When Alan Thomas, TRWD deputy general manager, graduated from high school and first started working on his accounting degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, he wasn’t yet sure where his career would take him.
His journey – from starting his first job at age 17 with the Tarrant County Water Control & Improvement District #1, as TRWD was known in 1967 – is an interesting one, and one that has brought him to nearly 50 years of full-time employment with the water district. In January 2024, he will celebrate his golden anniversary with the organization.
When Alan started working part time as a high school student, he was assigned to general maintenance. He learned to drive trucks and tractors, worked on floodway issues, learned to weld during construction of a boat house and took on various other duties at the water district’s Eagle Mountain operations.
It was a natural for Alan to join the water district as a teenager. He had known Ben Hickey, the former general manager who retired in 1986, all his life. Alan’s dad was also a water district employee, spending 20 years in maintenance positions as an equipment operator and maintenance supervisor.
When Alan started college at UTA, he moved to the district’s Fort Worth office, where he continued working summers and other different times during the school year.
By the early 70s, he was filing daily reports, personnel reports and managing other paperwork associated with daily operations.
In the fall of 1973, the accounting manager took a leave of absence due to illness, and Alan was asked to fill in. He took over those duties part time until January 1974, when it was learned the accounting manager wouldn’t be returning. Alan was asked to take on the accounting duties full time. He agreed, working for TRWD by day and finishing his degree at night.
He graduated college in the spring of 1974 and was asked to stay on full time with the district.
“My daughter was just born, and to be offered a full-time position with financial security for my family was a good thing,” Alan said. “Back then, I didn’t know how long I’d stay at the district, but it presented a great opportunity at just the right time.”
His title was district auditor, an accounting position, but as the water district grew, so did Alan’s responsibilities. As the first person with experience in both operations and accounting, he became a liaison between the two areas.
“Having had experience on both sides made budgeting and expense review easier,” he said.
A turning point in his career
In 1979 everything accelerated, as planning began for the new Richland-Chambers Reservoir & Pipeline.
That’s when Alan says his job really became fun.
The largest bond revenue at the time, totaling $342 million, was approved for the project, and Alan was tasked with monitoring cash flow, matching investments with cash needs and tracking the project’s status.
Land purchases started almost immediately. Construction began in October 1982. The reservoir almost filled in 1989 and was completed in 1990.
“That was the turning point for me,” he said. “It’s always been an interesting job, but things really became exciting when we started Richland-Chambers.”
“I realized I was part of one of the most important organizations in the region, which gave purpose to why we were all here, doing what we were doing. I knew this was the place where I wanted to stay,” he explained.
Without an operation like TRWD, the region can’t grow. As the area’s population and customer base builds, so do the water needs.
Today, TRWD is one of the largest water suppliers in Texas, providing water to more people than the entire population of New Mexico. The organization provides raw water to more than 30 wholesale customers across 11 North Texas counties.
“Where other organizations might have a five-year plan, we have to have a five, ten, even 50-year plan on the horizon,” Alan noted. “The North Texas population is expected to double in the next 50 years, and we have to be ready.”
During the Richland-Chambers project, Alan was promoted to manager of administration. By the early 90s, he was named manager of both operations and administration. He became assistant general manager around 1994 and then deputy general manager, his current title, about eight years ago.
Present day: partnering with Dallas
Today he’s involved in various water supply projects and the integrated pipeline project in partnership with the City of Dallas. The plan is to jointly move TRWD’s water from East Texas and Dallas’ water from Lake Palestine. TRWD is serving as agent on this project, which will give both the Dallas and Tarrant regions more options for moving water. Both entities saw a lot of operational, financial and construction-related savings in working together.
“Dallas has been great to work with,” Alan said. “Dallas builds lakes and supplies water in the same ways that we do. This is probably the first project they’ve worked on with a partner.”
What Alan finds most enjoyable in his job is the challenge and the people he works with.
“The most important thing about this organization has always been the people – they are talented, knowledgeable, personable – and not everyone can say that about where they work,” Alan said.
Another great part of the job is that there’s never a typical day.
“That’s the beauty of it, and probably the most rewarding aspect of the job, to be part of the growth of the district and the region. It’s not like we manufacture or do something over and over again. No two days are ever the same, which makes it fun. Things happen, and sometimes a normal day can change to an emergency situation with all hands on deck. If we need to work seven days a week or longer hours in a day, we do it. Even when we encounter rocks in the road, we work through it,” he said.
There’s just one part of the job Alan sometimes misses from the old days – being out in the field.
“That always a great day,” he said.
When COVID hit and the world changed, a lot of operations switched to remote. Even now, TRWD and Dallas continue to meet over Teams, as they’ve found value and time savings that way.
A great place to work
Alan said he feels that he’s grown up at TRWD over the last 50 years.
“You stay at a place because of the type of organization it is, the people you work with – whether staff or elected board members with the good of the district as their mission – and because you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished. From flood protection to water supply, the impact of TRWD on the community has been tremendous. Not everyone can say that about the place they work,” he said.
The list of friends Alan has made over the last 50 years is “long and distinguished,” he says, and he’s loved every second of his TRWD career. “My career here has been great,” he said. “I’m still having fun. My job and my family are what keep me getting up every morning. I wish everyone could feel that way.”