Kirt Brooks Memorial Scholarship, More Than Just a Scholarship

Career Stories, Veterans in Water

John Larson, CWEA Past President 2002

CWEA’s Kirt Brooks Memorial Scholarship was named after Kirtland “Kirt” Brooks, Association Manager and Bulletin editor for several years in the 1980’s. Kirt had joined the Association in the mid-60’s and become active in the San Francisco bay section and several other northern California sections.

Kirt believed that by improving the technical qualification of operators and maintenance people, all would benefit. One of his major satisfactions was the development of what is now the Technical Certification Program. He was a key figure in encouraging the development of the program while on the Board of Governors and later its first “paid staff” to manage and process the tests – although he probably donated more time than he got paid for. Later when the idea of a scholarship program was conceived, Kirt became a member of the ad-hoc committee to define its objectives and selection criteria. He saw the scholarship as a logical extension of the Association’s basic purpose of education of its members.

For nearly thirty years, Kirt actively contributed his time, creativity and wisdom to the Association. He was so respected and loved, that, at the next Board meeting following his passing, the Board unanimously voted to name the scholarship program after him.

CWEA reached out to Past President John Larson, ’02, a generous benefactor to the scholarship fund through the years for his “two cents” on why the scholarship is so important to him.

How did you get started in the water profession?

Starting in 1963 I worked as a summer engineering intern for EBMUD while studying mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley (UCB). My job consisted of evaluating the energy efficiency of their drinking water pump stations (over 200).

I graduated from UCB in 1967 and worked for EBMUD designing drinking water pump stations for one year before volunteering for the US Navy SEABEES doing construction in Viet Nam.

I completed my obligation to the Navy and returned to EBMUD in 1972 and I was subsequently transferred to its Special District No. 1 where I was involved in the testing, startup, and acceptance of their secondary treatment process. This was my first exposure to wastewater and I loved it. The best part was working for two people who have been my role models: Roger Dolan and Henry Hyde. Both of them encouraged me to attend CWPCA San Francisco Bay Section meetings for both education and for creating a network of people in the wastewater industry that I could turn to with questions.

In 1978 I moved to Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, working in the Engineering Department. A sampling of the projects I worked on include: designing an emergency steam plant to drive the aeration blowers, inspecting and repairing the treatment plant outfall, and converting tertiary clarifiers to secondary clarifiers to increase plant capacity. In 1985, I transferred to their Collection System Operations Department. My focus was on reducing SSOs and we went from 500 SSOs per year to under 100 using modern maintenance planning, scheduling, and tracking.

Concurrently I became a volunteer and then a volunteer leader in CWEA. Kirt Brooks lived in the East Bay and was a regular participant in San Francisco Bay Section meetings and events. I truly enjoyed his company. One day, at a meeting at His Lordships at the Berkeley Marina, Kirt asked if I would like to be more than a participant. That led me to serving on the San Francisco Bay Section Board. I went on to serve on the Technical Certification Committee, the Northern Regional Training Conference Committee for Monterey, the Collection System Committee, the CWEA Board and the Water Environment Federation Board.

In 2001 I moved to consulting; first with HDR Engineering and then on my own.  This provided me the opportunity to travel all over the US and overseas to see how other people had taken on the challenges of managing their wastewater.

In 2015 I retired. My career was an interesting and challenging 48-year ride. I have always been impressed by the many, many dedicated people that I have been privileged to work with.

How do you describe CWEA to others?

CWEA is an association of 10,000+ professionals who are dedicated to ensuring that the public health is protected in the most effective and efficient way possible. The Association provides training, certification, and timely information to support both competence and advancement of its members.

Why does the Kirt Brooks Scholarship matter to you? 

The future success of our industry relies on attracting new, talented, energized people. New talent comes in many forms: students trying to decide what to do with their lives, people moving to another career, and existing wastewater people seeking new knowledge and skills to advance. This Kirt Brooks Scholarship is a very effective outreach tool to attract new talent or help advance existing talent. The annual cost is low and the results speak for themselves.

In 1978, it was clear that I did not have the knowledge or skills to be effective working with wastewater treatment plant improvement projects and that I needed to go back to school. It would have been very helpful to have access to a scholarship to help with the costs. The Kirt Brooks Scholarship fills that need for our current and next generations.

What is your fondest memory of Kirt Brooks?

Kirt Brooks was, in my opinion, CWEA’s first professional association manager. He was involved. He was an ambassador for our industry. He invited/encouraged a generation of CWEA leaders to get involved.

I have many memories of Kirt. The fondest and saddest memory I have is attending Kirt’s memorial service at the Oakland Yacht Club. A small group of people had just returned from spreading his ashes on San Francisco Bay. A large group of people were gathered for the memorial. I was taken by the profound sense of loss and sadness at his passing. It was clear that he was very important to our statewide wastewater community and that he would be greatly missed.

What is your advice to a student entering this profession?

If you are looking for a challenging, meaningful, and rewarding career, then the wastewater industry is a great place to look.

Providing safe drinking water and effectively managing wastewater are the primary contributors to the increase in human life expectancy. As technology advances we are finding more and more trace contaminants that impact human health/life expectancy and impact the aquatic environment. It is obvious that new treatment methods and processes must be developed and employed and competently operated. Global climate change is adding new challenges to wastewater management via carbon emissions and sea level rise.

The Kirt Brooks Memorial Scholarship provides annual scholarships for individuals attending a College, University, Community College or Technical Trade School and pursuing a course of study related to the Water Environment Field.

Do you or someone you know plan to attend a water related program next Fall? Share this link, applications for the Fall 2020 school year are due January 15. Apply for CWEA’s Kirt Brooks Scholarship program >