Fresno is hiring a new assistant director of public utilities to shore up compliance with legal and regulatory requirements for the city’s water operations division.
Brian Spindor, a civil engineer, now works for HDR Inc. in Washington state. He will start his job in Fresno on Sept. 12. According to an announcement from the city, Spindor will be responsible for overseeing Fresno’s water and wastewater facilities.
He has more than 30 years of experience in engineering, operations management and public health and safety in water, wastewater and stormwater systems, including about 15 years with the Seattle public utilities department.
Spindor will earn $120,000 a year.
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Fresno advertised its opening in February, less than two months into its investigation of discolored water complaints from a growing number of residents in northeast Fresno. The position has been vacant since January 2015, when Martin Querin left to take a job in the Bay Area. Querin is now the deputy public works director in Berkeley.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said the red-water controversy did not drive the hiring, adding that the city wanted to find someone with experience in both drinking water and wastewater operations and management.
Spindor’s current employer is a worldwide firm based in Nebraska that provides engineering, architectural, environmental and construction services. The company was hired by Fresno in the late 1990s to conduct treatability studies of canal water and provide recommendations for corrosion-control measures as Fresno contemplated construction of its Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant, which went into operation in 2004.
Rudd called Spindor “a great addition to our team” who will “bring a strong sense of accountability and communication to our water operations.”
The water division has been under scrutiny since January after a flurry of discolored-water complaints from residents in northeast Fresno triggered an investigation by the city into what is causing the problems.
The issue appears to be related to galvanized iron plumbing used in homes in the area served by the northeast water treatment plant, linked to how treated surface water destabilizes rust and mineral scales that form inside galvanized pipe and discolors the water coming from residents’ taps.
The investigation revealed that for years the city failed to adequately report water quality complaints to the state, either in monthly operational reports for the water treatment plant or in electronic annual reports filed with the State Water Resources Control Board, even though some residents’ complaints date to 2004, when the treatment plant began producing water.
In addition to discolored water, water samples from some homes revealed the presence of lead in the water at concentrations higher than 15 parts per billion, the trigger level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires water utilities to take corrective action.
The city has been trying to adjust its water-treatment chemistry, both at the treatment plant and at groundwater wells, to correct the problems.
Jerry Schuber continues to serve as the city’s assistant director for solid waste operations.
Spindor’s assistant director post effectively combines the duties of two vacant positions, one overseeing water and the other overseeing wastewater. Stephen Hogg, who had been the assistant director for wastewater operations, left last summer for a job in Monterey County.
The third assistant director position was filled in July by Georgeanne White, who formerly was chief of staff to Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Among White’s duties was advising the mayor on a slew of water issues.
White has been instrumental in dealing with state and federal water agencies on water allocations, legislation, grants and policy, and is a liaison to local irrigation districts, and will expand that role as assistant director.
As Swearengin’s chief of staff, White earned a base salary of $122,000 per year plus benefits in 2015, according to the public records database Transparent California. In her new job, she will be paid $125,000 a year, Rudd said.
All three assistant director positions report to Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda.