Meet Pam Ouellette - WRRF Chief Plant Operator
Water Resource Recovery Facility’s Chief Plant Operator – Pam Ouellette
Let’s get familiar with the woman who is leading operations at the Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF), Pam Ouellette. She’s not one to brag, but she is one of the masterminds behind the success at the WRRF – she supports her team to reach their highest potential and encourages them to think outside the box. Pam is the first female operator at the WRRF and became Chief Plant Operator in 2008. She answered some questions about her time with the City of San Luis Obispo.
1. How long have you been with the City, and why did you decide to apply to the job?
My first day of work with the City was Thursday, February 20, 2003. I had finished a prior (16 years) career working for an oil company in 2000 because they had sold all offshore assets and the jobs they offered were not where I wanted to be or live. I traveled the country for six months to discover where I wanted to be next and found myself back on the central coast. I’d decided that this was where I wanted to live. A friend of mine worked as an engineer for the county at the landfill and Lake Lopez. She told me about wastewater operations and thought it would be a good segue from offshore oil operations and gave me the information for Cal State Sacramento home study courses in wastewater operations. The parallels were amazing; the media was a little different. The City of San Luis Obispo was the third municipality I applied at. This has been, by far, the best and most rewarding work I have ever had.
2. What motivated you to want to be Chief Plant Operator?
I wanted the opportunity to change the culture by empowering the operators with ownership of the process. When people are given the responsibility to own what they do, and are encouraged to make decisions as a team, trust builds and morale improves. Freedom to fail works when staff has ideas they want to try, but they work with each other to accomplish those changes. The CPO position doesn’t exist when staff is at the table to discuss plant operations, how they can make things better and solve problems together. As a result, we have built a strong team that works well together. I am fortunate to have been a part of it and had the opportunity to be in the position to help foster this culture.
3. What are you most inspired by in your work?
It really makes my day when people on tour see the water quality when it comes into the facility, and then see the clear sparkling water that is going to the creek. The look on their faces says it all. Knowing that every single day, the staff here makes a positive contribution to the people and animals that live here by enhancing the quality of the environment in which they live makes me feel very good about what I do. We are the Water Healers.
4. What is your best memory of the WRRF so far?
The worst/best memory was hosing off a puking digester for the first three months of my career. I thought to myself that if I could make it through that experience, I would make it through anything else that might come my way. Sticking to what you do, not giving up and staying focused makes for a successful career(s) and I think I have done that.
5. What do you see as your greatest accomplishments?
I graduated from high school without much hope of college or a good career where I was born. I left Maine at age 26 and drove out to California (alone) with the idea that I would somehow get hired as an operator on an oil platform. It took four years. Leaving Chevron at age 46 was a huge risk, but I kept focused on what I wanted, and now I will retire from the City in 18 months with another rewarding 16-year career. Being self-made without a college degree means a lot to me.