Maintaining an asset
Preventative maintenance is the name of the game for David Stabeno.
As the East Williamson County plant maintenance crew leader, Stabeno oversees multiple crews at Brazos River Authority water and wastewater treatment plants.
Stabeno joined the BRA in February 2008. He had been working for a pump and motor repair company in Taylor when a friend mentioned the job opening and that the BRA was a good and stable company.
He was hired as an tech at the Brushy Creek Regional Wastewater System, where he worked his way up to lead tech over the next decade. In 2018, the city of Round Rock assumed wastewater system operations, so he applied for the senior tech position at the East Williamson County Regional Water System (EWCRWS). He was later promoted to crew leader. The Brazos River Authority owns and operates the EWCRWS, which serves the cities of Taylor, the Jonah Water Special Utility District, and the Lone Star Regional Water Authority. The system includes a 12.8 million gallons per day water treatment plant, a terminal storage reservoir, a raw water intake facility at Lake Granger, a raw water pipeline, a groundwater well and a treated water pipeline.
Stabeno oversees the maintenance crews, and budgets, at four facilities. Besides EWCRWS, that includes the Sandy Creek Water Treatment Plant, which the BRA operates for the city of Leander. Stabeno also oversees the maintenance crews for the BRA-operated Hutto Wastewater System, which includes the Hutto Central Plant, a 1.5 million gallons per day plant that began operation in 1998, and the Hutto South Plant, which is designed to treat 2.0 million gallons per day. The BRA has been treating wastewater since the 1970s and potable water since the 1980s.
"It can be a lot at times. Basically, four different budgets, and everyday issues that pop up at one time," Stabeno said. "But it's not too bad. I have a great group of guys I can trust at all four facilities. They do a really good job at keeping up with stuff. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t be successful."
Stabeno is a very calm and laid-back individual, said Donald Malovets, Brazos River Authority regional maintenance superintendent for the central and lower basin.
"I haven't seen a whole lot of things get him shook up or fired up," Malovets said. "David is very knowledgeable in all aspects of the maintenance field. David leads by example and has the knowledge to pass down to his folks, so they understand what he needs or wants accomplished. David stays on top of issues, plans, and schedules accordingly and knows his people well enough to put the right person or persons on a task."
Stabeno puts a lot of emphasis on ensuring his crew members stay safe, Malovets said.
"David wants to make sure that what he or his crews do is not only right but done in a safe manner," Malovets said. "David is not one that jumps in but puts extra thought into what he is fixing to get into. Along with David's direct reports, I respect him, and he is someone that people want to be around. David is a very big asset to not only me and his folks but also to the BRA."
A pivotal quality for the position is flexibility, Stabeno said.
"We lay out the week’s initial plans, but plans change all the time," he said. "Something comes up, something breaks, and we reassess everything in a manner of priority."
The role requires knowledge in a lot of different areas. Stabeno said it took about eight years at Brushy Creek to feel like he knew everything. And then, when he moved to the water side, it felt like starting all over again.
"Even though it's real similar, it's different," he said. "You don't know the little tweaks and all the common problems. Every day we learn something new. It's never a dull moment, that's for sure."
Interestingly enough, and thankfully, the busy times for water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants are at different times.
Summer is a hard time of year on water treatment plants, he said.
"Everyone is using water," he said. "Watering grass, yards – You're pushing your equipment harder this time of year at a lot of plants."
So, during the seasons when it tends to rain more, and people start using less water, the crew can focus on more preventative maintenance-related projects, he said.
Meanwhile, when it rains, it pours for wastewater treatment plants. “Inflows and infiltration are major issues at wastewater plants,” Stabeno said.
Either people are flushing items that should never go down the toilet, or manhole covers come up accidentally (or intentionally) somewhere along the line. And interesting and potentially damaging items make their way to the plants, like clothes, 2x4s, rags, fish, jewelry, wet wipes, metal, hoses, and sometimes money. Whether it's a combination of bad habits or a random opportunity, sometimes bizarre items are found in the system that could potentially cause problems for the treatment plant. This nondegradable debris has to be removed from the sewage before treatment begins.
"It's amazing," he said. "You kind of question how people get stuff through things."
When he's not working, Stabeno is probably hunting, fishing, or camping. And he usually does it all with his wife and his soon-to-be 15-year-old son.
"They pretty much come with me all the time," he said. "We have a few guy weekends that are few and far between. But the family and I like to go to beaches, or spend time on the river, or just relaxing at the lake and enjoying the water."