Apr 28, 2021

2021 WWD Young Pros: Let's Make Water Systems Visible

The 2021 WWD Young Pros value industry advocacy & making their work visible.

2021 WWD Young Pros - Let's Make Water Systems Visible

Water & Wastes Digest annually highlights 10 inspirational people under the age for 40 who are leaders, drivers, influencers and advocates for the industry. The 2021 WWD Young Pros are no different, and nearly all of them shared a similar response to questions about their biggest lessons and how their generation would influence the industry.

First, the biggest lesson for many of the 2021 WWD Young Pros was reckoning with the current state of water infrastructure in the U.S. and how it is so disconnected from the people who use it day-to-day.

Second, many indicated their generation as one of advocates and communicators with the energy and will to push for political and systemic change. They want to help the industry become more visible to the general public to improve public discourse on the need for infrastructure funding while also showing how exciting the industry can be.

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Lauren Guy, 34, CTO & Founder of Utilis

2021 WWD Young Pros - Lauren Guy - Utilis

Personal accomplishments: The creation of Utilis because of the challenge to introduce the technology into a traditional market that resists change. It has since grown to a multi-million-dollar enterprise. “Arriving to the office every day to see that this crazy dream is now a workplace for 40 people is simply astonishing to me, which I will never take for granted.”

Professional accomplishments: Creating a company from nothing with a new application. Applying for seven patents in five years. Finding more than 40,000 leaks in five years. Making synthetic-aperture radar a technology accepted in utilities across the globe.

Most memorable project: The first leak Utilis found. “Our first project was with a local utility in Israel that was highly skeptical regarding our technology. During our presentation and sales process, the partner expressed skepticism that what we were doing is impossible. On our first day in the field, on the very first location we went to, we found an enormous leak... The look on their faces was priceless.”

Biggest lesson: Overconfidence. “I learned that no matter the technology you come with, you still need to work your way into the day-to-day process of the utility, show them the actual ROI. It takes hard work.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “This generation is less reliant on hunches, feelings, and biased information, and more guided by actual data to make their decisions. The industry is less focused on one key decision maker at a utility to a more matrixed organization where everyone brings their own unique knowledge and together decisions are made as a team effort, often driven by data.”

Industry aspirations: To explain and enumerate that water is not an infinite, cheap resource, but rather one that requires care, thoughtfulness and planning to properly manage for the long term. “My biggest dream is
that water will be considered priceless, as are petroleum products and rare earth metals.”

Extracurricular work: “As a chess player, I love to contribute at my local chess club in Beer-Sheva. We have more chess grandmasters per capita than any other city in the world.”

Hobbies: Chess, aviation and baseball.

Hidden talent: “I love playing the piano, especially pieces by Franz Liszt.”

Best kept secret: Overcame a brain tumor at the age of 18.

Work outside the office: Teaching chess and music for free.

Giving back: With his wife, provides outreach to under-privileged kids in town and helps them and their families get the resources they are lacking.

Personal passions: Aviation, chess, music and physics.

Best memory: “The first time I took my son for a baseball game. The moment he saw the wide green grass for the first time in real life, and the way his eyes opened so wide, was an amazing feeling.”

Greatest influence: His mother. “She showed me at a very early age how, through many difficulties, she went to school to receive her masters’ degree and later became an accomplished researcher in the public
health industry.”

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Judy Ledlee, 34, Process Engineer for Black & Veatch

2021 WWD Young Pros - Judy Ledlee - Black & Veatch

Personal accomplishments: Starting a lunchtime pick-up ultimate frisbee game in Hartford, Connecticut. “I started the game as a ‘Wellness Wednesday’ activity because my co-workers wanted to learn how to play ultimate. We had such a good time that we began playing multiple times a week, and many other professionals from the nearby offices joined in.”

Professional accomplishments: Winning the Clean Energy Track of the Duke StartUp Challenge. “Winning this award allowed my partners and I to create a small startup based on my doctoral research. While this company eventually shut down, learning about commercializing research and creating a startup company was an extremely valuable experience.” Becoming a finalist in the Black & Veatch Ignite entrepreneurship program. “I enjoy developing products/services that improve the world, and it has been very exciting to work within the B&V ecosystem to develop ideas that can improve B&V’s offerings to our clients.”

Life before the water industry: Worked in environmental health and safety at United Technologies and GE. “I learned about all the cool water conservation and reuse projects companies were implementing and that made me want to go into water treatment.”

Biggest lesson: “Even though we’ve been treating water for thousands of years, there is a lot we don’t know and haven’t optimized yet.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “I expect my generation to care deeply about water management and treatment of emerging contaminants. We’ve grown up learning about how man-made chemicals can negatively impact human health and the environment, and we want to minimize future damage. I also expect that my generation will push for greater adoption of smart and/or automated systems in water treatment. We’ve grown up with the computers, and we value how programs can streamline laborious tasks and provide insights that would be hard to identify manually.”

Hobbies: Playing sports, namely ultimate frisbee. “I play for a semi-professional women’s ultimate team, the Raleigh Radiance, in the Premier Ultimate League (PUL), and have represented the USA in the 2018 and 2010 World Ultimate Club Championships. During COVID, we couldn’t play ultimate, so I’ve also started playing more disc golf and pickleball.”

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April Nabors, 39, Engineer & Superintendent of Land Administration for Birmingham Water Works Board

2021 WWD Young Pros - April Nabors - Birmingham Water Works Board

Personal accomplishments: Climbing Mount Sinai in the middle of the night so that we reached the top right at sunrise.

Professional accomplishments: Speaking at conferences across United States and in Egypt, publishing several research project articles in peer reviewed journals, being a founding member of the BWWB women’s pipe tapping and hydrant hysteria teams, leading efforts to create the first ever BWWB Water Festival for community outreach, and being named an AWWA Scholarship winner.

Most memorable project: Obtaining an ADEM Grade 4 Water Treatment license and performing treatment optimization studies in the BWWB State of the Art Pilot Plant.

Life before the water industry: “I was originally in the pharmacy industry where I became interested in doing research regarding pharmaceuticals in the water so it was a natural flow to move from pharmacy into the water industry full time.”

Biggest lesson: Learning how big the industry really was and realizing how important it is to everyday life. “It’s very easy to take water for granted and expect it to just be there when you turn on the tap, without truly realizing all that goes into making that happen.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “I hope that my generation is making a difference through recognition of the importance of water and protecting it by educating the public and also through enhanced conservation efforts. I also think that we are stepping up to the game when it comes to new technology and enhancing water quality to the next level.”

Industry aspirations: To help many people as possible provide the highest quality drinking water to communities. Never become complacent and always strive to be better.

Extracurricular work: PEAC - D Chair for the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Partnership for Safe Water Distribution Program, Board of Directors AL Trustee at Large for the AL/MS Chapter of AWWA, and member of multiple AWWA committees, including the Operator Involvement Committee and Standards Committee #470.

Hobbies: Traveling, painting, reading, and anything to do with flowers or animals (especially my two yorkies!).

Hidden talent: Ability to relate with people. “I love watching someone else succeed, especially when I know that I was able to help them reach their goals.”

Work outside the office: Planning the Rumpshaker 5K, a fundraiser for Colon Cancer awareness and volunteering at the Birmingham Zoo.

Giving back: Loves to take mission trips, specifically to the Dominican Republic, with a group called Until They Know.

Best memory: A trip to China for the International Scholars Laureate Program - Delegation on Engineering.

Greatest influence: Her parents. “No matter what, they have always been there for me and supported me throughout every decision.”

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Amelia Mioranza, 28, TAG Program & Marketing Coordinator for Isle Utilities

2021 WWD Young Pros - Amelia Mioranza - Isle Utilities

Personal accomplishments: A landscape overhaul project with her fiance. “I researched the plants and designed the layout, and we removed or moved the old plants and installed the new landscaping. There is still a lot of work to be done in the yard, but it was a big undertaking that we get to enjoy again now that spring has sprung!”

Professional accomplishments: Being selected to work at the EPA R&D lab in Cincinnati, a dream held since high school. “It’s where I developed my interest in water technology and innovation too.”

Most memorable project: “A couple years ago, I helped coordinate a program for water and wastewater utilities in Hawaii that Isle Utilities worked on in partnership with a technology accelerator there locally. Getting to visit Hawaii for the event was a very memorable experience!”

Biggest lesson:  Brilliant industry minds do so much behind the scenes. “I’ve also learned that even though the industry is vital to everything we do in our daily lives, the work often goes unnoticed by the general public.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “I expect my generation to be motivated, innovative, change-makers and critical thinkers who will play a huge role in solving the challenges the industry faces today. We aren’t willing to be passive about these issues; we want to be a part of the solutions!”

Industry aspirations: Continuing work in the field to make a difference.

Hobbies: Yard work, caring for houseplants, house projects, and calligraphy.

Hidden talent: An eye for design. “I have no formal training here whatsoever, but I am good at making things look good, which I have learned through personal interests in interior, graphic, and fashion design. I also do know all of the words to every song on Beyonce’s Lemonade album, which I personally consider a talent.”

Best kept secret: Is an identical twin known as mirror twins. “I am left-handed and my sister is right-handed and we have opposite hairlines too.”

Personal passions: Italian food, Ohio State football, her sister’s dog, sustainable fashion, interior design, and the environment and water,
of course!

Best memory: Watching Ohio State win the college football national championship with her closest friends. “We got to attend the game, and it was such a blast and the best way to end our college years!”

Greatest influence: Her mom, who taught patience, empathy, hard work and attention to detail. “She is the most resilient person I know and has taught me pretty much everything I know.”

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Patrick McKeown, 29, Business Development Manager for ECT2

2021 WWD Young Pros - Patrick McKeown - ECT2

Personal accomplishments: Pursuing a career in a technical and demanding industry while balancing and maintaining a happy life outside of work. “The key to life is balance, and I love that I can work on cutting edge water treatment projects and still be able to spend time at home with my wife, family and friends.”

Professional accomplishments: Earning a Professional Engineering License.

Most memorable project: PFAS Cleanup project. “I helped to build the system in Maine, assisted in coordinating logistics for a trip around the world, spent time on site getting the system up and running, and then returned a year later to help increase flow and treatment capacity at the site.”

Biggest lesson: Reckoning with the U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure conditions. In his first week, he viewed sanitary sewer inspection footage showing a pipe nearly collapsing. “It was an eye opening experience on the current stage and status of our water infrastructure.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “I think our generation has the same opportunity that generations before us had in the early era of the Clean Water Act. It’s becoming more apparent that the time to alter the trajectory of our climate is now, and we need to dig in. I look forward to seeing the positive change my peers bring to the industry, specifically in the water treatment space.”

Industry aspirations: To continue to make a positive impact on people’s lives. “As my grandfather says, ‘Follow your talent, and then your calling.’”

Extracurricular work: Engineers Without Borders. “I have not had the capacity to be involved as of late, but I was a member in the Hartford CT chapter. I’d love to get involved again as we slowly return back to normal.”

Hobbies: Lake fishing and golf in the summer; pond hockey, skiing, and ice fishing in the winter.

Hidden talent: “Not sure anybody would consider my karaoke skills a ‘talent,’ ’but I do have a go-to song.”

Best kept secret: “I used to want to be a pilot. I even started flight lessons at 15. I hope to earn my private pilot’s license later on.”

Work outside the office: Working with an organization in Portland, Maine called 100 Men Who Care.

Personal passions: Problem solving, thinking about a challenge and coming up with an innovative solution drive me. Also, spending time outdoors and with friends.

Best memory: Fishing with his grandfather.

Greatest influence: His father and Kate Bierdon. Growing up he always admired his father’s work ethic, compassion, humor and smarts. Bierdon was an important mentor who showed him how to manage clients, projects and people.

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Liz Lackey, 32, Water & Wastewater Team Leader for HRG Inc.

2021 WWD Young Pros - Liz Lackey - HRG Inc.

Personal accomplishments: “Having children is certainly my greatest accomplishment to date, as anyone with children can relate! On a goofier note, I am very proud to have knitted my husband a Weasley sweater using the exact pattern and yarn from the Harry Potter movies.”

Professional accomplishments: Earning a MS in Civil Engineering, which resulted in publishing two papers in the Journal of Membrane Science, being involved in diverse projects with diverse teams at HRG, and leading the piloting efforts for the City of Thornton.

Most memorable project: “Our team is working on pump station upgrades that require creativity to increase capacity will keeping pump stations online without sanitary overflows. We are also working on a plant upgrade that will use advanced wastewater treatment technology (anaerobic, anoxic, oxic, and filtration) to meet future regulations and client needs in a small footprint.”

Life before the water industry: “I am not even sure there is a ‘pre-water industry’ time period for me. I have known that I wanted to be in the water industry since junior year of high school. I had asked my teacher how I could combine my love of math with the stream sampling we were doing, and he said environmental engineering. It was love at first sight!”

Biggest lesson: Valuing operator opinions. “I always strive to engage and incorporate operators into any/all operational, maintenance, or design decisions.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “In general, I also think we are advocating for work flexibility and work-life balance. We still have much to learn from the older generations, and I am sure the younger generation will be teaching us technology and communications as they enter the field, as well.”

Industry aspirations: To improve as a resource for technical knowledge and to become a mentor for younger staff.

Hobbies: Hiking, backpacking and rock climbing, activities she now shares with her children.

Work outside the office: Involved with the Western Pennsylvania Water Pollution Control Association (WPWPCA) with the Students & Young Professionals and the Communications committees.

Giving back: Prior to having children, she helped conservation societies with trail work or removing invasive species.

Personal passions: Time with family, being outdoors and reading.

Best memory: Watching the 2017 solar eclipse. “I was with my family and friends, and we had such a great spot in a desert area in Idaho, just west of Yellowstone.”

Greatest influence: Curious thinkers with a passion for their work.

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Mae Stevens, 39, Chair of the Water Practice & Executive President for Signal Group

2021 WWD Young Pros - Mae Stevens - Signal Group

Education: Masters in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University, BS in Environmental Science from The George Washington University

Personal accomplishments: Influencing the passage of every major piece of water infrastructure legislation over the last six years, totaling nearly 30 bills of legislation. As Environmental Policy Advisor to Sen. Ben Cardin, she staffed the Senator during the crafting and passage of the 2016 and 2018 Water Resource Development Act bills. She also wrote the Senate Democrats’ response to the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and drafted the first-ever legislation to create pilot programs for federal low-income water customer assistance funding. Since then, she launched Signal Water and Safe Water Voters.

Professional accomplishments: Joining Signal Group, a public affairs firm in DC. In her two years with the group, she has launched Signal Water, launched Safe Water Voters, launched 3 Questions with Mae, a video series dedicated to amplifying the issues that matter most in the water sector, influenced the passage of the first-ever low-income water customer assistance program, and hosted an online fundraiser to help low-income families in DC pay their water bills.

Biggest lesson: “I knew almost nothing about the water industry until Senator Cardin asked me to help fix the Flint crisis in 2015. The thing that has stuck with me most – and the reason I left Capitol Hill to dedicate all of my time to this industry – is that it is filled with true public servants. The people in this industry just want to make people’s lives better. They don’t need fame or glory, they just want to put their heads down and get the job done.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “Millennials and Gen Z are already showing that they are much more involved in politics and policy-making than their Gen X or Baby Boomer peers. It’s something that comes much more naturally to us (I’m a Millennial). I think we are at a turning point for the industry - now more than ever policy-makers on both sides of the aisle are looking closely at how we fund water infrastructure in the US and what Washington can do to support the industry.”

Industry aspirations: To encourage people in the industry to stand up, tell their stories, and ask Washington for the resources and support they need. “I intend to dedicate my career to helping them do just that.”

Extracurricular work: Working on Safe Water Voters. “I’m proud to say that we are 2-for-2: we hosted fundraisers for Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and they were both reelected! We are lucky to have them in Washington! I cannot wait to host even more events this year.”

Work outside the office: “Water affordability is extremely important to me. In 2021, I hosted an online fundraiser that raised thousands of dollars to help low-income families in DC pay their water bills during the pandemic. Hopefully, we can pass legislation that would create a nation-wide program this year that will help all Americans in need.”

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Angela Romero, 36, Senior Environmental Engineer for Stanley Group

2021 WWD Young Pros - Angela Romero - Stanley Consultants

Personal accomplishments: Becoming a mom to her two children, while balancing her career and aspirations.

Professional accomplishments: Obtaining a PE license in the discipline of Environmental Engineering, involvement as Lead Water/Wastewater Engineer on a major projects.

Most memorable project: A four-year-long project on a major industrial facility for which she was involved from conception to construction, including all aspects of water system design.

Life before the water industry: Full-time graduate student researching Radium-226 in drinking water distribution system pipe scales and sediments for her thesis.

Biggest lesson: Engineers truly always continue to learn. “I’ve grown comfortable with not always knowing the answer, but knowing how to use the resources at my disposal to ask questions, learn, and develop answers”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: Leveraging new technology to make the industry more effective and efficient, and having a positive effect on public awareness of the industry.

Industry aspirations: To continue to work, grow and learn from others in the industry. “In the future, I would also like to be more involved in professional societies and serve as a mentor for younger engineers.”

Hobbies: Gardening, hiking, sewing and learning about nature with her kids.

Hidden talent: “I really love designing and creating costumes for Halloween and renaissance faires with my husband. My mom always made my costumes growing up, and I’ve continued that tradition with my family.”

Work outside the office: Volunteered for Summer of the Arts, a local community organization, and for the National Voter Assistance Hotline.

Personal passions: Nature, family, community, local food, and social justice issues.

Best memory: When her family surprised her at dinner for her 30th birthday. “My family members all live five hours away, so it was a completely unexpected and incredibly sweet surprise to have them visit us for my birthday.”

Greatest influence: Deb Mathias. “She recently retired and I’ve come to really appreciate how much she impacted me.”

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Michael Warady, 31, President of Sylmar Group

2021 WWD Young Pros - Michael Warady - Sylmar Group

Personal accomplishments: Starting Sylmar in April 2019 and growing the business from day one.

Professional accomplishments: Co-founded and fundraised for long-term, patient capital geared towards acquiring leading service industry businesses in the water/wastewater sector; successfully commercialized and deployed market-leading, built-environment MBR reuse technology; managed emergency wastewater remediation response for the City of Houston during Hurricane Harvey; coordinated an eight-figure fundraiser and launch of new wastewater remediation biotechnology company; led diligence and investment into market-leading, remote monitoring and analytics company and led diligence and operational planning for a $60 million water treatment asset.

Most memorable project: Led feasibility studies for a 100 million gallons per day seawater desalination plant and installed a first-of-its-kind greywater reuse system in San Francisco.

Life before the water industry: Worked for 3.5 years in the Chinese solar energy industry.

Biggest lesson: “The technologies we need to solve the problems we face already, in large part, exist. The trick is to improve the channels to market for these technologies.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: “Our generation is uniquely positioned to build upon the foundation that the older generations have built, including greater use of digital strategies, improved adoption of new technologies, and a more diverse mindset to begin questioning some of the ‘assumptions’ within the water and wastewater industry.”

Industry aspirations: To serially acquire water businesses over the course of many decades, with the goal of never selling. “My vision is to grow a business that is able to assist customers and clients with an array of new services and technologies that provide best-in-class outcomes.”

Extracurricular work: Board Member of Access Books, a Los Angeles-based non-profit focused on providing books and updating libraries at under-served public schools.

Hobbies: Running, soccer, reading, and traveling

Hidden talent: Speaks Chinese.

Giving back: Volunteers for Access Books, worked the polls during the election, and is a “Big Brother” to a local 9-year old boy

Personal passions: Water, reading, and traveling.

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Antoine Walter, 32, SBDM Water & Wastewater Treatment for GF Piping Systems

2021 WWD Young Pros - Antoine Walter - GF Piping Systems

Personal accomplishments: Launched the “(don’t) Waste Water” podcast with more than 30 interviews with water professionals.

Professional accomplishments: Led the implementation of Switzerland’s first micropollutant removal plant in Dübendorf (Zürich), Sweden’s first one in Linköping, and was involved in France’s first one in Sophia Antipolis. Working on COD Removal in China, and 1.4-Dioxane treatment in the U.S.

Most memorable project: “It’s an industrial wastewater project I lost in Germany. It’s memorable because we worked 1.5 year on it, to develop a process from scratch and solve a unique (and huge) challenge. Many stakeholders, many regulatory bodies to please and a lot of inventivity and creativity requested to bring everything together. And still a lesson: another team was better at it than me, and won the project. One of my podcast guests once told me, we always learn things the hard way, it sounds very true to me!”

Life before the water industry: Traveled for a year after completing engineering studies as part of a young professionals contest through Engie. The program had him visit power plants, mining sites, and, of course, water and wastewater treatment plants. He kept a blog and vlog of the experience.

Biggest lesson: “Water is a given for many: it flows from the tap and disappears when you flush. To explain and bring the spot on what happens beyond is crucial, to move the water industry forward. It raises awareness but also draws in investments and talents.”

How will your generation influence the water industry?: To change the perception of the industry so water is not considered a given, and that wastewater isn’t considered a waste. To make both a resource that are protected.

Industry aspirations: “If every water professional does their part, we can bring the sector under the spotlight and solve water scarcity and lack of sanitation in the long run.”

Hobbies: Running, playing music, acting and screenwriting.

Best kept secret: “I was a guest for an Alsatian TV-Show, in Alsatian (a dialect close to German), to promote a record we had published with my choir, and tell the world about the Lasagna-Recipe of my Grandmother.”

Giving back: Member of a non-political association that brings youth opinions to city governance. One of the members was elected to the council as a result.

Personal passions: Sharing, composing music, and discovery.

Best memory: “Basically two: the birth of my two daughters. Very different experiences, but just as incredible and magical.”

Greatest influence: His parents. “My father because there was no holidays or weekends to him if he had to jump in a water topic for his community. My mother because she had to fight gender bias and overcome many obstacles to achieve something in a very male-
dominated industry.”    

About the author

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

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