Announcing the Gimmicks and Gadgets, 5S and Quarter Century Award Winners

Announcements, Members in the News

Last month, CWEA announced the state winners of the Annual Awards program. Among those winners are our specialized awards given to innovators, dedicated wastewater professionals and those who have made a particular contribution to the industry. These Gimmicks and Gadgets winners, Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers and Quarter Century recognition awards showcase some of the most passionate wastewater professionals in California.


Gimmicks and Gadgets for both the Operators and Collections System professionals announced their first, second and third place winners. The Gimmicks and Gadgets award is a cash prize and recognizes innovation and creativity in developing solutions to performing routine tasks or functions in maintenance, operations or construction of wastewater collection systems.

First Place: Ernest Mungarro, Coachella Valley Water District
Project: Air Vacstastic

The “Air Vactastic” accomplishes a safe and cleaner work environment while maintaining “air release valves” (air vacs). Maintaining air release valves can be a messy and complex task even while having the proper PPE donned, the Air Vactastic helps with this issue by keeping you clean, accountability of moving parts and keeping the yuck of the air vacs self-contained inside the vault.

Air Vactastic – Ernie Mungarro’s First Place Winning Gadget

I came up with this idea while assigned to do air vac maintenance on the CVWD collections department, while being trained I saw how messy it was cleaning the Lower Float Assembly, Anti-Surge Orifice Float and the Upper Float. I watched how there was nowhere in the air vac vault to put these moving parts and most likely ended up on the ground or the edge of the vault, I also witnessed how while cleaning the moving parts with high pressure water the vault and employee were getting dirty. My idea was to create a gadget to help clean the inside and outside of the Lower Float Assembly while not contaminating myself or the vault with unnecessary debris.

Ernest “Ernie” Mungarro has been a part of the Coachella Valley Water District Collection Systems Team for a year. During this time period Ernie has been a beacon of innovation. Often thinking outside the box, he finds ways to complete tasks effectively; working smarter not harder. Ernie is currently in the process of starting his Trainee assessment, his experience here at CVWD as well as his previous experience in copious fields has provided positive support to our team.

First Place: Joshua Donnell, Jacobs
Project: Wi-Fi Camera Monitoring

Joshua Donnell’s First Place Gimmick and Gadget – WiFi Camera Monitoring

This device accomplishes the opportunity to monitor equipment overnight or when staff is unavailable to stay and look at equipment for long periods of time. When equipment looks to be having issues and needs to be troubleshooted, but you don’t actually know what happened to the equipment, this device will give you great insight on what conditions the equipment was in when it failed.

Joshua started his career off in the Navy. His duties while serving in the Navy were operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors on both submarines and aircraft carriers. After finishing his time in the Navy he took a job at Tesla as a maintenance technician inside of the stamping department. After leaving Tesla Joshua took a job at the Gilroy Wastewater facility as a maintenance technician. His responsibilities over his career have covered many different skills and types of equipment; from operating and maintaining a nuclear reactor plant in the Navy, to fixing stamping machines and teaching robots at Tesla, to now providing mechanical assistance at the wastewater plant.

Second Place: Michael Conway, Inland Empire Utilities Agency
Project: Automatic Spare Motor Rotator

The device rotates the shaft of the motor on a predetermined time and interval using a timer.
The device can be constructed to fit any shaft size and for any rotation requirement as recommended by Original Equipment Manufacturer.

Third Place: Robert Bowman & Barry Blevins, Carmel Area Wastewater District
Project: CCTV Bridal

We have many hills in our collection system that make completing CCTV inspections difficult. Many of these pipelines terminate with a cleanout rather than a maintenance hole on the upstream end of the pipeline. Therefore, the only access point to insert the robotic camera into the pipeline is from the downstream maintenance hole. Many of these runs are several hundred feet in length. The problem is the camera only has the ability to pull itself and its tethered cable up the line if it has traction. Once an equilibrium state of traction versus load is met, the camera’s tractor will cease to climb the pipeline being inspected. In many cases the inspection is ended and the rest of the line either doesn’t get videoed or gets videoed with a push camera that has less viewing control and video quality.


The 2022 Class of 5S Shovelers. Photo by Taras Garcia.

All CWEA members are invited and eligible to be a member of the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers (5S), if they put in the volunteer time with CWEA and are nominated and selected by their peers. Past President and 5S Committee Chair, Garry Parker along with Berlinda Blackburn and Victoria Thornton installed the new Shovelers at the 5S ceremony in Sacramento. The initiation ceremony involves hailing signals on imaginary sludge piles, and distress signals of digging into sludge piles. It’s a fun ceremony with the ultimate honor of being recognized as a dedicated CWEA champion of wastewater.  The buckets are used to collect donations for the Kirt Brooks Scholarship during the conference. This year, our new shovelers collecting over $2,000.00. Congratulations new shovelers who have poured thousands of hours of their time into the California Water Environment Association.

Chathura Abeyrathna, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District
Mark Bennett, Carpinteria Sanitary District
Soma Bhadra, PROTEUS Consulting
Nicki Branch, City of Escondido
Matthew Franklin, City of Barstow
Wesley Garrison, City of Barstow
Kaitlin Gellerman, Black & Veatch
Adel Hagekhalil, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Nick Hansen, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District
Shawn Nesgis, Union Sanitary District
Jeff Tucker, Vallejo Flood & Wastewater District
Kevin Van Patten, City of Turlock

CWEA members digging into their new found roles as 5S Shovelers. Photo by Taras Garcia.

You are eligible if you have put in five years of service to CWEA. The selection committee is made up of your friends and associates around California. The deadline of nominations is March 1, 2023 and applications will be accepted starting July 1, 2022.


CWEA Quarter Century Recognition Program honorees have dedicated their careers in a challenging and most vital profession, the water environment field. These essential professionals who have spent 25 years or more improving our water environment include: Operators; Collection System, Maintenance, Laboratory, and Environmental Compliance personnel; Engineers; and Administrators. Congratulations and thank you for devoting your time to clean water.

William Barnum, L.A. County Sanitation Districts
David Chacon, South Coast Water District
Doug Culbert, Hi-Desert Water District
John Del Fante, City of Escondido
Kelvin Ellison, Pebble Beach CSD
Susan Hiestand, Silicon Valley Clean Water
Mike Hoffman, Irvine Ranch Water District
Ron Marincic, City of Santa Rosa
Shawn Nesgis, Union Sanitary District
Henry Solis, Irvine Ranch Water District

Shawn Nesgis of Union Sanitary District receives his Quarter Century recognition at the CWEA Annual Conference in Sacramento. Photo by Taras Garcia.


Susan Hiestand of Silicon Valley Clean Water receives her Quarter Century recognition at the CWEA Annual Conference in Sacramento. Photo by Taras Garcia.