Making Waves at Water Companies

May 8, 2017
Sixteen young professionals making their mark on the water industry

More than 90% of respondents to W&WD’s 2016 State of the Industry survey indicated they were over the age of 40, and 65% of respondents have been in the water industry for 20 years or more. As baby boomers continue to reach retirement age, they are paving the way for a new wave of young professionals to make their mark on the water industry. The 16 young professionals featured in these pages have already excelled in their respective fields, all before reaching the age of 40. With a wide and diverse range of experience that includes everything from engineering to operations to water law practice, these young men and women have not only found success in their careers, they have already made names for themselves as water leaders. Many of them also give back to their community, spreading awareness of water issues and promoting careers in the industry to even-younger generations. Their talents and passions are encouraging signs that the industry is heading in the right direction.

Sivan Cohen | Age 31
General Manager | Ayyeka Inc.

Sivan Cohen, P.E., has a diverse engineering and construction background. With a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master of Science in civil engineering from Stanford University, her professional background ranges from chemistry to construction management to smart water management. After working for years on large commercial and infrastructure building projects, Cohen moved on to studying the chemistry of cementitious materials in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of Portland cement production. In 2013, she moved to Israel and joined Ayyeka Technologies as director of business development and marketing. As the technology startup’s first full-time employee, Cohen used her engineering background to optimize the company’s solutions and bring the technology to the global smart infrastructure market. In 2017, she became general manager of the company’s U.S. subsidiary. Now splitting her time between Jerusalem, Israel, and Los Angeles, Cohen frequently speaks to American and Israeli audiences on topics ranging from smart water industry trends and best practices, to the applicability of big data to infrastructure management. 

Sarah Courtright | Age 36
Regional Sales Manager/Marketing Manager Duperon Corp.

Sarah Courtright has spent 14 years devoted to water quality. Her involvement with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) has given her a platform to help serve and educate both the public and water industry professionals. Courtright graduated from WEF’s Water Leadership Institute in 2015, participated on the WEF board of directors’ Global Task Force that same year, and for the last three years has co-chaired the WEF Student and Young Professionals Committee’s Water Palooza event. This educational event targets kindergarten through eighth graders and promotes the importance of water, conservation and sustainability while also encouraging students to pursue careers in the water industry. Her involvement with the WEF Steering Program Committee and the Manufacturers and Representative Committee has given her a key role in developing content for WEFTEC and making sure the trade show is a valuable resource for attendees and exhibitors. Courtright’s outreach extends outside the U.S.; she has done water missionary work in South Africa and Ecuador. According to Duperon’s Bethany Bauer, who nominated Courtright, Courtright’s “dedication, knowledge-seeking and involvement at all levels of the industry are exactly the traits we need in young water professionals to promote water quality.”

Curt Czarnecki | Age 36
Director of Engineering Kenosha Water Utility

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 2003, Curt Czarnecki dove into the world of engineering. He began his career with Yaggy Colby Associates Inc. as a design engineer, and he joined Kenosha (Wis.) Water utility in 2008 as a staff engineer. He was promoted three times and now sits in his current role as director of engineering, overseeing the utility’s engineering, IT/GIS and distribution divisions. In 2014, while director of infrastructure services for the utility, Czarnecki oversaw the implementation of the Energy Optimization and Resource Recovery Project at Kenosha’s wastewater treatment plant. Czarnecki was responsible for coordinating the startup of new equipment while keeping the plant operational. Installation of the $10 million project was completed in a year, and since then, Czarnecki has delivered a number of presentations about its construction and operation. Czarnecki also is an active member of the Wisconsin Section of the American Water Works Assn. (AWWA), serving on the Distribution and Young Professionals committees. 

Rina Dalal | Age 33
Senior Staff Designer | T&M Associates

With a focus on climate change and storm resiliency, Rina Dalal has made lasting contributions to the water industry. She began her career with a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Drexel University and a Master of Science in sustainable design from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Since then, she has advocated for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and professional development, founding the mentoring committee for the Association of Environmental Authorities of New Jersey and launching outreach events for T&M Associates’ Project Lead the Way program with local schools. In addition, Dalal has devoted much of her professional projects to climate change. She piloted the Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool, software that helps water sector utilities understand their risk and prepare for climate change, and served on Sustainable Jersey’s Green Infrastructure Task Force, facilitating the development of a revised model storm water ordinance for New Jersey. Currently, Dalal serves as president of T&M Associates’ Toastmasters Club.

Brad Herrema | Age 38
Shareholder | Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

As the head of law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s California Water Group, Brad Herrema is well-versed in all aspects of law as it relates to water. He works with clients in the state, as well as throughout the Western U.S., to develop strategies to protect their water-related interests. He worked with clients through the historic California drought and helps with integrated water supply planning, water rights permitting and regulatory compliance. He currently represents the San Diego County Water Authority regarding matters of the Colorado River, including restoration of and mitigation of impacts to the Salton Sea. He also is helping a number of clients comply with the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires local authorities to form groundwater sustainability agencies to assess local water basins and adopt management plans. Whether his clients have water utility concerns, need guidance on environmental matters affecting water use, or are facing groundwater rights disputes, Herrema’s legal skills run the gamut.

James Kelly | Age 33
Project Manager | Michael Baker Intl.

James Kelly’s accomplishments in the water industry span a variety of subjects. With expertise in storm sewer infrastructure, Kelly has located unmapped storm sewer systems and inspected outfalls in search of dry weather flows and illicit discharges. He has performed several best management practce (BMP) assessments and produced many Letters of Map Revision, which includes running hydrologic and hydraulic (H&H) models and updating mapping for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s approval to include no-rise modeling. His experience also spans H&H modeling, floodplain mapping, GIS processing, GPS surveying, BMP retrofitting, field data collection for storm water pollution prevention plans and outfall inspections. As project manager for Michael Baker Intl in Alexandria, Va., Kelly is well-known for his technical expertise in troubleshooting and resolving modeling issues.

Michael Liga | Age 36
Associate, Project Manager | Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in agricultural and biosystems engineering from the University of Arizona, Michael Liga began his career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service, where he designed systems including high-efficiency micro-irrigation and irrigation tail-water treatment and reuse systems. He earned his professional engineer license in California, but shortly after departed to Houston to pursue his master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, as well as his doctoral degree in environmental engineering and science from Rice University. During his graduate studies, Liga authored or co-authored seven publications on his research, which was assessing the mechanisms and applications of photocatalytic oxidation using engineering nanomaterials for virus inactivation in drinking water. After earning his degrees, Liga joined Lockwood, Andrew’s & Newnam Inc. He started as project engineer-IV, but progressed to project manager and associate in only three years. While in Houston, Liga earned his Texas professional engineer license and was selected as engineer-of-record for the first two segments of the city of Houston’s Northeast Transmission Line, the largest-diameter treated water pipeline the city has constructed. Throughout his educational and professional careers, Liga has volunteered in different capacities related to engineering.

Tony Lindgren | Age 38
Division Manager, Distribution Engineering Tacoma Water

Tony Lindgren graduated from Washington State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. He has spent the last 15 years working for Tacoma (Wash.) Water, with experience in nearly every facet of the water industry, including operations, maintenance, customer service, asset management and conservation. He has served as division manager of the utility’s Distribution Engineering section since 2010. Outside of his role at Tacoma Water, Lindgren is involved in the South Sound Subsection of the Pacific Northwest Section of AWWA, working with Young Professionals and Water for People. He also serves on the board of directors of the Multicare Health Foundation and the Tacoma Community College Foundation. “Tony believes that working in public service is a privilege and that we have a duty to bring value to our customers every day,” said Ryan Flynn of Tacoma Water in his nomination of Lindgren. “Tony further believes that a workplace that promotes growth, provides new experiences and embraces diversity will be successful.”

Ruth Marfil-Vega | Age 38
Environmental Scientist | American Water

For the last 10 years, Ruth Marfil-Vega has been applying her multi- disciplinary background to develop and implement advanced monitoring tools for solving emerging water quality issues. With a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Valladolid in Spain and a doctorate in environmental science from the University of Cincinnati, Marfil-Vega specializes in developing new strategies to manage emerging contaminants and associated risks in water. Before joining American Water in Belleville, Ill., she was a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, where she worked on risk assessment and toxicological relevance of endocrine-disrupting chemicals by combining toxicological and chemical analyses. In her current role, she is leading research to advance the science for managing emerging contaminants. Marfil-Vega is a past recipient of the American Chemical Society’s C. Ellen Gonter Environmental Chemistry and Graduate Student awards for her contributions in the field of environmental chemistry.

Lindsey Olson | Age 39
Senior Design Engineer | American Water

With more than 17 years of experience in the water industry, Lindsey Olson has worked on a variety of projects. She holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in civil engineering from Rutgers University, and is a licensed professional engineer in the states of New Jersey and New York. Olson has managed the design of dozens of drinking water treatment facilities, including rehabilitation, expansion and greenfield construction, and developed expertise in groundwater treatment technologies, such as iron and manganese filtration systems, organics and radionuclide adsorption processes, as well as other trace contaminant removal technologies. Additionally, Olson has worked with chemical storage and feed systems like onsite hypochlorite generation. Over the course of her career, Olson has been very involved with AWWA, serving various leadership roles. At different times, she has served as chair of the New Jersey Section and chair of the Young Professionals Committee, and she currently serves as director-at-large of the national board of directors. In addition, Olson was a chapter lead author for the 2014 AWWA M65 Guidance Manual on On-Site Sodium Hypochlorite Generation.

Justin Pierce | Age 33
Director of Engineering and Manufacturing | MPW Industrial Services

Justin Pierce’s career with MPW Industrial Services in Hebron, Ohio, began before he graduated college. First as a co-op employee in 2006, he joined the company full time as a project engineer upon graduating Ohio University with a degree in engineering management. In 2007, Pierce was promoted to engineering supervisor, and in 2013 he became director of engineering for the industrial water division. Pierce now is director of engineering and manufacturing, responsible for MPW’s company-wide technology and fabrication capabilities, and supervises a team of 90 chemical, mechanical and civil engineers. In his time at MPW, he led the design and development of the industry’s first combined reverse osmosis/ultrafiltration mobile trailer. He also spearheaded the growth of the company’s engineering function from three to 30 employees and advocated for a new $10 million technology center, opening later in 2017. He currently is the technical lead for the Georgetown, S.C., regeneration plant, expected to open this year. In addition to his work with MPW, Pierce has served as a member of the advisory board for the International Water Conference and is an adviser to the Central Ohio Technical College.

Darrin Ruiz | Age 32
Northeast Regional Applications Engineer | Xylem Inc. 

As Northeast Regional Applications Engineer for Xylem Inc.’s Godwin and Flygt brands, Darrin Ruiz, an accredited continuing education trainer with New York Professional Engineers, designs pumping and customized contingency plans, and determines pump selection and performance. He has worked on several major projects, including designing an 88-million-gal-per-day (mgd) bypass for the Albany, N.Y., Wastewater Treatment Plant and a 20-mgd bypass for Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority in Pennsylvania. In total, he has designed and implemented more than 50 wastewater pumping plants for wastewater treatment plants, pump stations and gravity sewer lines. Prior to joining Xylem, Ruiz served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a hydraulic mechanic. He earned his Bachelor of Science in civil engineering technology from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Amy Steinfeld | Age 39
Shareholder | Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

Amy Steinfeld’s background in environmental consulting helps guide her in her current position as a shareholder practicing law for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. She previously served as the environmental director and an environmental consultant and analyst for the California Safety Compliance Corp., where she developed an environmental audit tool and traveled to 37 countries to conduct social and environmental audits of factories. In her current legal practice, Steinfeld focuses on the intersection of land use and water law, advising water districts, regulated utilities, cities, developers and agricultural interests. Her expertise ranges from complex groundwater adjudications to urban water management planning to infrastructure development, and it includes all other matters associated with the use, conveyance, development and management of surface water and groundwater supplies. She also is skilled in land development matters. In January 2017, Steinfeld coordinated the California H2O Women Conference, bringing together 100 of the state’s female water leaders to discuss the future of California’s water supply.

Kate Stephens | Age 25
Engineer-in-Training I | Stanley Consultants

Even before starting her career, Kate Stephens was bent towards the water industry. While earning her bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stephens spent much of her time volunteering and researching. Her research focused on anaerobic digestion of swine manure and sustainable community development through the water-nutrient and water-energy nexus, and she volunteered on an Engineers Without Borders trip. Now, as engineer-in-training I for Stanley Consultants in Chicago, Stephens continues to volunteer and has utilized her research experience as the main task lead on several projects with the company. She has worked on a rate study for wastewater treatment, a pilot study for biosolids dewatering, construction management for a pump station, and many other projects. Stephens is scheduled to attend NASSCO training for cured-in-place pipe to become certified to perform manhole inspections, and she intends to become a licensed professional engineer. She stayes involved with the industry as a Young Adult Professional in the Illinois Water Environment Assn. and a Young Adult Professional in the Illinois Section of AWWA. “Kate Stephens is a hand raiser,” said Stanley Consultants’ Mary Jo Finchum. “[She is] the kind of person who just dives in.”

Daniel Watters | Age 34
Superintendent of Utilities | Pinelands Water and Wastewater Cos.

As superintendent of utilities for the Pinelands Water and Wastewater Cos. in Iselin, N.J., Daniel Watters manages daily operations of the water treatment and distribution and wastewater treatment and collection assets. In this role, he also handles capital budget and program implementation, regulatory compliance, customer relations, and personnel administration. Watters’ technical expertise includes management of cross connection programs, hydrant and interconnection inspection and flushing, facility marking, meter service and testing, and leak detection. As a licensed operator in the state of New Jersey, Watters is an active member of AWWA and WEF, and he is becoming a member of the South Jersey Water Professionals Assn. He also serves on Middlesex Water Co.’s Safety and Emergency Management committees.

Alastair White | Age 33
Deputy Chairman | Biwater Intl. Ltd.

As the son of Biwater’s founder, Sir Adrian White, Alastair White has worked for the family business since 2002. He has developed a strong understanding of the water industry as well as the company’s international operations. In his current role as deputy chairman, White has led international development activities and secured major projects in new and existing markets. In 2016, under White’s guidance, Biwater and U.K. Export Finance signed a loan with the Kurdistan Regional Government for the Development Works Phase of the Erbil and Sulaimani Water and Wastewater Project. This $1.2 billion project will address global water infrastructure needs. According to Biwater’s Hayley Thompson, who nominated White, his belief in this project and ability to reach the close of a major financial agreement is “one of many examples of what this talented 33-year-old water professional can achieve.”

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