While the entire country battles with COVID-19, Douglas Lipps a mechanical engineer says he has learned in his nearly 42-year career in wastewater that, with change comes new opportunity.
“Developments in technology is allowing us to continue operating even with the coronavirus,” explained Lipps. “The computer technology allows humans to do their jobs under ever-changing conditions.”
Lipps explains that in the last couple of years, the wastewater industry has been changing at a rapid speed with new innovative technology allowing a whole range of tasks to be performed remotely and online, just in time to help deal with the pandemic. This includes artificial intelligence, drones, the internet of things, and various custom applications.
“It’s an eye opener for the front-line workers in wastewater operations – everyone now uses a computer,” explained Lipps.
Lipps is set to retire in July of this year, while he eagerly mentions that with America’s aging infrastructure, there’s no better time to get into the wastewater industry. “There’s so much room for growth. I would encourage anyone interested in the field to give it a try.”
What Lipps will miss the most is his staff and colleagues that he worked with on a day-to-day basis. He is reassured that even when he’ll be fly fishing in the back country, that the good work at the SFPUC will continue. “We have a very good workforce and a lot of dedicated people. I sure will miss them.”
Lipps had planned to do some traveling, hiking and fishing with his wife upon his retirement, but with the global pandemic, even those plans are changing. “We are just waiting to see how things will unfold and we are taking it day by day.”
Lipps has contributed to countless projects during his tenure, but there is one in particular that stands out.
“It was a project called Operation Starfish. I picked the name at the time because the intersection of the streets where the project took place along Market Street have five arms, just like a starfish.”
The project entailed shutting down the ever-busy Market Street at a cost to the City of $100,000 a day to inspect, repair and clean the sewer pipes underneath the roadway. The SFPUC’s Sewer Operations Division staff worked 12-14 hours shifts for several weeks to ensure the schedule was met. After realizing the extensive cleaning and repair work needed, they decided to condemn the aging system and put the monies toward an entirely new dual sewer system.
“It was all hands on deck. Everyone from Sewer Operations participated. We had it all planned out in advance so it ran smoothly.”
And while there are a lot of unknowns the entire country is dealing with right now, Lipps says there is something we can all learn from past experiences.
“Change is inevitable, and so roll with the punches and enjoy the journey. Happy trails!”