Engineer Finds Career Path in Recycled Water

Career Stories, Women in Water

Madeline Kelsch, Civil Engineering Associate, LADWP

If you had told Madeline Kelsch just six years ago that her future would include working as a civil engineer in Los Angeles on a project that would rejuvenate the recycled water infrastructure throughout the city, she wouldn’t have believed it. Although open to new experiences, at the time, Kelsch was taking environmental science classes at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, aiming to focus on water quality in creeks and streams. She was working for the Portland Water Bureau as a water quality assistant. And it was there that her career goals took a significant turn partly due to the influence of several female engineers she was working with.

“They were awesome women, and I liked the work and working with them,” she said. “They all encouraged me to get a degree in engineering. So, after completing my degree in environmental science, I moved on to get my Master’s degree in engineering in LA.”

Kelsch began working as a summer intern student for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) while working on her Master of Science degree at University of California, Los Angeles.

She liked working for LADWP and saw that she could move her career in many different directions within the agency. After receiving her degree, she applied and was hired to work in the LADWP’s small recycled water department.

“LADWP has given me the opportunity to learn so many different things while staying open to future opportunities here” she said.

Currently, Kelsch and the recycled water department are working on Operation NEXT to build resilient, sustainable local water supplies. According to the project description, “the initiative will help achieve L.A.’s local water supply goal of recycling 100% of available purified wastewater from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, creating a sustainable new water source for Los Angeles.”

Kelsch is working with the LADWP recycled water team on the plans to transport and integrate the supply of recycled water. The exciting part of Operation NEXT to Kelsch is that once the project starts coming online in completed segments, the program’s benefits will become immediately visible.

Kelsch came on board full-time for LADWP in July 2019 and said that she could see herself working on completing the Operation NEXT program, moving her way up the career ladder as time goes by.

“I don’t have to box myself in right now,” she said. “I’m open to whatever comes my way, either working my way up in the treatment field or even something more in environmental work.”

She said she has no regrets about moving into engineering. even over the short time she has worked in the field, Kelsch has found it can be fun and engaging.

“A lot of people don’t understand what I’m doing in water and wastewater,” she said. “There are so many different places I can take my career. I’m being creative and solving problems. It is interesting work for sure.”

Kelsch said that for other women interested in getting into engineering, she would tell them to “ask as many questions as possible, people will give you opportunities many times, all you have to do is ask for it.”

“In my experience, supervisors and managers are excited to give opportunities,” she said. “If you’re not interested in the first position, move on to another.”