Engineering lignite mines to water management projects - One Aggie's career chasing the challenge

David Jones Family

David Jones stepped into a new role for the Brazos River Authority four years ago to develop the BRA's first 50-year capital improvement plan.

As a department of one, Jones is working to provide strategic direction and implementation of the BRA's risk-based capital planning and management program as he works alongside operations and maintenance departments to maintain asset conditions and critical data for its dams, pipelines, water treatment, and wastewater treatment plants, among other things. This risk-based approach will not only continue to manage BRA assets, but it will consider the likelihood and consequence of failure and redundancy for each asset. This will help in planning for repair and replacement criteria for all assets, limiting downtime and increasing efficiency from an operational and fiscal perspective.

Jones said these data-driven, priority-based long-term projections would assist the organization's management in making better choices, planning tasks, and controlling expenditures.

Creating and navigating a new system can be challenging, but it keeps Jones' days interesting. He is specially qualified to handle the projects in front of him because of the experience he brings to the table.

Inheriting the family gene

Jones earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1980. He jokingly claimed that three of his uncles, as long-time Aggies, brainwashed him early in childhood to also become an Aggie.

Two of the three uncles were civil engineers, and one was a mechanical engineer. Jones was drawn to civil engineering since it is a more diverse field and offers a range of career possibilities.

"I call myself a dirt engineer," Jones said. "I have enjoyed building earthen dams, roads, diversions and that type of thing."

Out of college, Jones went to work for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, where he stayed for 12 years. Feeling that his career was beginning to stagnate, he stumbled upon a lignite mine in Jewett looking for a civil engineer. He worked there for 14 years and again felt it was time to move, realizing they were going to run out of lignite before he was eligible to retire.

That's when he found himself at a "Lunch and Learn" session at the BRA's Central Office in Waco. Jones said he was immediately impressed by the BRA employees, so he applied when an opening came up in 2006 for a senior project engineer. Jones worked in engineering services, served as the engineering manager and briefly as the interim technical services manager before landing his current position as Capital Improvement Planning Administrator.

Jones said he enjoys what he does.

David Jones

"It's always a new challenge," he said. "There's always something different. A lot of times, you come to work, and you think you're working on this today, and you end up working on something completely different. I like the challenge of assignments. The spur-of-moment things are interesting."

What initially attracted him to the role has continued to play a large part in keeping him at the BRA: the people. Having great benefits is also a great plus.

"I really feel like it's very much a team effort," Jones said. "Some jobs you work at, there's what I call silos. Everybody doesn't want to share secrets with you and you don't know what they do. Here, it's always been a very open, sharing situation where everyone is willing to hop in there and get their hands dirty to get it fixed."

Jones's greatest joy outside of work is being a grandparent to his three grandchildren, who are all under ten. Jones said he and his wife very much enjoy spending time with their son and daughter, their spouses and three grandchildren. Naturally, he continues to keep up with Texas A&M athletics.

He continues to be a determined individual. Jones contracted Polio as an infant. At eight months old, his parents were told he'd never walk.

"Through God's provisions and blessings, I feel like He used the doctors through several surgeries I had and physical therapy to make sure that wasn't the case," Jones said. "I feel like I was very blessed. I learned to walk with crutches and braces. By four years old, I was walking completely unassisted. I was never going to win a foot race, but I got around really well until a few years ago. I'm thankful to still be walking. For almost 60 years, I went unassisted."

Jones is also currently teaching himself how to propagate lemon trees. It's been a new addition to his gardening hobby. He said he loves tomatoes, so he's been growing them in barrels and has a few raised beds. Since he has started using leg braces and crutches once more in recent years, this technique is simpler than maintaining a ground garden.

Looking ahead

Blake Kettler, BRA technical services manager, said Jones is a true asset to the BRA not only because of his understanding of the organization through his tenure but also because of his great personality, worth ethic, and willingness to help out no matter the situation task.

"He has served in a few roles in Technical Services as a Senior Project Engineer and most recently as the Capital Improvement Planning Administrator," Kettler said. "Although he has a new title, he continues to help with the project workload to progress project delivery. This is a direct reflection of his work mentality. As the Capital Improvement Planning Administrator, he has been tasked with developing a 50-year project planning horizon. This is no small task. This CIP will leverage information from multiple sources to lay the groundwork for project and fiscal capacity into the future. With high-level goals in mind, David has excelled in his new role and development of the CIP and will continue to do so into the future. What a great member of the Technical Services team and the Brazos River Authority!"

David Jones Family

Jones said the BRA has short-term projections for many projects, but the risk-based capital planning and management program will tie together a unified approach and forecast. The plan will be updated each year as work progresses and timelines change. The program is expected to be up and running in 18 months. Asset management helps reduce downtime, increase efficiency, and lower an asset's life cycle cost. Long-term planning helps focus on a holistic view of our operations and maintenance activities and provides information for projecting water rates over an extended period.

A good example of the need for this forecast is the East Williamson County Regional Water System expansion. The EWCRWS, located next to Lake Granger and owned and operated by the BRA, provides treated water to the city of Taylor, the Jonah Water Special Utility District, and the Lone Star Regional Water Authority. This area is one of the fastest growing in the state, and projections show that increased water demands based on this population growth will necessitate an expansion. The BRA Board of Directors in June 2022 approved $2.7 million for the project's evaluation phase, increasing the plant's capacity to up to 18 million gallons per day.

But what does that have to do with the long-term forecast?

Well, it will certainly not be the last expansion.

One of the first projects Jones' worked on when he joined the BRA was the initial expansion in 2006 of the EWCRWS from 5.3 million gallons per day to 12.3 million gallons per day. If the population continues to boom in the area as projected, the plant will need to be updated and expanded in the future to handle 25 million to 30 million gallons per day, Jones said.

The current EWCRWS expansion considers both a short-term expansion project with a larger expansion of the facility in the near future.

The transition into risk-based asset management was a learning curve for Jones, just as it is for the entire organization to have a comprehensive asset management program, Jones said.

"I can't go down the hall and ask an expert. We're all learning together," Jones said.

Of course, he's able to incorporate well-developed talents, like, strong analytical and problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and an understanding of business and accounting principles with respect to budgeting, rate calculations and long-term financial planning.

That part of the unknown and the challenge to create and maintain something new to the organization is a big part of what Jones loves about working for the BRA.