Water Educator Network Member Feature – May 2018
Names and Positions: Karen Bish, Community Outreach Supervisor; Deb Parker, Public Education Specialist
Organization: South Platte Water Renewal Partners
Became WEN Members: September 2017
Watershed: South Platte Basin
Favorite River: Karen- The Colorado River; Deb- The South Platte River
Favorite Water-Based Activity: Karen- Swimming; Deb- Kayaking
Our Favorite Quote From Karen: “I actually went to the State of Colorado and I have a certified nose. We don’t get very many odor complaints, thankfully.”
Our Favorite Quote From Deb: “My proudest water-related accomplishment was the day that my granddaughter explained to her mommy why we turn the water off when we’re washing our hands… She’s 4 years old and she had her reasons together. It wasn’t just, ‘Mommy, we turn the water off after we get our soap and our hands wet and then we scrub and then we turn the water back on.’ She knew why. She was like, ‘Cause that wastes a lot of water and we need to think about it because water is a precious resource.’”
Interview with Karen and Deb
What are the primary duties of your jobs?
Karen: The main components of my job are that I coordinate all of the tours. I also work on the plant’s odor reporting program. So, if someone in our service district has an odor complaint, I go out and investigate those. I actually went to the State of Colorado and I have a certified nose. We don’t get very many odor complaints, thankfully.
Deb: I help coordinate education programs with the schools and outreach groups. So we work with [Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association (RNWEA)] and we’ve done a couple of educational activities with them for schools. We do outreach with local schools and then I help with tours and we do various outreach activities, like the Denver Water Festival… On the 6th of June we have our Community Open House to celebrate our new name and to explain to the community and our connectors what we do here and why changing our name was really important… We want to honor all of our users and we also wanted to promote the fact that we are renewing resources and not just cleaning poopy water. We are so much more than just wastewater. Wastewater is our first end product, but we do so much with it, so we need to change that vision of what people see of us.
What is the vision that you want people to see?
Deb: We want them to see that the South Platte community thrives by renewing water to support recreation, agriculture and wildlife, and we protect the environment by treating waste in the water and recovering vital resources during the process. So that’s what we’re trying to promote.
Karen: We’re trying to take the opportunity to educate the public about the value of water. We don’t view our byproducts as waste anymore, so we’re trying to make sure that people understand water renewal and that we’re doing more with what comes in. Then, we changed our named from Littleton/Englewood to South Platte because we are bigger than just those areas. We have 19 connector districts that send us their water that we process as well. Then, we also have upstream and downstream users. So, we’re trying to get the word out that we’re helping the whole South Platte community and not just Littleton and Englewood.
Tell us about your new water education initiative. Why did you make this shift to focus on water education?
Karen: Last year, we had a new director come to the plant and he’s very passionate about education and outreach and decided that since the plant didn’t have one, we needed one. I have been in the Operations Department for 14 years, so I have the plant knowledge and Deb has an early education background. We make a really good team together.
What are you hoping to get out of being WEN members?
Deb: Building our network and helping where we can within that network. As we learn, we can help other people grow. Unfortunately, right now we’re kind of in the baby stages, so we feel like we’re more on the receiving end as opposed to the giving end. But we’re getting warmed up and we’ll be ready to start giving back soon.
Is there anything that you’re looking for out of the WEN membership or anything that you would like to say to other members.
Deb: We’re just open to any possibilities or any collaborative avenues that might be out there where we can help out other members…
What is your favorite Water Education Colorado workshop or event that you’ve attended?
Karen: The ice core lab was pretty cool! I also enjoyed the Watersheds Conference last October. Stephanie did a presentation on finding the right people that was partnered with Allison Plute from Colorado Springs Utilities. They did a great presentation about how to find volunteers and that was nice because we are just starting our program.
Describe your proudest water-related accomplishment.
Deb: My proudest water-related accomplishment was the day that my granddaughter explained to her mommy why we turn the water off when we’re washing our hands… She’s 4 years old and she had her reasons together. It wasn’t just, “Mommy, we turn the water off after we get our soap and our hands wet and then we scrub and then we turn the water back on.” She knew why. She was like, “Cause that wastes a lot of water and we need to think about it because water is a precious resource.”
Karen: I think some of my proudest moments are- you know we’ve had a few spills here in the 14 years that I was operating and we work hard to stop those spills, so that nothing goes down a storm drain and so we don’t impact the river. We’re a good team and very quick to react to minimize the impact on the environment. So, I always felt really proud when everyone just jumped into line and did what they needed to do without complaining or asking questions. They just knew what they needed to do and that was always a really good feeling.
What is your biggest goal for the next year, professional or otherwise?
Deb: Well, professionally we want to build the network with the Littleton schools and some of our connector district schools.
Karen: Continue developing the curriculum for the Englewood schools and like Deb said, start partnering with other schools in the area. And personally, make sure I get out there and go hiking and do stuff like that this summer.
Is there anything else that either of you would like to add?
Karen: If anyone wants to learn more about what we do, we’re always willing to give a tour. We do classroom events too.
Deb: If people are interested in coming to our Community Open House it is going to be June 6th from 3 – 7.
Karen: We’ll have people in all the different groups of the plant with information about what they’re doing. The whole innovation and optimization group will be there. Our lab will be there. Of course our education group will be there. We’ll have tours and activities for kids. We’re going to have some basic food, so it should be a good time if people want to know what we do and learn more about our process.