Retirement Doesn’t Stop William Grandner from Guiding Young Operators

October 31, 2017

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William Grandner, a member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) since 1978, mentors young professionals in wastewater. Photo courtesy of Grandner.

William Grandner, a member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) since 1978, mentors young professionals in wastewater. Photo courtesy of Grandner.

William Grandner, an icon of New York City’s wastewater treatment sector, has a long history in mentoring wastewater operators. By serving as a mentor for the next generation, he hopes to prepare the sector for an uncertain future.

“I am not a psychic, but I know the future of the young operator. I walked in his shoes,” Grandner said. “This industry needs grassroots operators to survive. Flow meters, level indicators, auto-samplers, and [supervisory control and data acquisition] SCADA systems are great tools. But the hands, hearts, and minds of operators cannot be replaced.”

Grandner, a WEF member since 1978, formally retired from his day job in 2014, but as an active member of New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA), he refuses to stop working to improve the water sector. He still serves on three state-level NYWEA committees, two New York City-based NYWEA committees, and co-chairs the organization’s  mentorship-focused  “Operator of the Future” task force.

As the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) hosted the 30th national-level Operations Challenge competition at WEFTEC® 2017, Grandner recalled attending more than 25 of these events. And in addition to teaching certification courses back at home, he continues to play a key role in organizing and judging the New York state-level Operations Challenge competition.

A legend of the New York City water environment

In the late 1970s, Grandner began working for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYDEP), leaving behind a brief stint as an electrician in the construction industry.

While not yet certified as a professional wastewater operator, Grandner says, he was inspired by his father — a 20-year veteran operator of Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (Brooklyn, N.Y.) — to look for opportunities in the water sector. While he was at work, a NYWEA representative in search of new members visited NYDEP. Grandner was excited to join WEF at both the state and national levels, he said.

In 1979, Grandner was assigned a temporary position as an operator with Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Plant (Brooklyn, N.Y.). The position may have been temporary, but its influence on Grandner’s career path was not. He went on to earn increasingly advanced operator’s certifications and to serve in various other wastewater facilities within New York City. Eventually, he was appointed deputy plant superintendent at the Newtown Creek facility upon his father’s retirement in 1986.

In 2002, Grandner returned to the Owl’s Head facility as superintendent. He retired from this position in 2014.

NYWEA Hall-of-Famer

By the mid-1990s, Grandner had become heavily involved in NYWEA activities, including Operations Challenge. When attending the competitions, he enjoys meeting people from both large and small communities “doing the same work with the same difficulties,” he said. Sometimes these commonalities can transcend the rivalries between long-time Operations Challenge competitors. WEFTEC 2001 in Atlanta, which took place just one month after the 9/11 tragedy, was particularly meaningful for Grandner.

Despite his retirement in 2014 from Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Plant (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Grandner continues to help organize and judge the NYWEA Operations Challenge competition. He also has attended more than 25 WEFTEC Operations Challenge competitions. Photo courtesy of Grandner.

Despite his retirement in 2014 from Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Plant (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Grandner continues to help organize and judge the NYWEA Operations Challenge competition. He also has attended more than 25 WEFTEC Operations Challenge competitions. Photo courtesy of Grandner.

“I remember sitting with the two New York Operations Challenge teams discussing, in light of the tragedy, if we should participate. I was astonished that all eight team members were determined not to allow the fear of terrorism to stop them. We participated,” Grandner said. “I received two calls that year from California and Hawaii team members asking if New York was going to participate, and I was proud to say ‘yes.’ Both New York teams received such a warm welcome from all the teams, vendors, and attendees at WEFTEC. It is something I will never forget.”

Grandner won the NYWEA Uhl T. Mann Award for excellence in the operation of facilities greater than 189,000 m3/d (50 mgd) in 2004. He also became the first operator inducted into the NYWEA Hall of Fame in 2012.

With great experience comes great responsibility

Grandner follows his father as a role model for the next generation of water sector workers. He has devoted much of his post-retirement years to developing certification test curricula and coordinating teachers and training sites for NYWEA. He embodies WEF’s #MyWaterLegacy campaign, which celebrates long-running contributions to the water environment and prompts sector veterans to consider the legacy they will leave behind.

As wide swaths of the water sector professionals near retirement age and many in the sector strive to attract young professionals, Grandner says, close mentorship is more important than ever before.

“Experience is earned, not written in a book or found on the Internet. Experienced professionals have it, and it is their obligation to share it with the young professionals,” Grandner said. “The most important thing to instill in a young professional is that this is not just a job — it is much more than that. A small part of saving the planet is in your hands.”

─ Justin Jacques, WEF Highlights

My Water Legacy Campaign Expands to Mentorship

The #MyWaterLegacy campaign was launched at WEFTEC 2016 to bring attention to the value of membership and tradition of working in the water sector. The WEFTEC 2017 Opening General Session built on this campaign by focusing on the importance of mentorship with ties to workforce development, leadership, and innovation.

During the past year, WEF Highlights articles have featured the accomplishments and contributions of members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector. These articles now will expand to focus on WEF members who are active water-sector mentors.

Do you know of a WEF member who has mentored others in the water sector or a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at jfulcher@wef.org.

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