Women in Water: Anna Bell, Valley Sanitary District

Members in the News, Wastewater Life, Women in Water

Name: Anna Bell
Title: Lab & Compliance Supervisor
Certifications Held: Wastewater Operator Grade V and Laboratory Analyst Grade II
Employer: Valley Sanitary District
Tenure: With VSD since 2013, In Industry since 2007

What is your role?

I am the Laboratory & Compliance Supervisor and a Wastewater Grade V Operator. When not directly overseeing the Laboratory and Environmental Compliance staff, I am assisting the operations department with making process control decisions. I am also involved with the operations on-call rotations and the weekend operator stand-by.

What/who inspired you to work in water?

My first introduction into the industry was working for a commercial water quality laboratory. It provided me with a real sense of understanding of how complicated the concepts of testing water truly are. Clients would bring in a sample and request for it to be tested for contaminants believing we had a magical instrument that could scan a drop of water. I was introduced to operators who would come in and drop-off samples. They had such a passion for their work and amazing stories. They would tell me about their outreach programs, and it made me realize that this industry could really make a difference in the future.

What fuels your passion for your work?

Seeing all the different ways everyone handles the same problem: “How to repurpose the limited resource of water by treating wastes and turning them into something useful.” It’s amazing how we all use the same basic concepts, sometimes the same methodologies and technologies, but no two facilities are the same. All are unique in their own style.

Does the water profession welcome and support women? What was your experience?

The water profession is getting better about welcoming women. A larger population can be seen in the drinking water divisions and is slowly growing in the wastewater divisions. I have noticed this shift during certification examinations where for many years I was the only female and people were amazed. Then during my last certification exam in 2019, there was 6 other women taking some form of a wastewater operator exam. My first “Operations” position was in 2010 at a WWRP where I was the first woman. Some individuals struggled to adapt with the change in environment required to work with a woman. Since then, more women have been employed at that facility and they now have their first woman Chief Plant Operator. My current WWTP has been very progressive and awesome with welcoming women.

How many years before we get to 50/50 women and men?

I think we are getting closer, but it requires more outreach and a change of historical practices. The more that we standardize pay and requirements, the closer the gap is forced to diminish. You don’t have to be “super strong” to perform the job. It’s a prehistoric mindset that needs changing, stronger is not always better or safer. Plus, there are “cheater bars.”

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

I love what I do and find that working with such a vital resource to be fulfilling. We routinely make impacts to the environment, society and on a global scale; and it’s an often forgotten about industry. I encourage all women to get involved, it is a wonderful untapped industry where we can excel and make a difference.