Operator’s Extensive Experience Gives Rural Water Authority a Leg Up

Award-winning operator evolves with water system and becomes its greatest asset.

Operator’s Extensive Experience Gives Rural Water Authority a Leg Up

Dan Roller inspects the installation of new meters at the Ray Christensen Pump Station.

Few operators have been around as long as the system they serve, but Dan Roller is pretty close.

The veteran employee’s knowledge and insight into the workings of a system he helped build from the ground up over the past 24 years are some of the Southwest Water Authority’s biggest assets.

Roller was named 2017 Outstanding Water Works Employee of the Year by the North Dakota Rural Water System Association for his dedication to the authority and his reliability as the go-to resource for employees at the Southwest Water Authority.

“Dan is an outstanding employee. He has represented Southwest Water Authority in the state of North Dakota so well,” says Mary Massad, CEO of the Southwest Water Authority. “He has unique abilities that he’s able to bring forth to the authority. … Southwest Water Authority is just very fortunate to have Dan.”

A broad role

Roller oversees many of the SCADA and telemetry operations for the Southwest Water Authority, in addition to being the de facto resident expert on all equipment and technology. As Massad says in her nomination letter, “Dan’s official title at SWA is operations specialist, but with his technical and mechanical expertise, he is so much more.”

Having been around since nearly the beginning has given him a level of insight that few at the utility possess. He was there when the SCADA system — as well as most of the equipment at the Southwest Water Authority — was put in place. He was around when the engineers were installing the system, able to ask questions directly and even offer input from the operators’ perspective.

It makes him an invaluable asset for the rest of the employees — even the managers.

Roller has also taken over the onerous task of regulation paperwork. “I think the biggest thing that scares people with the water industry is the regulations,” Roller says. “They don’t want to be responsible for that. But somebody has to deal with that stuff.

“I do a lot of things for them. There’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and people don’t realize how many pieces there are until you’re sitting in a position where you have people coming to you for help; you’ve got new equipment coming in that you’ve gotta learn. There’s so many aspects, and I don’t think people really understand how much there is to moving water,” Roller says. “They just think you open the faucet and it moves, but there’s a lot more to moving water than I ever anticipated, ever thought when I started.”

Mechanical man

The Southwest Water Authority took over maintenance and operation of the Southwest Pipeline Project in 1996. At that time, Roller was a maintenance worker with the State Water Commission, which was in charge of the project before the Southwest Water Authority took over.

It didn’t take long for Roller to work his way up the ladder, reaching top certification as a Grade III water distribution operator in 2003.

“After I was a Grade I, they kind of start throwing you just a little more responsibility,” Roller says. “My manager would send me to training classes and ask me to report back on specific things. That’s kind of how I ended up with taking care of regulation paperwork; it just fell in my hands.”

Before coming into the water industry, Roller ran the gamut of service industry work, from oil drilling to electrical work and even farm equipment maintenance. It’s that wide variety of experience in all things mechanical that has allowed Roller to succeed at the Southwest Water Authority.

“His varied and wide knowledge gives him the ability to understand what’s going on and come up with ideas, and to troubleshoot,” Massad says. “He’s the go-to person for — say a valve’s not operating right or the city’s system isn’t working right — everything about the system, whether it be mechanical or electrical.”

Go-to resource

“I grew up with all this stuff; I know a lot about different areas, so basically I’m in a high level of support for other people,” Roller says. “I have a good feel for how our stuff operates and can do some electrical troubleshooting on our side.” 

Even with new equipment, Roller becomes the resource because he is willing to sit and learn the system, whether it’s by talking to installers or simply reading the manual. Add that to a knack for passing that knowledge on, and you’ve got an award-winning employee. 

“His strengths are knowledge of our system, his ability to understand how it works, and his ability for explaining it and troubleshooting our system — explaining it to employees, to the public,” Massad says. “He’s able to figure things out and works well with others. 

“If he doesn’t have the answer, doesn’t know the answer, he will find it. He will go read about it. He will look at the O&M manuals. He’ll contact whoever needs to be contacted. He follows through with things very well. He’s very reliable.” 

With retirement looming for Roller, those assets make him even more valuable to the authority as the time comes to pass knowledge down to the next generation. 

“There’s a method to it,” Roller says. “I have my way of doing things; other guys have their way. It’s whatever works best for you, and all I can do is teach you what I do and why it works for me. And if that doesn’t work for you, then you can deviate from that, as long as the end result is the same — that’s all you’re looking for.”

Creating a legacy

As the most veteran employee for the Southwest Water Authority, with more years of service than even Massad, Roller is more than just a great employee — he’s a legacy.

“He’s really grown; he’s stepped into his position. He always steps up to the plate. I think he has grown with our project just as our project has grown,” Massad says.

Not the kind of guy to brag about himself, Roller never expected the award — but as far as the Southwest Water Authority is concerned, it is well deserved.

“It’s kind of nice that people realize how much you are doing for them and award you for it,” Roller says. “Kind of a shock, I guess. … It meant evidently everybody’s watching what I’m doing, and they appreciate it. It makes you feel good that somebody recognizes you for the things you’re doing.”

Old dog, new tricks

Dan Roller isn’t just an excellent resource for the Southwest Water Authority, he has also pushed to improve the system through his 24 years there — for example, the implementation of automatic satellite-read water meters.

Roller pushed for and took the lead on the program, which allows the authority to get daily reads throughout the system.

“I was quite influential in our automatic meter reading system, which we’re still in the growth process of,” Roller says.

Roller saw automatic meter reading as a money-saving and efficiency-increasing measure, and he personally researched other utilities and programs using the technology — going above and beyond his official responsibilities to help out.

It’s one of the many reasons he was named 2017 Outstanding Water Works Employee of the Year by the North Dakota Rural Water System Association.

“If anybody comes to me, I will do whatever I can do to help, whether it’s in the office, out in the field, doing things beyond my duties,” Roller says. “I haven’t really ever said no to anybody.”


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