You never know what might inspire a young person to pursue a career in wastewater. For Joe Bonaccorso, the seeds were planted when he first glimpsed the inner workings of a New Jersey water resource recovery facility (WRRF) as a boy scout in 1961— he was fascinated by what he saw.
Joe may not have immediately set his sights on clarifiers and biosolids, but the experience validated his interest in science. He spent 5 years after college as a biology and general sciences teacher.
When Joe decided it was time to find a better-paying job where he could put his knowledge to work, he found one. The day in 1977 when his son, Fran, was born, Joe logged his first official workday at the WRRF in Kearny, N.J. Because he valued education, Joe joined the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and New Jersey Water Environment Association the same year.
Joe was dedicated to his work, and it showed. “In the middle of a strike, I was asked by the manager to operate the plant over the weekend,” Joe said. “I wound up living there for 27 straight days.” Later, he was called on to review manuals and protocols, tutor supervisory personnel, and enhance training programs as he worked his way up the ladder.
While Fran was growing up, Joe would often bring him to work when there was no school. But if Joe was trying to start a legacy, Fran wasn’t buying it.
“I was interested,” Fran said, “but I didn’t want to work in this business.”
But, on his 18th birthday, Fran accepted a part-time job at the Joint Meeting of Essex & Union Counties’ (Elizabeth, N.J.) WRRF. His father was the facility’s superintendent, a position he held until 2011.
Fran worked at the WRRF on weekends throughout college and never left. Today, he is the facility’s assistant superintendent. At home, the line between work and family life for the Bonaccorsos can become blurred.
“My father equates our family dinners to those on Blue Bloods, a TV show about a [multigenerational] family in the law enforcement community,” Fran said. “But he calls us Brown Bloods. It’s cute in a wastewater and sewer kind of way. We are proud to do what we do, and we are proud we do it as a family.”
Currently, one of Fran’s primary focuses is enhancing the sustainability of the WRRF, which sustained some damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “By generating a large amount of our own electricity and using fuels we make as a byproduct of our process,” he said, “we can expand our resiliency and be as close to net-zero as possible.”
The hope of achieving goals like these and improving water quality continues to inspire both Bonaccorsos; it also drives their participation in WEF.
Fran said his father taught him to “see value in education and in associating yourself with educated people and learning from people around you.” WEF plays a major role in making that possible. “[At WEF], people in related areas are given opportunities to interact where they normally would not,” Fran said.
— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights
WEF Highlights Presents My Water Legacy Families
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is bringing attention to the value of membership and tradition of working in the water sector.
The #MyWaterLegacy social media campaign and WEF Highlights articles feature the accomplishments and contributions of members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector. The WEF Legacy Family will appear in an ongoing WEF Highlights series. Read the series by searching for the keyword MyWaterLegacy.
Do you know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at email@example.com.