Women in Water: Joy Eldredge

Joy Eldredge serves as Chair of the American Water Works Association California Nevada Section.  Eldredge has served on the Executive Committee since 2018 and has held the positions of Chair of the Membership, Engagement & Development (MED) Council, Water Quality Division and Water Treatment Committee.

Ms. Eldredge is the Deputy Director of Utilities at the City of Napa.  Before joining Napa as a Senior Engineer in 2005, Eldredge served as an Associate Engineer at the Contra Costa Water District and prior to that worked as a consultant for Levine Fricke managing remediation sites in the Bay Area since 1999.   She is active in her community and served as President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Napa in 2019-20.

She also served in the Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa from 1995-1998 and holds a BS in Civil Engineering and a Master’s in Business from Bucknell University.

CWND: What inspired you to start a career in water?

Eldredge: “As the youngest of 6 kids growing up in rural Pennsylvania I spent a lot of time outside climbing trees,  enjoying the woods and swimming in nearby lakes.  I always liked math and chose engineering as my major in college.  As I reached my junior year and was able to specialize, I had an interest in the environment. In the early 1990s an engineering career with this interest lead me to tackling environmental contamination of soils, groundwater and surface water.  I loved the challenge, which was an emerging field at the time, there was no playbook for this industry. It was part geology (understand the soils, transmissivity and rock formations) part chemistry (whether compounds were in solution or settleable solids) and part engineering (design the treatment systems to remove or remediate the substance.)   After several years of consulting and working to clean up the environment in and around America’s original chemical warfare production facility I joined the Peace Corps and went to a very rural area near Kilgoris, Kenya.  I experienced living off the land without amenities while working with locals to teach them to build small tanks for roof catchment to harvest rainwater.  I loved the experience and the physical and personal challenges.  I learned a lot about concrete transporting sand, cement and water by donkeys and mixing it by hand, and even more about myself alone immersed in a different culture. When I returned to the States I consulted for nearly a decade then found myself with a great opportunity with City of Napa in the public sector facing a project to complete design and construct major treatment plant upgrades.  A bond issuance afforded this $45M effort, the largest project taken on by the City and I was honored and frankly a bit scared to take it on, but focusing that scare into managing the project drove our success.  We included all alternate bid items and completed the project on time and $4.5M under budget. Here I am 15 years later still loving the challenge of the public sector:  doing the most possible with finite resources.  We all have infrastructure challenges, so we’ve got to make the most with our available resources.”

CWND: What do you find most challenging in your role as the Chair of the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association?

Eldredge: “Being at the helm in a year where we are in uncharted territory and there is no playbook to read.  The changes due to the pandemic were in full swing last March while Andrew DeGraca was Chair and our new Executive Director Sue Mosburg was three months into her new role and we adjusted quickly to the full virtual format for our 100th Anniversary celebration.  Sue has proven to be a steady leader and has confirmed to me that we made the right decision through our hiring process.  We recognize major changes to not only how and where our members work but how they receive information.  We are striving to maintain our major strength which is our respected brand for education and certification, as well as value to our members through our great network of professionals and advocacy on topics within our industry that directly affect our members.   Inundation by online information is the new reality that has been heightened by the pandemic.  We are looking at creative ways to network in this virtual space.  We’ve been able to advance these efforts by embracing technology and platforms that facilitate member interaction and coordination.”

CWND: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of your position?

Eldredge: “Seeing our members be drawn together by the passion they hold for issues that are facing our industry.  Whether it is figuring out how to assist small systems by sharing knowledge that exists amongst our members, or working with the national standards foundation to right-size the requirements for NSF61 based on real data to ensure public health is protected and that funds for infrastructure are not squandered to meet a requirement that does not add value.  There is a huge sense of satisfaction in seeing knowledgeable people come together then take action to make a difference and knowing that membership in this organization played a big part in the genesis of the idea.”

CWND: What advice would you give to young ladies who might be considering a career in water?

Eldredge: “First of all find YOUR passion.  If you love what you do, you’ll always be motivated and find fulfillment.  The water industry is a great industry and very diverse.  It’s not only the obvious of hydraulics and mechanics, treatment plant operations, but it’s laboratory, public outreach, cyber security, computer/SCADA programming, environmental advocacy, website development, financial planning, and lobbying to name a few.  A career in the water industry by nature will ensure stability in your career as water will always be needed and as an essential service, it’s even pandemic-proof!”

The CA-NV Section, American Water Works Association will host its virtual two-day Operator Symposium event March 23-24, 2021.  Visit www.ca-nv-awwa.org for more details and info.

CWND’s Women in Water looks at some of the most influential women in the industry. If you have a suggestion for someone to feature, please contact us at [email protected]

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