analyst tackles dirty problems
Graduate zoologist from Rhode Island loves her job as the city’s “environmental guru” for wastewater, storm water and other, uh, stuff.
By Ward Lauren / Special to The Malibu Times
Spending every workday wrangling with Malibu’s considerable problems of wastewater, storm water runoff, solid waste and pollution of both ground and water may not sound like a day at the beach to many, but to Jennifer Voccola, the city’s environmental programs analyst, it constitutes “a very fun and interesting and challenging job.”
The challenging part is easy to understand, but it would seem to require someone of only Voccola’s special interests, education and training to find joy in these challenges. Voccola is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s in zoology, and training and experience in environmental technology, testing and control.
The West exerted its pull on her a year after graduation in 1996 when she took a job as a naturalist on a whale-watching charter boat in the Pacific Northwest. Working two split seasons, necessary because of the severe winter weather in Washington, she remembers the job as nothing less than “a beautiful experience.”
The Southland charmed Voccola after that, however, and she took a position as lab technician for a state-approved environmental testing laboratory in Simi Valley. During this period she took time to obtain an environmental technology certificate from Moorpark College. This led to her appointment as an inspector for the Environmental Compliance Division of the City of Simi Valley.
Five and a half years later, on Aug. 15 of last year, she was hired by the City of Malibu in her present position. Her move to the West Coast is definitely permanent, she said in an interview last week. Although she lives in Newbury Park, she said, “I would love to live in Malibu but I don’t know that it’s in the cards.”
The special challenges of her job here in Malibu “come from being in a city that’s at the end of the pipe, right on the coast, because we’re taking the waste that runs down from the upper reaches of the watershed,” she said. “The council and our department, Public Works, have definitely taken on water quality and environmental issues as very high priority.”
Voccola is currently the lead person or directly responsible for managing, implementing or representing activities in seven major projects in the area. These include the Marie Canyon Water Quality Improvement Project, partnering with the County of L.A. and Caltrans; Paradise Cove Stormwater Treatment System, partnering with Santa Monica Baykeeper and Kissel Co., Inc.; Las Flores Creek Restoration and Park Development; Escondido Creek Sampling, to try to determine sources and areas of bacteria contribution; North Santa Monica Bay Source Identification Task Force, teamed with various county departments; Santa Monica Bay Beaches Wet Weather Bacteria TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load of pollutants) and Implementation Plan, working with other responsible agencies toward implementing projects and studies submitted to the Regional Board last summer, and the Malibu Creek Bacteria TMDL Implementation Plan, working with other agencies to develop a plan to improve water quality and compliance.
“So the challenge is just being able to satisfy all the environmental needs, which is something I greatly care about and have made a personal commitment to in life. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the wonderful things that we’d really like to accomplish with the program.”
Even so, Voccola spends other hours as a member of the Tri-Counties Section (San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Santa Barbara) of the California Water Environment Association. She chairs the P3S Committee: Pretreatment, Pollution Prevention and Storm Water. Meetings are rotated between the counties and held every month or two, in addition to scheduled training sessions and workshops.
“Through our municipal storm water permit in Malibu, we’re also required to attend certain other meetings and committees,” she said. “So I’m involved with the Malibu Creek Watershed Committee as well as the Malibu Creek Advisory Committee, and different subgroups of that, such as the North Santa Monica Bay Task Force.
In regard to the recent non-vote of the Los Angeles Regional Water Control Board to enforce provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act, Voccola commented from the city’s point of view.
“The concern is that [the proposal that was to be voted on] may not be the most appropriate way, the most efficient way, to enforce the requirements,” she said, “so the cities involved had requested that we look at other options before it is put to a vote. We wanted to discuss some of the findings, to formally come up with a method we all agree on. The board hasn’t sent us another proposal yet; there’s nothing for us to comment on.
“All these cities and agencies that are regulated are doing lots of things in the meantime to help clean up the water,” she added. “There’s a lot going on. What the board will be voting on is merely a mechanism to ensure that we’re doing what we should be doing, finding ways to implement the clean water requirements so the act can be fully complied with. It’s not that all of a sudden the water will just be magically clean with the passing of this vote.
“We’re absolutely concerned about the Clean Water Act and we’re making progress on many projects,” Voccola continued. “But it’s like the job is never done so that you get to see that end result of having pristine water.”
And the job wouldn’t be done for Voccola even if the pristine water goal were achieved. She is also responsible for all of the solid waste and recycling programs in the city. She must make sure the proper services are provided so that residents can dispose of such things as used oil or paint, and that the public is informed about all opportunities for recycling of electronic waste, personal waste and any hazardous household materials.
“I pretty much act as the environmental guru for whatever environmental questions come our way,” she said in summing up her job.