AMWUA Blog

Jun 04 2018Share

Engineer Trained In Mexico Helps Glendale Recycle Its Wastewater

By Warren Tenney

Karla Camou Guerra is a native of Hermosillo and had a good career as a metallurgist for gold mining companies operating in Mexico. When she was still in her twenties, Karla was about to help one of those companies open a new mine in Honduras. “I was perfectly happy,” Karla said. “I had a good job.” Then, on a visit to Phoenix, friends introduced her to a guy and the idea of that new job in Honduras was over before it started. Twenty years later, Karla is married to the guy she met in Phoenix and living with him and their two children in the City of Avondale. Karla’s husband, Arron, runs his own advertising business and Karla is responsible for the systems and plants that collect, treat and distribute the City of Glendale’s recycled wastewater.

“A lot of people think of working in wastewater and – yuk,” Karla said with a bit of an eye roll. “We don’t swim in it. We don’t drink it. We just make sure everything works properly.”

As Superintendent of Water Services, Karla ensures the smooth operation of Glendale’s two wastewater treatment plants. Arrowhead Ranch Water Reclamation Facility has the capacity to produce 4 million gallons a day (mgd) of treated wastewater and produces about 2.3 mgd. This water is recycled to create lakes in the Arrowhead Ranch community and is used to water golf courses, HOA landscaping, and trees and plants along the streets. West Area Water Reclamation Facility has the capacity to produce 11.5 mgd of treated wastewater and produces about 8 mgd. Glendale stores 95 percent of water recycled at West Area underground as backup for future water shortages.  A small percentage is used to irrigate the playing and practice fields in Camelback Ranch, Glendale’s spring training and baseball facility.

Glendale also sends 8.5 mgd of wastewater to the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant. Water produced at the plant is sent to Palo Verde Generating Station, the only nuclear plant cooled by recycled water.

Each day, Karla’s job starts when she steps into her car to drive from her home to her office. She calls each plant’s supervisor to get answers to three main questions: Is the water running nice and clean? Are there any personnel issues? Is the equipment operating? “I don’t want any surprises,” Karla said. When we talked to Karla in April, she and her team were into the 30th week of a 2-year project to upgrade the technology and equipment in the Arrowhead Ranch facility.

Karla has a degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Sonora but began her Arizona water career at Gateway Community College. She took a class designed to help her pass the state’s mandatory exam to be certified as a water Plant Operator. She began in West Area as an Operator II in 2002. Once she understood how the plant worked Karla began to reorganize the place in her head. “Once you learn, then the mind kicks in: How can I improve this? How can I make this better or that easier.” Karla began volunteering for committees composed of Glendale water professionals who meet regularly to review safety guidelines and standard operating procedures.  By 2006, Karla was a lead operator. In 2011 she took charge of the West Area facility as supervisor and in 2016 became Water Services Superintendent. 

Karla and her family have visited Disneyland five times. They make regular trips to visit her husband’s family in Texas and her family in Mexico, but Karla said her favorite place to be is at home – organizing. She calls herself the controller of the house. (She calls her husband the free spirit.) Karla enjoys what some people consider chores: laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping for her family of four. Cooking is not on that list. Karla’s mother comes from Mexico to spend about six months with her family throughout the year. That’s when date night with her husband returns to Karla’s schedule - and a bit more cooking. 

Once Karla began her career in water, she never found herself wishing she had stayed in Mexico and continued her mining career. Karla considers herself an environmentalist and always wanted a job where she could help safeguard public health. Treating drinking water seems boring to her, but she likes the complexities and challenges of cleaning wastewater to the state’s A+ standard and then reusing it.  After all, Karla said, she is superintendent of reclaimed water facilities, not wastewater facilities. “The people I work with are proud of what they do,” Karla said. “They are making a difference in the quality of everybody’s life.” 

For 49 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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