job in a profession he knew in the same city where he was living.

But bigger things were in his future and the CWA was partially responsible.

“Clean Water Act grants were being used to construct a new, more advanced treatment plant at Madera, just down the road from Merced,” Dan says. “It was an activated biofilter installation and I got certified and was hired as Assistant Chief Operator. I was able to be part of the startup of the new facility and it had a big effect on my career,”

Using his experience at Madera and earning his Grade V Wastewater Operator certification, Dan qualified for the Superintendent’s position at the 120-MGD Oakland facility of East Bay MUD.

Dan Cortinovis (r) in 1975 with Joe Cessna (l) at a CWEA meeting in Modesto. Dan was the Assistant Chief Operator at the Madera WWTP. (photo courtesy of Dan)

The plant was only a primary treatment plant until 1977 when—again supported by CWA funding–it was upgraded to a pure oxygen activated sludge process. “Without the CWA, that project would not have happened and I would never had gotten that job,” he says.

After three years there he turned his skills toward the consulting field and joined Brown and Caldwell. “There were advantages,” Dan recalls. “I didn’t have a large group of employees to supervise and I could work on a variety of projects under construction at the time, particularly the Sacramento Regional facility. For me, the CWA presented yet another opportunity to learn.”

Later, he joined Harris & Associates, focusing on plant construction. Then, 35 years ago, he became an independent Consulting Engineer.  He feels his operations background helps him obtain information from people at the plants and assists in plant startups and operator training—his specialties.

Dan holds an A.S. degree in Microbiology from Merced College, a B.A. in chemistry from Fresno State, and an M.S. in Civil Engineering from San Jose State, attending on the G.I. Bill.

He’s been nominated for Operator of the Year by the Northern and Southern San Joaquin sections of the CWEA. He’s chaired the CWEA statewide Operator Training Committee. He recently received a lifetime achievement award from the CWEA’s Northern Sacramento Valley Section. His Grade V certificate, #145, is one of the longest active certificates in the state.

“Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from operators,” he says.

He enjoys taking all he’s learned and passing it on. And he’s thankful the Clean Water Act presented so many opportunities.