2022 WWD Young Pros: Chelsea Boozer, Central Arkansas Water

May 24, 2022

What started as a journalism career took a pivot for Chelsea Boozer, who has worked her way through the water industry from her beginnings at Central Arkansas Water.

About the author:

Bob Crossen is senior managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Crossen can be reached at [email protected].


Name: Chelsea Boozer

Age: 31

Education: Masters of Public Administration from Syracuse University; Bachelor's of Arts in Journalism from University of Memphis

Company: Central Arkansas Water

Title: Government Affairs Manager

What is your greatest personal accomplishment to date?

I'm truly blessed to have gotten to go after and accomplish many dreams in life, from studying abroad, living and working as a reporter in DC and covering President Barack Obama, participating in a Fulbright program in Germany, to being the best mom in the galaxy to the sweetest and smartest boy ever, and going on various travel adventures where I sometimes like to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. But, most recently, I finished a 15-month executive Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse University's No.-1-ranked Maxwell School and I'm pretty proud of that feat. It has been one of the more rewarding challenges thus far in my life.

What are some of your professional accomplishments?

As far as awards and appointments go, I've included a list below. But usually I think of the quote-unquote "smaller things” when I consider what I've accomplished, because they are what have actually made a difference. As far as my work at Central Arkansas Water (CAW), I'm proud of growing our online presence and following by 2,700% in my first year on the job in my prior role in the Communications Department and of my work with our Comms team in coming up with new ways to engage, educate, and serve customers thereby turning them into ambassadors for our brand and advocates for clean, safe, affordable water. 

In my current role as Government Affairs Manager at CAW, it's been rewarding to see the fruit of facilitating the collaboration and information sharing between regional elected officials and utility leaders that is necessary to ensure everyone has access to clean, safe water regardless of their zip code. One of our current efforts restored a working sewer system and is bringing better water/wastewater operations and governance to a community of 800 that had a near 75% unaccounted for water rate. 

Other recognitions and awards include being:

  • Named to Arkansas Money and Politic 's 2021 Power Women list;
  • Named to Arkansas Business’ 20 In Their 20s, Class of 2020;
  • American Water Works Association (AWWA) 5 Under 35 Award, 2022;
  • AWWA Young Professionals Committee member;
  • AWWA Water Utility Council YP Liaison;
  • YP Chair of 2022 Arkansas Water Conference; and
  • 2021 Walter W. Mode Scholar (ASPA).

What has been your most memorable project?

Since I'm not an engineer, I don't have "projects," per se. But one of the most interesting recent endeavors I've worked on as Government Affairs Manager is a case where Central Arkansas Water was appointed as receiver of a nearby small water system in the town of Perla. At the request of Perla Water ratepayers and at the finding of inadequate maintenance and operation of the Perla Water and Sewer systems that serve about 800 people, a judge court-ordered CAW to step up and assume financial management and operational responsibility of the systems. Within days, our team had temporary solutions in place to unclog the community's non-functioning sewer systems (right around the Christmas-time holidays) and had permanent fixes in place within a month. Just four months in now, we have dropped their non-revenue water percentage from 75% to 45%. 

We obviously have more work to do, but this case in particular has been both memorable and rewarding because it's opened the eyes to a lot of people to the condition that many of our smaller, rural water systems are in (both in Arkansas and nationwide) and to the service level customers living in these areas are left with. CAW has been able to show that with regional collaboration, even residents in rural areas can have access to the resources and benefits that larger organizations usually enjoy: clean, safe, affordable water and higher customer service. No one should have to sacrifice the level of drinking water and water reclamation service they receive because of their Zip Code. 

Another work-related endeavor has been working over the past year(s) to start a statewide Water Industry YP Network, in partnership with my local WEF YP Chair counterpart. It involved getting multiple organizations to support and fund a joint effort, as well as outreaching to utility leaders to allow their younger workforce to become involved. It's not a completed accomplishment yet, but the effort and success has been growing and we look forward to engaging with more of the newer utility workforce in the state over the coming year.

What did you do before entering the water industry?

I was a government reporter, mostly working in Little Rock, Arkansas, covering City Hall, but also in Memphis, Tennessee, covering crime and general assignments, and in Washington, D.C. covering national political news for a wire service. I did this for 8 years before joining the water industry.

What was the biggest lesson you learned when you entered the water industry?

I learned how crucial water is for everyday life. This sounds dumb. But I had never thought much more past turning on my faucet when I needed. Now I see that without working water, schools and hospitals close down; businesses close and lose money; economic development cripples. I didn't realize what an important and crucial asset high-quality and affordable water is to water-intensive manufacturing plants or breweries, and that these points could be used to attract businesses to our community.

I didn't know a utility's level of water service impacted a Fire Department's insurance rating, thereby decreasing homeowners insurance rates for residents. And then, of course, the pandemic highlighted water's vital role to public health. Learning all of this has truly fueled a passion for what I do and ignites a spark in me to perform at the best of my capabilities, because people and businesses are relying on it. 

How do you expect your generation will influence the water industry?

No different than advances that come with every generation, I believe my generation and those following will bring technological improvements and innovations that make the water industry more efficient and provide more convenient customer service. I also hope that we are finally making the turn as an industry from not wanting to talk about what we do or be written about in the newspaper to a time where we welcome better engagement from those we serve and champion an informed ratepayer base whose input is considered when we set rates, make policy, and decide other matters in their (our) community. 

Lastly, I expect my generation to understand that regional collaboration (and the economy of scale that accompanies that) is necessary to advance our industry and ensure everyone, everywhere has access to safe, affordable water. Without a wave of consolidation in the United States, where 90% of the 50,000 water utilities serve fewer than 10,000 customers, we'll never truly be able to ensure all residents have access to the same level of service as those served by larger utilities with more resources.

What are your aspirations for your water industry career?

I definitely want to stay in the government affairs sector, working toward the collaboration necessary between government officials and neighboring utilities to provide the best service, most affordable rates, and highest quality of drinking water. I enjoy getting all the stakeholders to the table, hearing everyone's interests, and then facilitating us all working toward our shared goal of serving the public in the most efficient, economical, and equitable way. 

I've learned that many times a solution cannot be reached because parties approach collaboration with position-based problem solving rather than interest-based problem solving. That is, they come to the table and state what they want, but not why they want it. Many times if we lay out our interests (the whys), there's likely an answer that will meet many of the interests of each party in a way that all can live with and where the public is better served.

In what extracurricular work activities would you like to be (or are) involved in?

Currently I chair our state water conference's YP committee and am working with my WEF counterpart to start up a statewide water/wastewater YP Network. I also serve nationally on AWWA's YP Committee. (Other, non-water extracurriculars below.) I enjoy volunteering for nonprofits whose causes I want to promote or advance.

What are your hobbies?

I like to hike, kayak, and read (or listen to books on Audible.) I also love to try new adventures/experiences and food when I travel. Most recently that hobby has had me jumping out of planes (tandem skydiving) but I want to get into power paramotor, too! 

What is your hidden talent?

By its very nature, it is not hidden, but I think networking and connecting people is an unthought-about talent of mine. I naturally love to connect with people, but the best is when I can connect my friends and acquaintances to one another or to an opportunity they excel at and shine in. 

Tell us a "secret" or something about you nobody knows.

I'm pretty much an open book and am always networking and connecting, so I'm not sure there's much people do not know about me, haha! Probably a fact that newer professional acquaintances do not know is that I used to be an Elvis fanatic. My jr. high bedroom was decorated in Elvis; I've seen all his movies; and when my son was born I used to rock him to sleep singing, "Love Me Tender." I actually still have some Elvis decor in my home office, including a full-size 1964 "Roustabout" movie poster in French that advertised the film at a Paris theater. 

In what ways are you involved in your local community outside professional work (organize fundraisers, youth group counselor, etc.)?

I currently vice chair my regional chamber's young professionals board, Create Little Rock. Our mission is to both recruit and retain young professionals to our community by showcasing what all the region has to offer through networking events and programming. I've previously sat on the boards of local nonprofits that champion elementary reading curriculum, and sustainability and beautification missions. You can usually catch me involved in various nonprofits' event planning or fundraising efforts, as well. 

What are your passions?

Outside of water and motherhood, I'm really passionate about civil rights and treatment of our nation's undocumented Americans. I'm also a bit of a local city government nerd. And, my five-year-old son and I love exploring new places and trying new things, especially those that are exciting or "scary." He's informed me that I am taking him to "climb" the Eiffel Tower once he turns 9. 

Describe a memorable moment with family or friends.

One of my nine nieces and nephews, when he was about 9 years old, messaged me on Facebook and told me he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked, "What?" and he said, "a journalist just like you. Because you're so cool." It made my heart smile then and still does today. He's now 20 and while not a journalist, he definitely takes after his favorite aunt in academics.

Who has been your greatest personal (or professional) influence and why?

My answer really is a mix. My dad taught me to always leave a place better than I found it. My high school journalism teacher Janie Baber taught me to pause and ask myself whether something is worth sacrificing my integrity over if I'm tempted to cut corners or tell a white lie. But my greatest influence as far as my career to date has been CAW's CEO Tad Bohannon. Partly in all the usual ways you'd expect — he challenges me, supports me, is a great visionary who takes time to explain and answer questions, and offers advice and critique when it would help. 

But also because he listens. Tad is the epitome of what a boss should be when it comes to preparing new workforce talent to be leaders today and tomorrow. He sets high expectations, equips you with the resources necessary to accomplish them, and then empowers you to do so by giving you the autonomy to learn and figure it out your own way, but also the understanding that you'll have questions and ask for help when you need it. He does all that while valuing and recognizing the expertise and personal experience you bring to the problem or project, instead of predicating your value solely by the number of years you've had the position.

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