By Ruthie Redmond, Senior Program Manager, Strategic Initiatives

April 5, 2024

Water leaders across the country are sounding the alarm over the wave of retirements compounding already significant workforce gaps. Our new report, Toward a Strong and Equitable Water Workforce, details ways to grow water’s talent pipeline, standardize practices, and inspire and prepare water leaders—advancing health, wealth, and economic justice across the nation. With the release of this report, we are highlighting various paths for entry into water work and asking US Water Alliance members and staff to share their water workforce origin stories with us. We hope you enjoy hearing from diverse water leaders about how they came into the water workforce, the people and places that influenced them, and their personal approaches to working in the sector.

How did you find yourself in the water workforce?

Woman smiling in circle frame blue background holding water cupAt ten years old, I remember watching for the first time the Guadalupe River turn to chocolate brown as household chemicals, furniture, and homes floated by. My passion grew with my participation in water quality monitoring in middle and high school and led me to pursue water resources engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. My career has brought me full circle with recent opportunities to support my hometown community in protecting our watershed and water resources through a new One Water initiative. –Ashley Kent, Arcadis

Woman smiling in front of quilt circular frameGrowing up, my family frequently visited Aquarena Springs, a local amusement park built around a spring-fed lake. The highlights of the visits were a glass bottom boat ride where you could watch fish swim and flowers bloom underwater. There was also a submarine theater for underwater mermaid performances—all made possible because of the lake’s crystal-clear water. From then, I wanted to know more about this natural resource that provided for all life and our human evolution. –Ruthie Redmond, US Water Alliance

Headshot of man outdoors in front of tree in circular frame with blue backgroundMy professional entry into the world of One Water was a series of consulting projects that focused on riparian restoration work and the use of compost and soil to ensure water purity and revegetation after heavy bridge construction, as well as protecting our drinking water supply through the restoration of upstream buffers. Seeing life return to a heavily impacted area and how the vegetation thrived from good soil and its adjacency to the river inspired me to look for more work on water. –Josh Proudfoot, Good Company/Parametrix


Who/what influenced you on your One Water journey?

Woman smiling in circular frame headshot blue and red backgroundAs a young lady growing up in Detroit, my goal was to obtain a position with one of the Big Three (Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors). I worked at Chrysler Financial for several years as an Instructional Design Project Manager and Master Facilitator with the Learning, Leadership and Development division of Human Resources. I felt as if I’d hit the jackpot, as people will always need cars—therefore it felt like a sustainable industry. Little did I realize that water has an even greater opportunity for stability and sustainability. I often tell people, “If you can think of a time when you do not need water, you will think of a time when you do not need our services.”  Water is a natural resource that we simply cannot live without. –Carla Calhoun, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

Woman speaking onstage smiling in circular frame blue backgroundWhen asked about my water origin story, I usually share about learning traditional Japanese methods of stormwater management design and construction (akin to green stormwater infrastructure) as a young teen and how that experience sparked the rest of my career. Working with natural processes in service of places and people took special resonance when I began to work at larger scales, for cities and neighborhoods working to change their futures. What I almost never talk about are my mistakes and how difficult that initial work was—and how obscure my career path seemed for so long, especially given my limited exposure, knowledge, and networks. I did get the privilege of attending college and later learned to do better, but my early years in water put into high focus the need for young people (really, all people) to have a chance to be better connected, mentored, and informed as they enter and grow their careers and communities—and to appreciate the value in what they do. –Mami Hara, US Water Alliance

What is an inspirational One Water story you’d like to share? Where did this experience originate?

Woman speaking at podium smiling in circular frame with green backgroundWhile working at San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, I had the opportunity to serve as the co-chair for the candidate recruitment committee of Baywork—a network of water and wastewater agencies in the Bay Area focused on workforce reliability through regional collaboration. Through this work, I connected with JVS, a nonprofit working to close opportunity gaps in employment, and together we partnered to secure the first ever California state grant for Baywork to stand up one of the strongest regional workforce consortiums in the country. –Renée Willette, US Water Alliance

Superhero woman smiling at podium circular frame blue/green backgroundAt the intersection of design, environmental studies, and communications, my passions aligned with a co-op position in Philadelphia Water Department’s Public Affairs division. What started as a temporary opportunity turned into seven years proudly serving my city as a Community Outreach Specialist, communicating with residents about green infrastructure, water quality, and climate resilience. The best part was telling water’s story both as Maura Jarvis and Water Woman, the real superhero advocating for Philadelphia’s waterways. –Maura Jarvis, US Water Alliance

What’s behind your personal approach to One Water?

Woman in front of body of water looking into distance circular frame with blue backgroundWhen I joined ECO-Action in Atlanta nearly three years ago, I began witnessing the strong link between drinking water quality violations and social vulnerability in far too many communities. There will never be social justice without environmental justice, and the accessibility of safe, clean water to everyone is justice. –Carla Lewis, Environmental Community Action, Inc.

Woman in kayak on lake smiling circular frame with blue backgroundWater is the basis of everything. Access to clean drinking water and sanitation determines our survival. It is this fundamental nature of water that draws me to it again and again. –Paula Conolly, US Water Alliance