California Association of Sanitation Agencies
In the mid-1950s, former State Senator John Nejedly, serving as counsel for the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (CCCSD), conceptualized the need for a professional organization to represent all of the state’s sanitary districts. As a result of Mr. Nejedly’s efforts, the California Sanitary District Association was formed in 1956 and would eventually become the foundation for what is currently known as the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA). Castro Valley, Central Contra Costa, Cupertino, Oro Loma, Stege, and Union Sanitary Districts were instrumental in the development of the association.
In July 1961, the CASA Board also voted to change the name to California Sanitary and Sanitation Districts Association to reflect its broadened membership. In the mid-60s a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) was established in each county and greatly reduced local agency jurisdictional conflict: the fears of conflicts between sanitation and sanitary districts never materialized. To the contrary, a full blend of the two types of districts was accomplished. The organization prospered significantly as the larger sanitation districts, including Orange County Sanitation District, County Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, Ventura Regional Sanitation District, Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, and East Bay Municipal Utility District became members. Member agencies by that time were responsible for the wastewater treatment of more than 50 percent of the population in California.
CASA’s bylaws were amended in 1961 to allow membership by county sanitation districts. This move was greeted with trepidation by some of the sanitary districts because of the basic organizational differences between the two types of districts. Sanitary districts have elected boards, while the boards of directors for sanitation districts are comprised of members from county boards of supervisors and city councils. During the 1960s, the Legislature considered many proposals for the absorption of special districts by cities and, as a result, CASA was actively engaged in lobbying efforts to maintain the independence of its sanitary district membership.
Under the leadership of President Fred Harper (Orange County) and Past President Tom Hardcastle (Novato) CASA recognized the need for a paid legislative advocate and executive director to maintain an office in Sacramento. Appointed in 1961, Ken Norris was appointed CASA’s first executive director. Ken served until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1973. Michael Dillon with Michael F. Dillon & Associates was selected to succeed Ken.
In the early 1970s, CASA’s bylaws were again amended to expand eligibility to include any public agency authorized to collect, treat, or dispose of sewage and waste or to reclaim wastewater and our name was changed to California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA).
Also at that time, an informal advisory committee to the State Water Resources Control Board was formed representing CASA, the League of California Cities and the California Water Pollution Control Association. Originally, this committee, known as Tri-TAC, considered only matters relating to the Clean Water Grants Program. Later, its scope of interest expanded to include all water quality related matters.
As CASA gained experience and recognition at the state level, with the active guidance of its larger member districts, it began to extend its activities at the federal level. As a result, in 1985, CASA hired its first Washington, D.C. lobbyist, Eric Sapirstein, who continues to serve the association today. As both federal and state laws and regulations continued to impact member agencies, the CASA Executive Board met extensively in 1991 to review and chart goals for the future. In 1992, upon a recommendation of the Executive Board, the Council approved the hiring of a Director of Regulatory Affairs. After an extensive search, Roberta (Bobbi) L. Larson was hired as CASA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs in 1992. Under her leadership, the Air, Land and Water Technical Committees were established and are chaired by CASA agency member expert staff. The committees interface with Tri-TAC, and all CASA member agencies have benefited from the work of these committees. In 1999, Larson, earned her law degree, returned to CASA as Director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs.
Entering the 21st Century, CASA’s leadership role in the wastewater industry continued to grow. As a result, CASA staff responsibilities increased to meet changing demands, membership growth, development of CASA’s website, and on-line registration for conferences. In 2001, municipalities became equal partners as the General Council unanimously approved an amendment to the bylaws enabling full membership of cities. With new city membership, CASA’s influence grew instantly, and the addition of membership from the largest cities brought the sewered population served by CASA member agencies to 90 percent. A 2001 bylaw change added an Associate representative a full voting member of the Executive Board.
In May 2003, the Executive Board, with the approval of the General Council, established a biosolids program to address the ever-increasing need of biosolids management, education and outreach.
CASA held its first Washington, D.C. Conference in 2004. CASA now meets annually in Washington to further strengthen its legislative and regulatory voice with policymakers regarding key federal issues.
On January 6, 2005, leaders of the five state and regional wastewater associations met in Sacramento to explore opportunities for working together on issues of critical importance to their collective memberships. The group known as the ‘Clean Water Summit Partners’ continue to meet each quarter in Sacramento. The Summit focuses on topics of mutual concern and opportunities for common efforts. In addition to CASA, Summit partners include: Bay Area Clean Water Association; California Water Environment Association; Central Valley Clean Water Association; and Southern California Alliance of Publicly Owned Treatment Plants.
In 2000, the Executive Board adopted a new five-year strategic plan including the recruitment for a new executive director. In spring 2006, Catherine Smith was selected to serve as the CASA Executive Director.
CASA continues to broaden its activities and services to meet the needs of its membership – large and small districts, associate members, and cities. CASA is viewed and accepted as a trustworthy source of information at the federal level by the EPA, the state level by the SWRCB, and at the local level by the regional boards. CASA has been able to attract outstanding persons in the field of water quality to share their expertise, knowledge, and insight with the organization at its conferences. As CASA’s influence has grown, so has the number of associate members – engineering consultants, accountants, attorneys, and financial institutions – active in the field of water quality. This body of expertise is readily available to CASA members through their participation in the organization’s activities. Members seeking formal professional services can draw upon this valuable resource.
A key to CASA’s success has been the internal structure and balance of the organization. CASA’s leadership comes from a combination of public officials, attorneys, and professional staff making it one of the preeminent wastewater associations in the United States.
Based on contributions by:
- Stephen Goodman, County Sanitation District No. 4 of Santa Clara County
- Gail Stanton, Oro Loma Sanitary District
- Parke Boneysteele, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District
- L. N. Judge Landis, Oro Loma Sanitary District
- Larry Rugaard, Stege Sanitary District
- Michael F. Dillon, Executive Director 1974-2006
- Catherine A. Smith, Executive Director 2006-present