A water industry veteran from Orange County has been hired as the new general manager of the West Basin Municipal Water District.
Megan Barnes | Daily Breeze | February 21, 2018 | Access Original
Patrick Sheilds, 58, starts Monday as the top administrator at the Carson-based agency, which supplies imported water to 17 mostly South Bay cities from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
For the past five years, he has worked as executive director of operations at the Irvine Ranch Water District, which serves nearly half a million people in central Orange County and operates several water recycling and storage facilities.
“The Board selected Mr. Sheilds for his particular expertise in water recycling programs and his previous experience with our agency,” West Basin board President Donald Dear said in a statement. “We expect his leadership will navigate the District toward its goals of water security for the service area and help to overcome water challenges in the region.”
Officials praised Sheilds for his work implementing a clean energy storage initiative using Tesla batteries at 11 of Irvine Ranch’s most energy-intensive facilities.
“West Basin has an internationally acclaimed water recycling program and is a respected voice in the water industry,” Sheilds said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with the Board of Directors and District staff to provide a reliable supply of water to the West Basin community.”
Sheilds replaces former General Manager Rich Nagel, who retired last July.
West Basin hired the headhunting firm Roberts Consulting Group for the search and conducted interviews earlier this year. Sheilds was selected on a 3-2 board vote on Jan. 25, with directors Dear and Harold Williams opposed.
But the panel was unanimous last week approving Sheilds’ three-year contract, which includes a $270,000 annual base salary, medical and CalPERS benefits and an $800 monthly auto allowance.
Prior to joining Irvine Ranch, Sheilds served as executive manager of operations for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency for eight years. Before that, he worked in the private sector for United Water Services, now Suez, a contractor that operates West Basin’s Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo.
Sheillds’ time at United Water included several years overseeing operations at the plant, which today produces 40 million gallons of recycled water daily.
In an interview, Sheilds said he is looking forward to returning.
“I am thrilled, I am super excited and I’ve had a lot of communication with staff in the last few weeks,” he said. “I’m looking forward to advancing the projects they are working on. West Basin is a high-profile agency looking at ocean desalination and has a fantastic water recycling program.”
Workplace discrimination lawsuit
In 2015, Sheilds faced a discrimination lawsuit from an employee who said he made her perform menial tasks because of her gender and Asian-American ethnicity, then retaliated against her when she complained.
The employee, Karen Bonecki, dropped the lawsuit after reaching a $57,500 settlement with Irvine Ranch. Neither the district nor Sheilds admitted wrongdoing and Konecki resigned.
Williams said he was aware of the lawsuit when considering hiring Sheilds, but that it was not concerning to him. He said he initially voted against choosing Sheilds because he preferred another candidate, but that he is confident in his ability to lead West Basin.
Director Carol Kwan said she read news articles about the lawsuit, but that Sheilds received strong references, including one from a female executive.
“They all came through with flying colors,” Kwan said.
Sheilds lives in Fullerton with his wife of over 30 years. They have one adult son.
A native of Ireland, Sheilds worked as an English teacher in the south of France before emigrating to the United States in 1981.
He studied computer science at Fullerton College, but did not finish his degree.
Sheilds said he was introduced to the water industry when he was a student working nights at a liquor store.
After he was robbed twice in 10 days, a customer who worked at the Orange County Sanitation District suggested Sheilds apply for a job there.
Sheilds was hired and left school to begin his water career. He went on to work for the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation before joining United Water, where he was vice president and division manager of operations.
Suez’s $15.7 million annual contract with West Basin is up for a five-year renewal this year.
Sheilds’ hiring comes as the district prepares to release a draft environmental impact report for a $380 million ocean water desalination plant proposed for El Segundo, which could produce 20 million gallons of drinkable water a day. The project has faced opposition from environmentalists in the South Bay beach cities.
West Basin has poured tens of millions of dollars into researching the project, but the board of directors has not voted on it yet.
Desalination is one avenue the district is exploring to make the region less reliant on imported water.
Last week, West Basin signed an agreement with the city of Los Angeles to nearly double the recycling capacity at the Hyperion Water Treatment Facility in El Segundo from about 40 million to 70 million gallons of water a day.