January 11, 2022

A conversation with Beverley Stinson, Executive Vice President and Water Business Line Leader, AECOM, and Mami Hara, CEO, US Water Alliance

Mami: Please introduce yourself without using your professional title or organization. Who are you?   
Beverley: I’m Bev Stinson, and I am a civil engineer with a PhD in fundamental fluid dynamics. My advanced studies focused on wave energy, which led to my career in water. I’m from Northern Ireland and came to the United States about 25 years ago. I’m married and have one son who is 14. Our family lives in Maryland.
Mami: You have a unique perspective as a global practice leader. From your experience working internationally, what do you think One Water leaders can learn from other nations’ work? 
Beverley: It’s a joy to lead the Global Water Business Line at AECOM because our focus cuts across the entire water spectrum, balancing community needs for safe, reliable water while protecting this critical and finite resource. From my personal global One Water perspective, I believe we can learn a lot from Singapore, especially their ability to maximize water recovery and reuse. In Singapore, industrial and domestic water is treated separately, which is beneficial in multiple ways, including prevention of exposure to contaminants of emerging concern. Another thing we are learning from leaders abroad is the ability to manage the concept of One Water in the public eye—to promote awareness and acceptance of the reality that a water molecule doesn’t change throughout its cycle. Science is the baseline upon which that acceptance occurs, and it’s through science that we can solve a myriad of water problems ranging from mitigating drought in the American West to recharging aquifers in the Middle East.
Mami: What strategies have you learned for garnering acceptance of and support for One Water? 
Beverley: One Water practitioners must be crystal clear with communication. It’s critical to be accurate and transparent, but it’s not just about sharing information—it’s also about listening. When people understand that water is vital for public well-being, the environment, and economic strength of communities, it becomes clearer that judicious reuse and recovery is not only scientifically acceptable, but the mechanism by which communities can flourish. For One Water leaders, it’s important to set that vision and to impress upon others that managing our water resources responsibly is essential to the future of life.
Mami: What initially drew you to a career specializing in wastewater treatment, which is something that’s so often out of sight and out of mind? 
Beverley: Water has always interested me, but getting into wastewater happened by accident. One of my first professional positions put me in a rotational role that exposed me to working on wastewater. I’ve always enjoyed dams and tunnels—the iconic infrastructure that defines the ways in which our communities grow and connect—but I also enjoy the scientific aspect of wastewater treatment. Wastewater involves chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and economics. In my current role, this work also involves building close connections with clients and working with them to deliver innovative and sustainable solutions. All these elements are fascinating to me, such as the work we are doing on PFAS, and give me energy.
Mami: What does “One Water” mean to you? How do climate change and equity factor into your One Water vision? 
Beverley: One Water is an opportunity to make it well known that clean water is not just for the privileged—that water can unite our communities and that updated and modern infrastructure can change their trajectories. These past couple of years have been transformational in terms of raising awareness and building empathy about water equity and about how climate change impacts underserved communities. As One Water leaders, we are custodians of our communities—we are providing the infrastructure to protect the livelihoods of communities and deliver sustainable legacies for future generations.
Mami: You’ve been with AECOM for 25 years. What has kept the work exciting for you throughout your tenure?  
Beverley: Talking to clients and solving problems. I love figuring out how to go beyond just meeting needs and towards developing cascading benefits. An example of this is when we completed a nature-based restoration project in New Jersey. We rejuvenated the river and recreated the surrounding wetlands, which serves as a strategy to address storm surges and flooding, while also creating a new destination for the community. I also love working on projects that are the first of their kind—whether it be by using forward-thinking strategies or the latest technologies. And now we’re entering such an exciting time, as the funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be a game-changer. In this transformational moment, we have the opportunity to not just change our nation’s infrastructure, but to change the social dynamics at play.
Mami: What changes and evolutions have you seen in the water sector throughout your career? 
Beverley: The use of technology. It’s been wonderful to see our industry go through a technological transformation over the past 20 years. We’re certainly more innovative and more effective than when I began my career. A great example of this is the recent advances we have made in adopting digital technologies in our industry, such as digital twins and machine learning, to help water infrastructure assets last longer, work smarter, and use less energy to help deliver a more sustainable and equitable future.
But beyond technology, the sector is also embracing a broader vision of the future. Instead of just committing to regulatory compliance, One Water leaders are looking to develop the cascading benefits I mentioned earlier. And there are fewer barriers to connectivity and collaboration now, so it’s much easier to come together to create smarter solutions. There’s also more attention being paid to the need to broaden diversity in the sector. Changing the makeup of the water workforce is a journey the sector is still on, and it must continue to be a priority.
Mami: Throughout your travels, both professionally and personally, what has been your favorite place to visit abroad? 
Beverley: One of the reasons I came into this career was the opportunity for travel, and throughout my career I’ve been able to travel all over the world. But thinking about the most formative experience I’ve had traveling, I come back to a trip I took to Pakistan when I was 16. I’d seen many parts of Europe by that time, but that first trip to South Asia with all its energy, color, sights, and smells, coupled with the warmth of the people, just truly ignited a passion in me to see every inch of the planet. It opened a whole new appetite for travel—one that has stuck with me ever since!