Florida Women Involved in Backflow Prevention

submitted by Les O'Brien

Backflow Prevention and cross-connection control has been typically a "man's world", but no more! As each week passes, more women are becoming involved in the backflow industry.

There are more than a dozen women in Florida involved in backflow prevention. The following are autobiographical sketches of seven of these women who are dedicated toward making Florida's water safe to drink. They prove that when you are a reliable, knowledgeable, and competent professional, gender is not a factor.


Vanessa Blakely Arnold, City of Marianna

Vanessa Blakely Arnold's fast moving career with the City of Marianna, Florida is a real "jewel in the rough" story.

Vanessa first started her career with the City of Marianna in January of 1997. Her ability to adapt and catch on quickly did not go unnoticed. As opportunities presented themselves, Vanessa was there to take the helm and progress.

She began as temporary clerical help in the Finance Department. On March 1, 1997, a full-time custodian position opened up. Vanessa recognized the potential and applied. She accepted the position and diligently worked at showing the caliber which she contains. In May, she transferred back to a secretarial position that was split between the Fire Department and the Wastewater/ Water Division of the Public Works Department. Once again, this jewel of an employee shone through with exemplary work ethic and ability. In September of the same year, the full-time position of Backflow Technician opened up. For the previous five months, Vanessa had been learning all that was within her reach about wastewater/water facilities. She applied for and was offered the position.

In January of 1998, she received her certification as a Backflow Prevention Assembly Tester. Then in June she received dual certifications as a Cross Connection Inspector and Control Program Manager. She has obtained all her continuing education through the University of Florida TREEO Center. Her plans are to further extend her education and personal growth.

Vanessa is currently the City of Marianna's Backflow Administrator, responsible for approximately 520 backflow assemblies. Beyond these responsibilities, Vanessa still carries out the duties as the office administrator for the Wastewater/Water Division, is a mother and a new bride.


Jolynn Cates, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority

Jolynn Cates is a native of the Florida Keys and has always been surrounded by water. She is currently the Water Quality Engineer for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) and has been with the utility since her graduation in 1992 from the University of South Florida with a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering. While in college, she was first introduced to the term backflow preventer. Jolynn's father was one of the early few certified backflow preventer testers in the Florida Keys, so when she became UF/TREEO certified, he passed along to her his spare test gauge.

As the Water Quality Engineer, Jolynn is involved in the technical aspects of water supply, treatment and distribution, drinking water compliance and other issues including FKAA's Cross-Connection Control Program (Program). The FKAA's Program was implemented in 1986 and plays an important role in maintaining the water system's integrity. She has faced several challenges with the Program. Her first challenge was execution of enforcement procedures for non-compliance with installation and annual testing requirements of backflow prevention assemblies. The final step in the enforcement procedure for non-compliance is discontinuance of water service. As a result of enforcement, compliance increased.

Her next challenge with the FKAA's Cross-Connection Control Program was testifying in an administrative hearing. The issue in the case was whether the control delegated to the FKAA was exceeded. The hearing officer ruled that the FKAA's Program, in fact, furthers the legislative goal of protecting the public water supply from the very real and significant danger that is posed by cross connections with non-potable water. Her most recent challenge is the implementation of recommended revisions to the FKAA's Cross-Connection Control Program. The purpose of the revisions is to improve customer relations, compliance and protection of public health.

Jolynn has also presented papers on water quality issues at several conferences including the 1997 and 1998 Florida Water Resource Conference, 1997 Water Quality Technology Conference, and 1998 Cross-Connection Control Conference. Since 1994, she has participated on an American Water Works Association Project Advisory Committee.

Outside of work, she expresses her creative side and teaches young girls to dance. She choreographs dances for half-time performances at football games and for regional and national competition. She has two daughters who love to dance like mom.

Since the Florida Keys is her home, she wants to do her part in helping the community. Between her career, family, and outside activities, Jolynn is a very busy lady.


Jane W. Clark, City of Tallahassee

Jane Clark's decision to enter the world of engineering was promoted by her father, a Civil Engineer for the State of Florida DOT. Long before earning a formal degree, he would pick her up after grammar school to show her his active road construction projects. Jane graduated from college in 1981 and began a career with the City of Tallahassee in 1982. She had participated in their co-op program her last year in college. Jane was assigned to the Public Works Engineering Division, designing water and sewer projects and reviewing the design of area consultants. In 1985, she transferred to the Water and Sewer Department. There, she was responsible for developing plans, writing technical specifications and preparing contractual documents for projects bid by the City for expansions to the City's water and sewer systems.

In 1989 she was approached and asked to take on the new duties of the Cross Connection Control Coordinator. Jane remembers that she did not know what a cross connection was much less how to prevent backflow! By the end of 1990, she had completed several classes in backflow including UF/TREEO's Cross-Connection Control: Ordinance and Organization, FWPCOA's Backflow Testing Certification and Backflow Repair and Maintenance training. Within that year she developed the City's Manual for Cross-Connection Control and presented to the City Commission an Ordinance and Resolution to enforce the guidelines of the program.

Administering a cross-connection program in the state capitol is not easy. The nearer to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Twin Towers you are, the closer they look! A winning relationship has developed between the two governments that helps promote training and awareness in the backflow prevention field. Jane believes that consistency is the key to the success of Tallahassee's program. She emphasizes that you must treat all customers the same regardless of their political affiliation. Even Lawton and Ria Chiles have a backflow prevention assembly and are conscientious of the annual testing requirements. Another obstacle is downsizing. Jane's staff has been cut from 7 employees to 3 over the last 2 years. Tracking the current 5000 plus installed backflow assemblies, monitoring new construction projects and retrofitting current users have presented the section with a challenge, but one they are tackling.

Jane became an instructor for the UF/TREEO center in 1996 and conducts yearly re-certification classes for backflow testing in the Tallahassee area. Primarily, her City of Tallahassee daily duties keep her in the office and she recognizes that the classes help her keep current with testing practices and problems that testers are having in the field.

Jane said, "My Daddy told me that engineering was a man's field and that it wasn't going to be easy. It hasn't been easy, but it is all in communication. Treat your employees fairly, recognize their priorities, and give them the latitude to be responsible and make decisions." Jane also believes that once you have proven yourself as reliable, knowledgeable and competent to other professionals, gender is no longer a consideration.


Susan Lee D'Aries, City of Deerfield Beach

Susan D'Aries' employment experience has always evolved in the mechanical field. She married early in life and dedicated herself to her family until moving to Florida in 1973. At this time, Susan decided to join the work force to help offset expenses with her husband's newly started business. Following her mechanical and technical abilities, Susan began her career in the manufacturing field, first in the production of plastic products, after a few months Susan transferred to a manufacturing position in the metal industry. Here, she learned the mechanics and skills of industrial machinery and quality control. Before long, she realized it was time to move on to a new field.

In late 1980, Susan felt that she should apply for a position that would enable her to advance professionally. She accepted a position with the City of Deerfield Beach where she became involved in repairing and calibrating water meters of all sizes. This new position required training for which she was sent to school and became certified by Neptune Water Meter Company and Hersey Products Incorporated. It was while in this position, Susan learned about new state requirements for water protection mandating all water distribution systems to implement a backflow cross connection program within the next few years for final compliance. Encouraged by her husband, Susan pursued training and certification in backflow prevention.

By 1990, Susan had enrolled at the American Society of Sanitary Engineering (ASSE) Backflow Training School program, now under the Training, Research and Education for Environmental Occupations (TREEO) at the University of Florida. Although certified, she continued to perform her duties as a water meter technician as the City had not started the backflow control program. She successfully completed comprehensive training and testing to maintain her certification status every two years until the Backflow Cross Connection Control Specialist position was created.

Since taking on this new role in 1996, Susan has expanded her education in this technology. She has aggressively implemented the backflow control program at the City of Deerfield Beach to ensure state compliance and the safety of the community, and has attended many training sessions and seminars for backflow control and prevention, repair, inspection and management. Thanks to her efforts the City today has an extensive backflow control network with 5,000 installed assemblies/devices, and will eventually have every water meter protected with a backflow preventer. Her insatiable thirst for knowledge in the water systems field has lead Susan to the completion of Water Distribution Technician Class "C", and "B" certifications, and will also be completing Class "A" in the near future. She is also a member of several professional associations to help keep up with guidelines, changes, available training, seminars and local meetings, such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA), ASSE, Foundation of Cross Connection Control and Hydraulic Research (FCCC&HR), Florida Water and Pollution Control Operators Association (FWPCOA), Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), National Fire Sprinklers Association (NFSA), and American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA). Her leadership nature has placed her as a member of the ABPA Gold Coast Chapter's Board of Directors.

In looking back at her technical growth in the backflow field, Susan is pleased with her career achievements, especially in an environment that was dominated by men. However, she is quick to point out that it has been these same men who have not only encouraged her, but also trained and advised her to move forward and reach higher. Thanks to them she is determined to continue expanding her knowledge in environmental technology and sharing the importance of keeping our most precious resource safe.


Mary T. Dodd, Palm Beach County Water Utilities

Mary Dodd attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts in 1973, where she was one of the first women admitted. There she received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and met her husband.

During the 1970s and first part of the 1980s she worked as a Mechanical Engineer. Then in the late 1986's she turned her career efforts to Energy Conservation where she performed Energy Audits of residential homes and later became a program coordinator of a number of Energy Conservation Programs at a Utility in New Jersey.

In 1989 her husband decided on a career change and they moved to Florida. She eventually took a position on the staff of a Palm Beach County Commissioner. Then in April 1996 she took her present position at Palm Beach County Water Utilities. One of her duties as Environmental Analyst is Program Coordinator of the Cross-Connection Control Program. The program is a well-established and active program, which was started in 1989 and has been growing ever since.

Mary received her Tester Certification in October of 1996 and received the Cross-Connection Control Manager Certification from UF/TREEO in September of 1998.

Mary Dodd joined and was elected Secretary/Treasurer of the Gold Coast Chapter of the American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA) in 1997. The Gold Coast Chapter is the only Chapter in Florida at this time and has approximately 97 members The Chapter meets quarterly. On October 27, 1998 the Gold Coast Chapter hosted their first Backflow Prevention Assembly Repair Workshop. Though the chapter is new they are active and dedicated to educating the public and themselves about Cross-Connection Control.


Teresa Olds, Homosassa Special Water District

Teresa Olds has lived in the Homosassa area since 1979, moving here from Papillion, Nebraska. During this time she has had several jobs, such as being a waitress, store clerk, and working for Sun Trust Bank, all of which have helped her develop her customer service skills, before coming to work for the Homosassa Special Water District in 1987.

During her time at the Homosassa Special Water District, Teresa has performed many duties, general office responsibilities, maintaining field inventory, helping out in the field when needed and performing secretarial duties for the Superintendent and Office Manager. Teresa is also the Public Information Officer for the Water District. Helping with the coordination of the field crew and preparing the district during times of weather emergencies are also part of her responsibilities.

Maintaining the records for the Backflow tests that were performed when the District first began the Backflow program lead her to attend her first course at UF/TREEO, the Survey and Inspection Course was the beginning of her Backflow Training. After becoming a Certified Tester, her goal became to improve the Cross-Connection Control Program at the Homosassa Special Water District. At this time Teresa has attended and received certificates for Backflow Prevention Assembly Tester, Backflow Prevention Assembly Repair & Maintenance Technician, Cross Connection Control Inspector and Cross Connection Program Manager.

In 1991 a full program manual was developed and approved by the Board of Commissioners of the District. Teresa is in charge of seeing that Inventory, notification and testing procedures are maintained for over 220 backflow assemblies in the District. Teresa has encouraged 3 of the field crew of the District to attend and receive their backflow testing and repair licenses.

Teresa realizes that this is a profession that is historically dominated by men, which is a challenge in itself to her, but is what encourages her to keep communication lines open and establishing a rapport with those in the field. Schooling, training and conference's are a top priority to Teresa to keep current with the changes being made in this field.


Victoria M. Zimarino, Manatee County Public Works

Victoria Zimarino's professional life with Manatee County Government is far cry from her previous career as a dance teacher and choreographer in her home state of New York.

Her career path as the Cross Connection Control Coordinator for Manatee County Public Works started in1982. As a new resident of Florida, Victoria started work as a Retirement Account Specialist for First City Federal Savings & Loan. Her time at the S&L was a major stepping stone in Victoria's not-yet-defined career in the water industry. Through her employment with the S&L she developed the customer service skills needed and in 1985 accepted a job with Manatee Counties Utility System as a Customer Service Clerk.

By the late 1980's, Victoria had worked her way up to an Office Assistant under the direction of the Utilities Maintenance Superintendent. As the local water purveyor, one of the responsibilities of this department was to manage the cross connection control and backflow prevention for the County. Victoria was assigned the duties of administrating the requirements of the program contained in Chapter 62.555.360 Florida Administrative Code and reclaimed water systems under Chapter 62.610.470 F.A.C.. To familiarize herself with the regulations, Victoria attended comprehensive, training programs which included UF/TREEO's Introduction to Backflow Prevention and Florida Water Pollution Control Operators Association's Backflow Testing Certification.

Implementation of the County Urban Reuse Project in 1991 required regulatory review and approval which necessitated fall compliance and implementation of State and County rules. Victoria's current position as Cross Connection Control Coordinator was developed at that time and she was assigned full program responsibility.

Under Victoria' s administration, a full program manual has been developed and approved by Florida State Department Health and Rehabilitative Service. Inventory and notification procedures are in place for over 8,000 backflow assemblies. Victoria has been instrumental in developing a public information program for reclaimed water and customers testing responsibilities, and she is the primary architect for sessions with Manatee County Board of County Commissioners on the Cross Connection Control program which helps keep their program on track in spite of some public opposition.

In a profession that has been historically dominated by men, Victoria recognizes the importance of keeping communication lines open and establishing a rapport with those in the field. She says attending National, State and Local seminars and conferences are a vital component in achieving that goal.


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