Moulton Niguel has been named a Top Mid-Size Workplace in Orange County for the third year in a row! We are grateful to be recognized amongst so many outstanding companies in our region. We take great pride in providing the absolute best service to our customers, and that service starts with all of our employees. Thank you, Orange County Register, for the recognition!
Check out the OC Register article below, and our 2019 video feature.
Top Workplaces 2019: Respect is key at Moulton Niguel Water District
By ALICIA ROBINSON | firstname.lastname@example.org | The Orange County Register
One government job is not just like any other when it comes to the Moulton Niguel Water District, where General Manager Joone Lopez touts the opportunity for employees to be innovative, get valuable career experience and be treated with respect.
The district provides potable and recycled water and wastewater services to six south Orange County cities, and it has been an industry leader in using data to help reduce water usage and costs and empower customers to better control their bills.
The Register spoke with Lopez about how the district works with unexpected partners and helps employees feel valued. Her comments were edited for length and clarity.
Q: What do you do to create an employee-focused workplace culture?
A: I really believe in treating others better than you want to be treated, so it’s one step beyond the golden rule, and what I try to do is create a safe environment. No one likes to be at work and feel like they’re walking on eggshells, so safety, trust, clarity, consistency and accountability [are important]. My employees understand that I love my staff, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to hold you accountable. We have our core values, we call it our “hero” values: honesty, effort, respect.
I don’t expect perfection, just your best effort, and you must respect one another. I don’t care if you had a bad day; I don’t care if you don’t like someone. You’re in a professional work environment and we treat each other and all those we come in contact with in the most respectful way. And when you have that as a requirement, it creates a safe environment where people enjoy being there, because it’s a culture of kindness.
I think, too, communication is so valuable in any size organization. We hold monthly all-hands [meeting] with all the employees, and we do other functions because I want everyone to understand what’s going on and how their respective role fits into the larger picture — how everyone’s role is critical and necessary to our overall success and how we support each other.
Q: Describe some of the innovative work the district has done and who it has collaborated with.
A: We’ve done a lot of work in advancing big data in solving water issues. In the historic drought, we saw a tremendous amount of calls for action. It was a very tough time. And all the areas were asked to reduce their water usage. And we also knew that some of the actions that were being required were based on not the best sets of data.
We collaborated with some of the agencies statewide. But we also collaborated with academic institutions like Stanford and UC Davis, and we had partners like Facebook and Netflix. We thought how can we do better in collecting data. Our agency was the first one to hire coders and data scientists to take all this messy data that was in file cabinets, on clipboards and be able to clean it so that it could be centralized and standardized into a location where you can actually pool information in a meaningful way.
Q: How did working with Netflix helps the district manage water resources?
A: Netflix is one of my favorite stories because it really illustrates what data can do. In order to meet all the recycled water usage demand in our service area, we were getting ready to build storage for $20 million. We had it in our budget.
So through this nonprofit called DataKind [it matches tech volunteers with public benefit projects], we got connected with a senior data scientist from Netflix who uses predictive modeling. When you watch Netflix, they know your viewing pattern, and based on that they’ll anticipate what you’re going to like, and they design their programs to be profitable.
So, they applied an algorithm to our recycled water usage, and what we were able to show is that by working with some of our large users, we could actually bring down that peak. And in bringing that peak down, we didn’t have to build the storage. So rather than using $20 million for that, we were able to invest that in other infrastructure, to make sure that we have system and supply reliability.
Q: How does the district provide a benefits package that’s attractive to workers but is also a responsible use of ratepayer dollars?
A: We have, if not the leanest, one of the leanest benefits and compensation packages in Orange County or south Orange County. We don’t attract talent with just compensation and benefits. I think what attracts people, and we’ve seen this, is the experience and the opportunity and the environment. I always tell people, ‘Imagine an organization of your dreams, what do you want to be a part of, what does it mean to you? Now come help us build it.’
Our partnerships, our friendship circle is so broad and wide that I have employees that are exposed to wonderful opportunities. They get to interact and work with people from all over the world, and you just don’t kind of get that experience and exposure in many of the agencies. I am not bound by a conventional or very boxy hierarchy system.
If you’re a superstar, there is no “you’ve got to put in your time.” I will blaze a trail for you. I will make room for you to grow; I will do everything I can to support you. When new employees believe that, they start talking about it and it creates this buzz, and other employees and other people outside the organization hear about it. They see what you’re doing as an organization and they want to be part of it.
Q: What would say to people looking for careers who don’t know much about opportunities in the water industry?
A: There is not a single thing that you can think of that you can’t do in the water industry. You could be an artist, you could be a communicator, you could be a journalist, you could be in finance, you could be in technology, computers, IT, you could be a data scientist. I think one of the ways the water industry is changing is we are getting much more into that data technology role.