By Jennifer Lee, 2015 City Hall Fellow.
Everything that I have ever done in my life has led me to this point. I often find myself thinking about my previous experiences, what I have learned from them, and how they have shaped who I am today. I came into the City Hall Fellows fellowship with two years of working experience, which includes being an Outdoor Education Instructor, Clean Transportation Intern for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and an intern for Assemblymember Kevin Mullin. I was drawn to this fellowship because of the opportunity to create change in San Francisco. Not many people around my age are able to do that so early in their career, which is why this fellowship means a lot to me.
As an environmentally conscious individual, my goal in life is to create sustainable behavior change among the public. One of the ways I hope to achieve this is by working for local government and in a department that has programs to incentivize people to change their behaviors. I am placed in the SF Public Utilities Commission under the Wastewater Enterprise. In my division, I work on Resource Recovery and Pollution Prevention. At first, it seemed to me that the Wastewater Enterprise was already doing a great job at treating stormwater and wastewater. So I wasn’t quite sure how I could contribute to these already in-tact programs. However, I quickly learned from my first week at my placement that there was more to be done. It turns out that most of San Francisco has a combined sewer system, which means that the city treats both its stormwater and wastewater. However, there are parts of the city where stormwater is not treated and leads to the San Francisco Bay or Pacific Ocean. This is where my position comes in. As a new City Hall Fellow for this division, I will have the opportunity to work on welcome kits, community workshops, and art murals to educate the public about San Francisco’s Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer Systems (MS4s). These three projects are ways where the city will be trying to engage with the public to educate them about MS4s. Although there may be fewer people today than in the past who throw litter in our drains, this is an example of a behavior we want to help change.
It is difficult to change someone’s habit. But I think that it can be possible if we make the process interactive and fun. The welcome kits are great tangible items for new residents in the Mission Bay neighborhood to learn about their sewer systems. It is not every day where people receive welcome kits for moving into a new community, but if it does happen, it’s memorable. Additionally, the community workshops will be another opportunity to engage the public in a forum for discussion and questions. Lastly, the art murals will be a wonderful visual for anyone passing by a storm drain to see a beautiful graphic that conveys the message of the MS4s. All of these programs and more are things that the PUC is doing to foster behavior change.
Creating change starts somewhere. For me, I would not have expected it to come from sewer systems. But now that I have gained a better understanding of the wastewater enterprise, I think that there are plenty of more habits that could be changed.