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Meet the Minds: Erin Mackey on Engineering a Waterwise Mindset

In our “Meet the Minds” series, Erin Mackey, of engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, tells Water Deeply how engineers are helping Californians make the most of their available water resources.

Written by Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews work to repair the "Y" shaped juncture where a water rupture occurred.Damian Dovarganes, AP

What will it take for California to not just get by during drought, but to really flourish? Erin Mackey, a drinking water and reuse process engineer at Brown and Caldwell, the largest engineering consulting firm focused on the U.S. environmental sector, believes it will take both a shift in how we think of water-use efficiency, as well as the development of a more diverse water supply. That’s why her work is focused on helping clients explore water resources so they can use them smartly and efficiently.

Mackey admits these are challenging times for water professionals, but she is hopeful that a decade from now California will have made improvements.“I am confident we will get there,” she said.

She recently spoke to Water Deeply about helping organizations think more holistically about the water cycle, and bringing together unlikely partners to develop effective projects.

Water Deeply: What are you working on that you want the world to know?

Erin Mackey: Most of my time these days is spent working with California clients to help them make the most of their available water resources – whether it be exploring and testing advanced treatability trains for full-scale indirect and direct potable reuse, like the work we’re doing for Los Angeles and San Diego, or helping regional organizations, like the Bay Area Regional Reliability Partnership and the North Bay Water Reuse Authority, to collaborate and share water resources for greater long-term reliability and resiliency.

At Brown and Caldwell, we’re helping clients think about water holistically and how organizations’ specific needs interface with all components of the water cycle – from water to wastewater, stormwater and recycled water. We often bridge once-unlikely partners in the public and private sectors to work together and use water (and wastewater) more efficiently. Basically, we’re helping them consider alternative approaches to how they may have done things in the past. It’s all very exciting work and represents a lot of what Brown and Caldwell is doing across the country.

Water Deeply: What do you see as California’s biggest water challenge?

Mackey: Developing a robust water system that allows our communities to meet the needs of their residential, commercial and agricultural sectors as our state grows and our climatic patterns continue to shift over the coming years. This will require significant new investments and changes in water management in order to diversify supply across the state, as well as adopting conservation practices as a way of life.

Water Deeply: Who/what do you find most inspiring in your field?

Mackey: The dedication and passion of the many water professionals I work with across the industry to provide high-quality water to our communities and to protect our waterways from contamination. We have a lot of water challenges – from aging infrastructure, to changing rainfall patterns and a fast-growing population. But the energy and enthusiasm to tackle and meet these challenges for the future makes this field so exciting and inspiring to work in.

Water Deeply: What’s the one most important thing California should be doing right now to create a sustainable water future?

Mackey: Shifting our culture to a new mindset that views all water as a resource to be used efficiently and judiciously. The water industry (drinking water, water reclamation and reuse, and stormwater) has really stepped up as leaders on this issue, shifting to a mindset of One Water – looking at all water that moves through our water treatment and conveyance systems as resources for human and environmental benefit. Consumers, too, are stepping up to help establish a more water-wise mindset as the “new normal.”

Water Deeply: Looking out 10 years from now, what do you hope California will have accomplished on water issues?

Mackey: I hope we will have developed a highly diversified water supply portfolio and water use efficiency mindset that allows us to not just weather the dry periods, but flourish. I am confident we will get there.

More from the “Meet the Minds” series:

This version corrects an earlier version of the story in which it was reported that Brown and Caldwell was working with the city of Sunnyvale on treatability trains for indirect and direct potable reuse. It is working with San Diego and Los Angeles.

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