Dick Champion, who has served as director of Independence's Water Pollution Control Department for 35 years, has announced his retirement.

Lisa Phelps, who was appointed the department's deputy director in 2015, has been named as Champion's successor.

Champion has worked in the water treatment industry for nearly 50 years. He started working part-time for the city of Independence at the old Rock Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in April 1969 and became a full-time plant operator later that year.

He left in 1972 to finish college, earning a bachelor's in political science with an emphasis in public administration and local government. He rejoined the city in December 1978 to help start the new Rock Creek facility, and when the Water Pollution Control Department was formed in 1983 he was named the new director.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Independence for more than 40 years,” Champion was quoted in a city release. “I am blessed and honored to have been able to work with such a dedicated group of water environment professionals in (Independence) and across the country.”

From July 1999 to July 2012, Champion served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and in 2006 he was president of NACWA. Champion received the Environment Award (2011) and Local Public Service Award (2014) from the NACWA.

Champion also helped found the U.S. Water Alliance (formerly Clean Water America Alliance) in 2008 and served as chairperson of the board for eight years. He received the Founders Award in 2016 for his work with the organization.

“The spirit of collaboration and the vision of sustainability is very rewarding and has inspired me throughout my career,” Champion said. “I am proud of the work I have done at every level, but it is the people I have had the opportunity to work with that truly made each success possible.”

Under Champion, the WPC created the annual Ecofest event to help educate citizens about environment protection and saving energy. He also worked with citizens to help pass the Storm Water Sales Tax, which has funded system improvements across the city.

Phelps has a bachelor's in management/computer information systems from Park University and had worked since 2004 in city utilities at Lee's Summit, North Kansas City and Excelsior Springs before joining Independence WPC in 2015.