You could say water is one of the strongest undercurrents between Rob Miller
’s personal and professional life. Rob tackles water and wastewater engineering projects as the Principal-in-Charge of the Water Resources Division at Wallace Group, and when he’s not solving client water challenges, he’s focusing his attention on another body of water – the ocean. He’s an avid surfer, and passionate about local efforts to Save the Cayucos Pier
. Rob grew up in the small beach town, and went on to attend Coast Union High School in Cambria before earning his engineering degree at Cal Poly.
“I love to be in water, and I feel like I dry out if I don’t go in for a while,” he said. “I have to go in. I also love that, as a career, I can treat water, I can manipulate it, move it, understand its makeup. It’s fun.”
Rob got his start in civil engineering at Wallace Group, and he’s built an impressive resume with the company over the past 20 years. “After all this time, I’m just as interested and energized,” he said. “I love what I do and I have no intention of ever retiring.”
And it’s a good thing his energy runs high, because the local market is showing no sign of slowing. With the boom in wine business over the past few decades, vintners and processing facilities are looking for sustainable solutions when it comes to water, and they’re turning to Wallace Group.
“Water resources are so limited, and we can’t waste a second use,” Rob said. “Recycled water is my passion, and I especially love to work on wineries because I’m often working with family businesses that intend to be around for a long time. It’s a generational thing, and these people really put a lot of thought into the process and they really care, so it’s a shared passion between the winery and me.”
Rob named Tolosa Winery as just one example. More than 15 years since his first project with the 40,000-square-foot winery, Rob has gone on to design water infrastructure and develop the industrial process wastewater reclamation system, allowing the treated wastewater to be stored onsite and recycled for vineyard irrigation.
Some other recent winery projects include Niner Winery’s state-of-the-art natural treatment system; the water and wastewater treatment facility at Rabbit Ridge Winery; Halter Ranch Winery’s water system and process wastewater reclamation system; designing comprehensive water storage, pumping and supply facilities and a facultative pond wastewater treatment facility for Courtside Cellar’s 3-million-case-per-year custom crush facility; and Paso Robles Wine Services, which has relied on Wallace Group for process water treatment services for over 5 years.
Rob’s most recent project at Justin Winery incorporates newer technology that allows the highest level of water treatment in an urban setting, rather than rural. Located off Highway 46 East and Golden Hill Road, the 2,000-ton wine processing facility has a highly advanced (and expensive) membrane bioreactor water recycling plant for process wastewater treatment. “It’s an urban facility, so there aren’t any vineyards to use this water on, but the processed water is so similar to drinking water in quality that it can be used in ornamental landscape and the cooling tower,” Rob said. “The facility now has the capability to reduce both its wastewater discharge fees and demand for irrigation water.”
Rob estimates he’s worked on water solutions for more than 100 wineries in and outside of San Luis Obispo County. His expertise was even called on by a winery in China.
“Most of the larger facilities around have or are implementing some sort of wastewater management system or treatment,” he said. “The systems augment required water supply for vineyards, or they can use a percolation system to send that water back into the ground. Villa San Juliette in San Miguel is doing that, in fact.”
And it’s not just wineries that are looking toward water solutions. Wallace Group has most recently found itself moving into visitor-serving facilities like Vina Robles Amphitheater as well as breweries. “These facilities are looking for water recycling options in more urban settings, and they’re great examples of visitor-serving places with good stewardship.”
“And of course, we don’t only do wineries and breweries. Wallace Group’s Water Resources Division also includes municipal and master planning, such as the City of San Luis Obispo’s Recycled Water Master Plan, which is underway now.” In addition, Rob is a local community services district engineer, where he works on capital projects and advises on groundwater challenges.
When this fish is out of water—a rare occurrence—he’s talking about water. “I work with Engineers without Borders, which is especially rewarding because water is the foundation of successful societies,” Rob said. “Everyone has water challenges.”
Rob is also active with the youth community, and recently trekked up to the Pinnacles National Monument to lead a group of kids on a hike through the area.
“Of course, when I have the chance I always plug engineering,” he said. “It’s just a really great profession, and I want kids to know that there’s a great joy you find in solving something.”