Western Water Constructors Inc.

As a 100 percent employee owned company, it doesn’t hurt that Western Water Constructors is a family run firm. In fact, Project Manager Eli McGarva says, the family leadership has nurtured friendly connections through its team that help make the work go much easier.

“[We have several] father-son duos out in the field,” he says. “We have several roommates, best friends and cousins working side by side. We all get along very well.”

Based in Santa Rosa, Calif., Western Water specializes in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of integrated water and wastewater systems. The firm started operations in 1953 as Kirkwood-Bly, a general engineering contractor.

In 2001, McGarva’s father, President and CEO John McGarva, and four other partners purchased the firm from majority owner John Bly. Today, as Western Water, it has increased the scale of its work from $15 million to $55 million projects, Eli McGarva says.

The New Filing Cabinet

One factor critical to Western Water’s success is its adoption of state-of-the-art technology, McGarva says. He explains that Western Water has developed its own management software that allows the company to track jobs online and complete paperwork electronically.

“It’s kind of our online filing cabinet,” he says, adding that Western Water designed it to be simple for its employees to use. “Our superintendents came through the trades and many don’t have extensive computer experience.

“We’ve been using it for five years and it has evolved,” he continues. “We add more and more tools to it as we have time.” Some of the tools include a timesheet module, a daily module, a tool tracking module, an RFI module, a change-order module and the electronic filing cabinet.

Pump It Up

Western Water’s recent projects include the new Lake Merced Pump Station facility in San Francisco. The current station, which was built in 1952, pumps and treats approximately 60 percent of the city’s drinking water, according to McGarva.

The company has a contract of $32 million to provide the systems for the replacement station, which features new pumps to send water to the reservoir. In addition, the new station will guarantee that the city has water in the case of an earthquake. This will be managed by replacing two existing vertical turbine pumps that pump water directly out of Lake Merced to the city’s water supply if the main line is broken during an earthquake.

Western Water has kept the original pump station operational during the project. “We’ve been [here] for a year and eight months and we haven’t had any disruptions to the existing plant,” he says, noting that the two plants are on the same site, approximately 60 feet apart.

McGarva has high praise for its client, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). “Their onsite staff has been very good to work with, very fair and honest,” he states.

“SFPUC could be one of our best owners to work for,” he says, praising the commission’s residential engineer, Thomas Jang. “He has been instrumental in keeping the project moving forward and on schedule.”

Beyond the Ordinary

Western Water is also at work on the expansion of the Oakley Ironhouse Waste Water Treatment Plant in Oakley, Calif. The project, with a budget of approximately $55 million, is different from what the company is used to, Project Manager Micah Addison points out.

“Usually, Western Water goes into a plant and expands it,” he says, explaining that in this case, the company instead came to a greenfield site to construct its systems. When finished, the plant will treat 4.5 million gallons of wastewater a day and feature a new influent pump station, anoxic/aeration basins, a membrane bioreactor structure, and chemical/blower, UV and solids-handling buildings.

Addison notes that Western Water tied into the existing manhole at the head of the existing plant and installed 2,700 feet of 30-inch pipe as well as 12 new manholes connecting the old plant to the new one.

“[The project has] been in the planning stages for eight years,” he says, noting that he is proud of the firm’s placement of the outfall pipeline at the San Joaquin River.

“It was quite a chore to be installed,” he says. The 500-foot discharge pipeline reaches depths of 45 feet and allows the plant to discharge water into the San Joaquin River. “We don’t know of a deeper outfall pipeline that’s ever been installed in the region,” he adds.

The last section of the pipeline has 16 diffusers that allow wastewater to be distributed without affecting plant and marine life. “[The discharge is] actually cleaner than the water in the San Joaquin River,” he states.

The Oakley Ironhouse expansion is aiming for completion this October, according to Addison. “Construction is pretty well complete,” he says. “We’ve completed startup on the influent pump station and headworks.

“We’ll complete start-up on the aeration basins, MBR and chemical/blower building, [and] continue structure by structure until all the functional and operational testing is complete,” he says. “Right now, we’re just powering up all the gear and equipment and making sure it works correctly, before introducing sewer to the plant.”

Keeping Busy

Both McGarva and Addison see a strong, busy future for Western Water. “We are a low-bid contractor,” Addison says, noting that the company is willing to travel far for its clients. “[We’ll] continue to go after what we can.”

McGarva also predicts that the company will take on more projects for the SFPUC. “They have a lot of wastewater [projects] coming out,“ he says. “We’re definitely going to be taking [another] crack at them.”

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