News Item

The Best Things Come in Small Packages

Sara MathisThe best things come in small packages because small things often have the most value. On May 30, South Coast Water District lost one of our most prized assets to a lovely beach in Florida. Sara may seem to appear slight of stature or some might say small, but appearances are quite deceiving.

Sara came to SCWD four years ago. She spent over 20 years with the City of Anaheim as a principal water and civil engineer. At that critical point in time, SCWD needed her extensive knowledge and her fierce set of skills. SCWD was heading into a full list of capital improvement projects that had been languishing.

Sara went to work quickly completing the 2017 Infrastructure Master Plan, a project that will continue to serve as the road map for CIP projects for the District. She also completed the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan, wildland fringe fire protection enhancements, value engineering study for the replacement/rehab of the Lift Station No. 2 Force Main Project, recycled water system analyses to optimize distribution and enhance reliability, and the revision of District Standards and Policies, to better protect the District and our assets.

“It would be one thing if Sara were just nice, or just a great engineer, or just a good mentor, or just down to earth, but she is, in fact, all of those things,” smiles Principal Engineer Taryn Kjolsing. “Although my time working with her was relatively brief, she taught me more about the type of engineer and leader I should strive to be than people I spent years working with.”

“Fierce” was one of the words that often came up when you asked for a description of Sara. She showed a heartfelt and powerful intensity in getting the work done that was appreciated by everyone. “All I can say is Sara has been a tremendous help to the JRWSS division,” said Transmission Main Manager Kyle Gough. “Her persistence when dealing with contractors and engineers to protect the JRWSS Transmission Main(s) has taken quite a load off my shoulders.” Kyle continued, “We encountered a problem when installing a new trunk line sewer directly over a 36’’ Transmission Main. The other agency was in clear violation of health code when performing the installation, and when asked to stop, they refused.” Sara did not take no for an answer. “She went to great lengths to ensure the Transmission Main was protected, and the new installation would not negatively impact it,” said Kyle.

Sara led the engineering team as the acting chief engineer through an abrupt transition starting in February 2018, when our chief engineer took on the role of acting general manager. She graciously held the position through April 2019 even though she had already been planning her retirement. In May 2019, Sara stayed to make sure there was a smooth transition to new Chief Engineer Marc Serna. Her actions reflected her values. “Always an excellent leader, Sara, by example, walks the walk and always displays the highest level of integrity,” said General Manager Rick Shintaku.

Sara bid us adieu last week, saying, “I am grateful for having had the opportunity to work with great people who take pride in what they do.” Her final words to staff reflected every day she worked her at SCWD. “Take care and do awesome things every day.”

A litany of just a few of Sara’s accomplishments here at the District:


  • Excellent Leader, led by example, walks the walk
  • Highest level of integrity
  • Decisions always protect the District and enhance service to the entire customer base
  • Highest level of technical knowledge, including engineering and operations

Led all engineering planning efforts, including:

  • Completion of the 2017 Infrastructure Master Plan that has and will continue to serve as the road map for CIP projects for the District
  • Completion of the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan
  • Value engineering study for the replacement/rehab of the Lift Station 2 Force Main Project (i.e., the largest risk of environmental, sewer spill consequence for the District, along with the sewer tunnel)
  • Golden Lantern/Stonehill Recycled Water Bottleneck fix
  • Wildland fringe fire protection enhancements
  • Recycled water system analyses to optimize distribution and enhance reliability
  • Enhanced hydraulic modeling and project management efforts and tools at the District
  • Technical guidance with the OCLAFCO Municipal Service Review for San Juan Capistrano

Led CIP projects for SCWD and JRWSS, including:


  • Golden Lantern/Stonehill Bottleneck Project (in progress)
  • Recycled Reservoir 1 Rehab
  • Replacement of water services during city street resurfacing
  • Various pump replacement projects
  • Technical adviser on Coast Highway Recycled Water Bottleneck Project


  • Slurry Fill 60” JRWSS JTM in Irvine
  • Cathodic Protection Master Plan to minimize corrosion of our JRWSS facilities
  • Bradt Reservoir Paving
  • Electro Magnetic Condition Assessment of the JRWSS JTM PCCP pipeline
  • Emergency replacement of the JRWSS water importation pipeline valves
  • Wye Vault Project

 Led Development Services projects and efforts, including:

  • Revision of District Standards and Policies, to better protect the District and our assets
  • Doheny Village Water Supply Assessment and water/sewer infrastructure planning
  • Engineering plan reviews and design assistance for various significant developments such as:
    • Raintree Del Prado Mixed Use
    • South Cove
    • Laguna Beach undergrounding efforts
    • Gloria Dei redevelopment
    • The Wave Hotel
    • Del Rey development
    • South Shores Church expansion
    • Doheny State Park water and sewer system upgrade project
    • BevMo