Jeff Sober’s childhood wasn’t always like that of the other kids.
As a 12-year-old growing up in Austin, Texas, he recalls the day he found himself alone standing atop a water clarifier. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle how this works,’” he said.
At that tender age, Jeff was already forming a vision of the direction his future might take. As he saw it, he almost “didn’t have a choice but to be in the water industry.”
His unusual fascination with water treatment processes likely had something to do with the influence of a water industry professional he knew well: his father, Gary Sober. A Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) member for 35 years and current chair of Water Environment Association of Texas’ (WEAT) Operator Training Committee, Gary became a life member of WEF last year.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jeff attended Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas), where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering and environmental engineering, respectively. He now leads municipal infrastructure projects for Garver (North Little Rock, Ark.), where he serves as vice president and Texas team leader. Like his father, Jeff also is active in WEF and his local Member Association. He currently serves as president-elect of WEAT.
Rekindling a bond with love of water
The pair’s professional affiliations have helped them forge new father–son bonds. Gary and Jeff currently are working together to create a WEAT-sponsored, operator-training program for the state of Texas. Gary is in charge of the technical side, and Jeff is handling the business end.
For Gary, the bond he has created with his son through this work has been especially fulfilling. After going through a period of disillusionment, Gary said he had taken what he called “a leave of absence” from the water sector some years ago. But the Sober family influence, it turns out, works in both directions.
“I owe Jeff so much,” Gary said. “He brought me back into the business. He challenged me to give back, and it has been very rewarding for me.”
Years of international travel have taught Gary that important work still needs to be done to ensure a safe and adequate water supply. “Our water is getting dirtier. We’re way behind with certain treatment technologies. Much needs to be done to provide good, potable water for future generations,” he said. “And WEF is an avenue to get the message out to the public.”
Gary said he is encouraged by the “out-of-the-box” thinking he has seen on display at WEF’s Operations Challenge, at which he served previously as a judge and event coordinator. “There are a lot of good, young engineers out there who will listen and work with you,” he said.
Speaking of young engineers, Jeff — WEF’s 2014 Young Water Professional — also is looking ahead.
“Our industry’s biggest challenge is determining how we fund the future of our infrastructure,” Jeff said. “We have the people and the technology, but we don’t have the money. We need to rethink how we educate the public about the importance and value of these systems.”
Of course, it is not all work and no play for the Sobers. In their free time, father and son head for the great outdoors, where they enjoy everything from hunting and fishing to distance running and 100-mile mountain bike races. They still manage to make time to enjoy the occasional clarifier.
Read more about Gary and Jeff Sober in the Operations Challenge section of the December issue of WE&T.
— 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.
Know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.