John Abrera: Engineer Has Put Technology in Context for Water Plant Operators
As the Smart Utility Applications leader for Brown and Caldwell, John Abrera recognizes that water reuse is becoming more widespread and beginning to be adopted throughout the country. But rather than assuming he knows how he can improve the operations of such plants, he’s studying to become an operator of a water reuse plant.
“I want to know it well enough to be able to apply different solutions,” says Abrera, who started his career in engineering and operations when water and wastewater plant operations were largely managed manually. He also is a water treatment operator and a collection system operator.
Today he focuses on how to use data and technology, including sensors and predictive analytics, to digitize the operations of water and wastewater plants and collect information.
“He’s always been an innovative thinker; he’s able to take technical-type advances and put them into operational context,” says Correggio Peagler Sr., vice president, mid-south area leader for Brown and Caldwell. Peagler also lauds Abrera for his ability to help clients save money and reduce risks through pilot or test programs. “Often technologists will go in and create projects that are about the technology itself and not the outcomes. That’s not what John does.”
Abrera is helping Memphis, Tenn., install sensors in some outfall canals at industrial sites. The sensors give employees in the public works department constant access to what those industries are discharging into the local water. Without the sensors, they’d have to send their own inspectors out to test at the site, or rely on companies to self-report their waste.
Tasha King-Davis, environmental compliance and permits manager at the Memphis division of public works, can check what those plants are putting into the wastewater stream 24 hours a day. “You can’t hire enough people to go to 104 industries and pull that data continuously every day. “He’s insightful, and he always knows what he’s talking about,” she says. “If I go to him with a problem, he always has a solution or recommendation that is helpful to the city. He’s not trying to sell a product or sell business, he’s truly trying to help.”
Abrera is also helping Roswell, Ga., to use sensors to measure the effectiveness of its green infrastructure; the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Georgia to better monitor stormwater and soil moisture within its watershed using sensors; and the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility in Salt Lake City to improve treatment through advanced analytics.
Because of Abrera’s background in operations, “he has the ability to get in there and determine what things keep clients up at night,” according to Peagler. Abrera’s breadth of knowledge in operations, engineering and technology is also helping to lure younger engineers who want to incorporate technology in their work, he adds.