Louis Martinez: Waterworks chief pours himself into job

Oyster Point Profile

Louis Martinez (photo by Kelli Caplan)

Chefs take great pride in their food. Artists woo over their creations. Louis Martinez boasts about water.

Yes, water.

Martinez is executive director of Newport News Waterworks and he takes his water seriously. Nothing makes him happier than when clean, sparkling water pours out of faucets of the more than 400,000 Waterworks customers.

“I drink the water. I am proud of Newport News Waterworks,” he says. “I am confident in our water.”

Martinez, 65, began his job in April 2018. Coming from New Mexico, the Virginia Peninsula offered him a completely different landscape than any other place he had lived. He embraced the change and settled into his new position quickly.

His job is expansive and covers lots of territory. He is ultimately responsible for an 89-millon-dollar operating budget for numerous water plants, an army of employees, thousands of customers and more than a thousand miles of piping that carries water to households and businesses in Newport News, Hampton, York County, Poquoson and parts of James City County. At the end of the day, his goal is to have the best water possible at an affordable rate.

“Water is a need, not a want,” Martinez says. “People know you can’t live without it. It’s a very fundamental need and we get to work on that. It’s an honor to be working in this field. I am very proud of the work I have done.”

Martinez graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in geology and received his masters degree in water resources from the same school. He worked in water utilities for the city of Albuquerque and then Lake Havasu City in Arizona before coming to Newport News.

With his children grown and moving East, he and his wife decided to follow them in that direction. When he realized that Newport News was near the Chesapeake Bay, a body of water he studied, he knew he had landed in the right place.

Martinez is a born student. He loves to learn, and his knowledge base is wide. His natural curiosity allows him to be versed in an array of topics, from sports to the environment to geology to history. Martinez, once a Division 1 rugby coach, has a bookshelf in his office that is a virtual library of reference books. He is a detail man, and he keeps precise notes of his work. His desk drawer is brimming with reporter notepads in which he handwrites facts and information he wants to remember.

“If you hand write it, you learn it better,” he says with a smile.

One of Martinez’s biggest projects with Waterworks is the conversion to Smart City technologies, which will eventually convert all of its customers to a technologically advanced system that no longer relies on meters, but real time information, using sensors that automatically send data from a home or business to Waterworks. Customers will be able to track their water usage on their phones as it’s happening.

It’s a $45 to $50 million project that will change the face of how Waterworks does business.

“The world is not slowing down,” Martinez says. “This is the direction it is going in.”

Being an effective leader is something that Martinez has worked diligently on over the years. He has learned to deal with all types of employees and customers. He has several key mantras that have helped shape his management style: be respectful of people’s opinions, become a better listener and seek help from the right people.

He says he strives to be “collaborative, a team player and respectful.”

“You have to be diplomatic,” he says. “This is as much a people business as it is a science business.”

TO THE POINT:
Louis Martinez, director, Newport News Waterworks
Address: 700 Town Center Dr., Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757-926-1000
Website: www.nnva.gov/waterworks

Kelli Caplan
About Kelli Caplan 19 Articles
Kelli Caplan is a wife, a mother of three and a friend to all who know her. She spends a lot of time in her SUV, driving to schools, pediatricians, WalMart and Harris Teeter. She loves to try new recipes and new authors’ books. Her favorite foods are green (lettuce, broccoli, pickles). A former crime reporter for the Daily Press, Kelli has been writing for the Oyster Pointer as long as she has been able to hold a pencil.

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