Jim Jacobs

Ripon lead water operator Jim Jacobs tests a vial of water Friday morning. The red color comes from a reagent added to the water as part of the testing process.

The city of Ripon hasn’t always been in the water business.

It was 2005, and Alliant Energy was looking to get out of the water business. That’s when the city of Ripon chose to buy the utility and start running the system in-house.

The only problem? It didn’t have anyone on staff who knew anything about how to run a water utility. After all, the city never owned one before.

Fortunately, it hired someone who did.

“When the city purchased the water utility from Alliant Energy in 2005, Jim [Jacobs] was hired and acquired a wealth of knowledge about the water system and wells since then,” Ripon Utility Manager Chris Liveris said.

His hiring is proving to be an important choice.

Those seeking proof need to look no further than the fact that, this spring, Jacobs received the “2020 District 2 Operator of the Year Award.”

After receiving the award — though not at the 2020 Wisconsin Rural Water Association’s annual Spring Technical Conference since it was canceled due to the pandemic — Jacobs was appreciative of the honor.

“What [does] receiving the ‘Operator of the Year’ award mean to me? The short answer is a lot,” he said. “... This award wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication that each operator here has contributed every day. I look forward to improving this department to the best of my abilities, and look at each day as a new opportunity to learn my craft.”

Jacobs comes to Ripon with a diverse set of experiences in his background.

“After graduating from Greendale High School in 1992, Jim enlisted and joined the U.S. Marine Corps,” Liveris said. “Serving for four years, he traveled throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. After the Marines, Jim enrolled at MATC. [Milwaukee Area Technical College], where he earned an associate degree in environmental pollution control.”

That led to a position with the Milwaukee Water Department, where he served as a surface water operator for five years before the city of Ripon came calling.

“Jim became one of the original operators and was promoted to lead operator the following year,” Liveris said.

“I knew when I interviewed for the position that this wouldn’t be any ordinary water operator position,” Jacobs said. “After answering the usual interview questions, [I learned] that Ripon was buying the utility from Alliant Energy, and that we would be operating on a shoestring budget while paying off the utility for the next 30 years.

“I understood the challenge of starting a new water utility the very first day when I walked into our original shop at 123 Jefferson  St. (now the Jefferson Street Apartments). There sat a desk, a chair, a computer and that was it (besides the dust and cobwebs).”

Immediately, they had to start ordering the simple supplies needed to run the utility, such as hydrant wrenches and valve keys.

Read the full story in the July 2, 2020 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.

Ian Stepleton is the editor of the Ripon Commonwealth Press, and been with the paper since September 2000. Starting with fall 2016, he also is an adjunct professor of journalism at Ripon College, and advisor to the college's newspaper, the College Days.

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