Q&A Mar 28, 2023

Water is Life: A Q&A with Rich Nagel

Get to know more about Rich and his passion for water reuse in this Q&A.

Water is life, and while that might seem like a cliché, it’s true for Vice President and Client Account Manager Rich Nagel who has spent more than 35 years working in the water industry.

Rich uses his experiences and background in the public sector to help our clients protect, preserve and manage our precious water resources.

Q&A with Rich Nagel Jacobs VP and Client Account Manager

We sat down with Rich as he discussed his passion for the water industry and how water reuse and OneWater approaches are key to the industry’s future under climate change.

Can you tell us about your journey with Jacobs?

I’ve been with Jacobs for a little more than five years after spending 31 years in the public sector. In my previous roles, I held various management positions for a municipal water district in southern California that served just under a million people in the Los Angeles area. What was unique about that utility is that we reused wastewater to make five different types of “designer” water. We tailored each water for a specific purpose such as irrigation, industrial uses or drinking water. Some water was treated to such purity, it had to be distributed in special piping. The district’s plant produced about 40 million gallons of water daily, and it was exciting to be part of that water reuse story.

My past experience equipped me for my current position as a client account manager at Jacobs, where I work with water utilities to identify their needs and provide tailored solutions. Being able to share my public sector experiences with our clients has been very helpful, and I enjoy advising them on how to manage the challenges facing their projects. The other great thing about my role is connecting our clients with the fantastic talent we have at Jacobs and helping them find success in whatever endeavor they’re pursuing.

What sparked your passion for working in the water industry?

After graduating with a civil engineering degree, I started with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. I had no idea what I would do, but luckily, I had a lot of opportunities to work on environmental restoration and groundwater remediation projects. Those projects are what really sparked my passion for water.

Most people don't understand that we import half of California's water from an outside source. With climate change and the unpredictability of hydrology, those external sources have dwindled to a crisis level. Regardless of these challenges, our job is to ensure that safe and affordable water comes out when you turn your tap on.

That's why recycled water is such a passion for me. Using water more than once makes sense, and reused water is a drought-proof water supply right at our fingertips. Whether it’s reusing wastewater or ocean desalination, there are solutions that ensure everyone has access to water.

What excites you about the future of the water industry?

The one thing that I am the most excited about is direct potable reuse (DPR) – literally purifying wastewater and directly drinking it. Today, we have many examples of indirect potable reuse – where wastewater is reused through an environmental buffer, like a groundwater aquifer. States are putting regulations in place to enable direct potable reuse, which allows us to better utilize our existing infrastructure, which is far more cost-effective.

Public acceptance is always a concern when talking about DPR so I ask people, “Don’t you want spaceship technology in your community? When astronauts go into space, they go with a defined amount of water, and that water certainly isn’t enough. They are reusing every drop of water, both directly and indirectly. We can get that same technology right here at home!”

So, I’m looking forward to what the future holds in water reuse – and helping our clients get there.

What do you see as the water industry’s biggest challenge and how do we overcome it?

The biggest challenge I see is working in silos. Water doesn’t have boundaries, right? Water doesn’t know that I am in Los Angeles or Denver, and water is independent of jurisdictions and borders. We all want to look out for our interests and businesses, but water doesn’t see that. We are much better off bridging these issues to solve water’s biggest challenges.

If we work together, sharing experiences and understanding the region collectively, we can have a much more significant impact. Recently, Jacobs was selected by LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) as the progressive design-build contractor for the Donald C. Tillman Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF.) This partnership with LASAN and LADWP is the OneWater approach. Our wastewater utility working directly with our drinking water utility to build a facility that treats the wastewater for drinking water. It’s the perfect pairing! The project is a key part of the City of Los Angeles’ long-term water management objective to fully reuse its water supplies, and also one of the largest potable reuse projects in the country. We are all in this together. All water is purposeful and valuable. Whether it's wastewater, rainwater, ocean water or river water, it's all water. It all has an essential purpose in some fashion or another. So, you cannot have this mindset that this water is only for this use or that use. We need a holistic, OneWater approach.

“All water is purposeful and valuable. Whether it's wastewater, rainwater, ocean water or river water, it's all water. It all has an essential purpose in some fashion or another. So, you cannot have this mindset that this water is only for this use. We need a holistic approach.”

Rich Nagel

Rich Nagel

Jacobs Vice President and Client Account Manager

Can you share one impactful project experience?

The one that comes to mind is a unique and extraordinary project procurement in southern California. The client was planning an advanced wastewater purification system and we were engaging with them to offer an enhanced program management strategy for the project.

The client was so committed to getting this project moving as effectively and efficiently as possible that they were willing to meet with us under any circumstance. For example, we had a meeting set with them the day after Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed. I thought they would cancel because the crash was only about 1,000 ft from their office. I texted the client on Sunday night, making sure the meeting was on, and it was. They made arrangements to pick us up from a grocery store. We could see where the authorities were investigating the crash from the meeting room.

I guess the symbolism is that nothing would stop this water agency from carrying out their public service and I’m proud that we were able to support that commitment.

What is one tip you can give to someone looking to get involved in conserving our planet’s water?

I would start by thinking about inside and outside the home as you get involved in water conservation.

When thinking about the inside, it’s about being conscientious about water use. Reduce your time in the shower and invest in efficient bathroom fixtures. Another simple thing is turning off the water while you brush your teeth. Just focus on the things you can control.

Outside the home, at least in southern California, we are pivoting away from nonfunctional grass. Essentially meaning, when we mow the grass once, and that is its only use, it’s relatively nonfunctional. We are moving toward replacing grass with either turf that looks like grass or drought-tolerant plants.

It’s about thinking about the functionality of water in your home and life and seeing if there is something else that can replace it that uses far less.

If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

I would be golfing or taking care of my son. My son has special needs and will be with me for life. I take a lot of pride in spending time with him and knowing he will live a comfortable and fruitful life.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

The people. They’re all well-intended, smart and want to make a difference for our clients and the world. This mentality comes across in anyone you meet in the Jacobs family. Our people are the greatest blessing we have at Jacobs. 

About the interviewee

Rich Nagel

Rich Nagel is a Vice President and Client Account Manager like no other. A hands-on leader, he has proven experience in successfully integrating management, financial, engineering and regulatory aspects to deliver complex programs and projects.

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