Dublin San Ramon Services District Water Resource Recovery Facility (Photo by Overaa Construction)

Our Water Future: In Retirement Levi Fuller Plans to Continue Growing Pipeline of New Professionals

Career Stories, Members in the News, Veterans in Water

If you work in the Bay Area’s wastewater sector you likely know Levi Fuller. After thirty-one years on the job, most recently as the Operations Supervisor for Dublin San Ramon Services District, Levi has decided it’s time for some new adventures. He’s switching off his work cell phone for good and heading out into retirement.

A Navy veteran, Levi has been involved in CWEA, BAYWORK and the Bay Area Consortium of Water/Wastewater Education for decades. Overseeing the treatment plant during the day, he taught anxious young water and wastewater students at Solano College in the afternoons and evenings.

Levi estimates 60 of his students are now working at nearby Bay Area water and wastewater agencies.

He’s impressed with his students, with their grind and hustle. Levi remembers his own efforts to get into the sector, working during the day and taking classes in water and wastewater in the evenings. It takes a lot of work to get to where you want to go in this sector.

“You have to admire that,” he said. “Every time I get an email or a call from a student telling me they’ve gotten a job, that just makes my week.”

At first, Levi wasn’t certain how to be a teacher. Dublin San Ramon decided to join the Bay Area education consortium 15 years ago and the general manager asked for volunteer teachers. Levi put his hand up, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I didn’t know anything about teaching, but I was willing to give it a shot.” Levi shared a saying he enjoys. “Your first 25 years are about education, your next 25 about fame and fortune, and during your third 25 years you give back. So I’m into giving back now.”

From Aircraft Carrier to Treatment Plant

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz conducts a replenishment-at-sea July 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ian Kinkead)

Levi spent four and half years on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and part of his job on the Nimitz was operating the advanced desalination treatment system. The system turned 400,000 gallons of seawater into potable water every day for the 6,000 sailors on board.

After leaving the military Levi joined an environmental firm working on remediation of polluted sites. During one of the firm’s research projects on microbest to remove phenols from waste streams Levi was sent out to a wastewater plant to gather samples of activated sludge.

“That’s when I became aware of the wastewater industry,” Levi said. Shortly thereafter he took a job as an operator at Pinole’s wastewater treatment plant.  “I just found that whole idea fascinating. For me, it was good starting my career at a small facility like Pinole, because you could learn the entire plant and all of the processes, as well as doing some maintenance and electrical work.”

Levi likes to share a story of how small and connected the California wastewater community is. One day while driving down the road in Richmond another car started honking at him to get his attention.

“It was my old friend from the Navy Brian Hill. Brian and I met in the Navy in Great Lakes, Illinois back in 1982. We were both from Alabama. We got stationed in several different places and moved around, then  then independently of one another, we both ended up in the Bay Area.

We got to a point in the conversation was like, ‘Hey man, what do you do for a living?’ And he replied, “Oh, I’m a wastewater treatment plant operator for the city of Richmond.” And I said, “I’m a wastewater treatment plant operator for the city of Pinole.”

It was just an amazing coincidence that both of us independently ended up in the Bay Area and ended up in the wastewater industry.”

Chief Plant Operator Responsibilities

After 30 years on the job, one of the things Levi won’t miss from the working world is the always on call requirements for Chief Plant Operators.

“As all Chief Plant Operators can appreciate, every moment, every hour, every day, weekends, holidays, there is always someone who works for you on duty.  So on occasion you’ll get a call on the weekend, on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or when you’re at a party with a drink in your hand. I’ve had a great staff who took care of things. It’s just a big relief not being on call every minute of every hour, of every day.”

Chief plant operators also have enormous legal responsibilities to their agency, community and the State. CPOs are listed in the State’s legally responsible officials database and sign off on all the facility’s water quality reports.

“Every month when you submit that monthly report and you click that box that says I declare under penalty of perjury that everything is correct to the best of your knowledge, it is a monthly reminder of the seriousness of what we do,” said Levi.

For Levi protecting the community and San Francisco Bay have driven him throughout his career.

“Sometimes I’ll take a moment and go down to the Bay near Berkeley and just look at the bay and have a cup of coffee and just check it out. We need to recognize how beautiful the Bay is, what an incredible estuary it is.

And then I think about the fact of what I do for a living. I help protect that Bay and that is something that is really, really cool. Something that I think about and appreciate it.”

Thank you for your service to the industry Levi and for training the next generation of wastewater professionals!