July 2020 Vol. 75 No. 7

Reahab Technology

NASSCO Standard Bearer: Luis R. León, P.E., BCEE, ENV SP

NASSCO continues to set standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. A vast array of individuals has contributed to the success of the association, both in the past and present, that has driven NASSCO’s industry mission. This series of articles recognizes those who have not only been critical to the success of NASSCO, but the industry as well.

This month, we profile Luis R. León, a native of El Salvador whose determination and fortitude led him to an engineering education and career in California. Luis has been an active member of NASSCO for much of his career, bringing his unique skills to help benefit not only domestic programs, but international endeavors by NASSCO, as well.



I was born in El Salvador, Central America, where I attended a small, private school. In my early teenage years, I started to dream of a college career in the United States. I always wanted to study medicine, but then in my later years of high school, I discovered my love for mathematics and physics, which redirected my goals to the field of engineering.

My childhood was very typical, until the late 1970s, when the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War began. This unrest helped propel my desire to move to the U.S., so in my last year of high school I started applying for government scholarships. With the support of my parents to move to the United States, I was grateful to receive a small scholarship to pursue my dreams of becoming an engineer.

In July of 1980, I arrived in California with very limited knowledge of English, so my first stop was to enroll in an adult education program to study English as a second language. I engulfed myself in the language every chance I had. When I wasn’t studying, I was watching television to immerse myself in my new culture and learn to speak and understand English as quickly as possible.

Three months later, once I had confidence in my ability to communicate, I attended Pasadena City College where I received an Associate of Arts Degree. Next stop was Northrop University in Inglewood, Calif., where I received my Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering with high honors.

Soon after graduating from Northrop University, I met Lorena, the lady of my dreams. Lorena was also originally from El Salvador, but in the 1960s her parents moved to the United States where they worked and grew a family. After nearly three years of dating we got married, had a baby girl and I became a U.S. citizen. At that time, El Salvador continued to be politically unstable, so we were fortunate to start our family in America.


My career path began in Southern California and worked its way up the coast, where I became employed by BKF Engineering. During my time at BKF, the firm primarily focused on land development, but also did underground utility projects for Stanford University and others. This was my first taste of trenchless technology, which led to my next role as project engineer for the city of Palo Alto, Calif. The city was very progressive in the use of trenchless technologies, so I was able to gain excellent, first-hand knowledge of alternative ways to maintain and rehabilitate pipes.

Working our way back down the coast, in the mid-1990s I became employed by Montgomery Watson in Pasadena, where I had the opportunity to be involved in international projects. Other countries were leading the way with trenchless technologies, so I was able to gain experience on a whole new level. This was also when I first became aware of NASSCO and the association’s commitment to assuring the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless technologies.

It wasn’t until I began working at CDM Smith in the late 1990s that I really got involved with NASSCO, and my involvement has not slowed down since. I served on the board of directors for many years and have remained highly active in committee work to set standards for the assessment, maintenance and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure.

Currently, I serve as chair of NASSCO’s International Relations Committee which has been instrumental in the translation of the PACP manual and bringing PACP training to South America. In partnership with the United Kingdom’s Water Research Centre (WRc), NASSCO is developing a strategic plan for international growth, and I am grateful to contribute my international experience in trenchless technologies to this effort.

One of NASSCO’s core values is camaraderie, and that is something that crosses over and between staff, board, committees and all NASSCO member groups, including contractors, engineers, manufacturers and municipalities. I believe this is very special. If a client asks me a question that I cannot answer, I can always turn to someone else within NASSCO and get a quick response. This aspect of NASSCO has always been very important to me, because what’s best for the industry always comes first. Competition and territorial attitudes have no place in the organization.

Over the years, I have seen NASSCO go through many changes and all of them, in the end, have been positive. Originally formed as a contractor association, NASSCO restated its bylaws to allow consulting engineers to vote on important issues and sit on the board of directors. Previously, engineers like me could only advise the board on best practices; today engineers are an integral part of setting policies and standards that benefit our entire industry.

NASSCO has made great strides over the years developing standards and specifications for the inspection, maintenance and repair of gravity sewer lines. Today, we are developing standards to address force mains and other pressure pipe applications, including water, that require unique considerations to attain the same high level of condition inspection and rehabilitation as gravity sewer and stormwater systems.

International impacts

NASSCO is also making a positive impact in other countries. While I was working on several projects in Colombia, I met some very special friends who knew about NASSCO and PACP. When NASSCO developed its partnership with the Colombian ISTT (CISTT) and translated PACP into Spanish, we knew that creating awareness for the proper condition assessment of sewer pipes and promoting PACP throughout South America would not be easy. Thankfully, after many years of hard work and the help of our friends in Colombia, we are starting to see the fruits of our labor.

The municipality of Bogotá, the capital city that is home to over 12 million people, has adopted PACP as the standard code for pipe condition assessment, with other regions following its lead. Sewer systems in Latin America are even older than here in the U.S. and 90 percent or more of the pipe material is concrete. Hydrogen sulfide attacks concrete very quickly, so deterioration of sewer pipes in these countries is accelerated. PACP is the solution to help identify conditions, estimate likelihood of failure and protect assets through the proper identification and prioritization of maintenance, repairs and renewal.

In my current position as associate vice president of HDR, I am blessed to have the opportunity to contribute my skills to a number of other associations and organizations. Last year, for example, I was honored to be the recipient of the WEF Collections Systems Award, and I remain highly active in WEF and several committees. Being a conduit to help bridge initiatives between NASSCO and WEF, including the recently published Manual of Practice, is a contribution of which I am very proud.

My hope for the future of NASSCO is that we continue to make quality standards our top priority through the inclusion of contractors, system owners, manufacturers and engineers in the development of guidelines. Each group uses a specification guideline differently, so all standards need to be vetted to ensure they are balanced and of value to all industry professionals.

NASSCO can also be proactive by helping to guide artificial intelligence technologies being developed to assess conditions of sewer and water pipes. Finally, I would like to see PACP be adopted as a national standard to help us better measure and mitigate the true condition of our nation’s failing infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of protecting our communities.

I am honored to be named a NASSCO Standard Bearer and I am extremely thankful to my family for all their love and support throughout the years. When it comes to standards, our work at NASSCO never ends, and as a certified PACP trainer, my hope is to continue to add value to our industry for many years to come. •

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