In a profession dominated by men, Dorien McElroy stands out.
She manages the sewer Collections System for the Irvine Ranch Water District.
“One usually doesn’t associate collections system management with a woman,” says Judith Marquez, Environmental Analyst/Consultant of Innovare Environmental who nominated her.
“But she is passionate about her job in a way that makes people take notice.”
“It’s definitely tough,” McElroy says of being a woman in her field. “But we have certain advantages such as utilizing problem solving skills from a female perspective.”
Dorien received her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Sciences from UC-Riverside and got her start as a laboratory analyst and pretreatment/industrial inspector in Rialto.
She moved to Oklahoma as an operator in training then earned her licenses in water treatment and wastewater treatment before returning to California in 2010 to the wastewater collections field.
“It was very challenging, starting from the ground up,” she recalls.
Irvine Ranch Water has over 1,000 miles of sewers and serves over 20 percent of the area of Orange County — 380,000 residents and a daytime population of over 500,000.
“Together with her crew she handles it with ease,” says Judith, “ensuring that the team is on the same page, and holding them to the same standards she herself embodies.”
In addition to her duties with Irvine Ranch, McElroy is involved in several state agencies and organizations including the Santa Ana River Basin section of CWEA, the California Alliance of POTWs (publicly owned treatment works), the California Alliance for Sewer Service Excellence and the Orange County Waste Discharge Requirements steering committee.
She also works with young people and has taught middle school science. “Her approach to mentoring folks young and old is friendly but carries the weight of her knowledge and experience,” says Judith.
“Wastewater is not a glamorous field, McElroy says. “But there’s always going to be a need. We have a growing population and a finite water supply.”
Outreach is only one of the challenges she faces and seems to relish. Other challenges include the area’s increasing population, new regulations, the drought and the low-flow impact on sewers, awareness of the underground infrastructure and changing public habits regarding waste disposal.
But her staff comes first. “Dorien’s focus on growth of her staff has brought tremendous improvement to morale which in turn has led to better productivity and teamwork,” adds Judith.
“They know she has their backs.”