Maintaining Sustainable Water Infrastructure | Work Done Right with Katie McKitrick

In this episode of the Work Done Right podcast, host Wes Edmiston sits down with Katie McKitrick, an Engineer for the City of Albany Water Department, to discuss her role in construction and infrastructure maintenance, with a specific focus on water and sewer infrastructure. Katie shares her journey into the industry, driven by her passion for the environment and social justice, highlighting the critical importance of water as a vital resource for life on Earth. 
Join Wes Edmiston and Katie McKitrick in this enlightening episode as they explore the crucial intersection of sustainability, water infrastructure, and the vital role individuals and communities play in building a resilient future. 

About Katie McKitrick

Kaitlyn McKitrick serves as an Engineer for the City of Albany Department of Water & Water Supply. In her role, Kaitlyn is responsible for proactively ensuring the quality of water for residents of the city of Albany, NY, by managing programs that ensure the integrity of the city’s water infrastructure while maintaining continuity for residents. She recently received her Professional Engineering license and is passionate about furthering her education and sharing knowledge to better serve her community. 

Top 3 Episode Takeaways

  1. While “sustainability” has become a big industry buzzword, when it comes to water and sewer infrastructure, sustainability involves finding a balance between environmental health, social equity, and economic growth. 
  2. Water Departments focus on proactive quality measures to ensure a robust and high-integrity water infrastructure. This includes activities like water sampling and lead service replacement programs to comply with regulations and improve the safety of the water supply. 
  3. Planning and collaboration are key to minimizing disruptions and efficiently managing infrastructure maintenance. The department utilizes trenchless technology for repairs, coordinates with other departments and utilities, and strives to complete multiple projects simultaneously to minimize disruptions to the community.  

For more information about your local water quality, infrastructure plans, and available programs, contact your municipal water department or find their government website. 

Episode Transcript

Wes Edmiston: 

Katie, welcome to the show.  


Katie McKitrick:  

Hi. Thanks for having me.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, thanks for joining us. I’m sure it’s another beautiful day in Albany, New York.  


Katie McKitrick:  

Pretty gloomy.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Katie, just to kind of get started in this, I wanted to get a little bit more information about you.  

You have a degree in environmental engineering and sustainability. You recently got your PE license. Congratulations, by the way. And then you went into construction and infrastructure maintenance. How did you decide to get into the industry in the first place and what made you pursue this path?  


Katie McKitrick: 

Yeah, so I was pretty lucky in as far back as high school to have some really good teachers that saw that I was good at math and I was passionate about making positive social change in the world. And were like, why don’t you try these programs for girls and STEM and see if you like engineering?  

I would probably not have predicted in my youth that I would wear steel toe boots and watch dirt move on a daily basis, but I found my way here by following. Passions for the environment and for social justice.  

Even though to us water and sewer infrastructure might not seem like a social justice issue it is both environmental and socially important. Oh, absolutely. It’s one of those things that is easy to overlook the importance of.  

But to be completely honest, water is one of those things that it sustains all of the life basically on Earth. So without it we would be in a really bad spot.  


Wes Edmiston:  

So yeah, it absolutely is. It’s critical, really in all areas of life, really.  

Even with that. We live in a world where environmental health has never been more critical. You’ve done in the past work, volunteer work and internships centralized around sustainability. How does the work that you do today align with sustainability and this work that you’ve done in the past?  


Katie McKitrick: 

I think sustainability is a really big word. It’s a buzzword used all the time and has lots of meanings for lots of different people and every industry, sustainability probably means something a little bit different.  

But in all of my roles previous and in this one, I think sustainability means the goal in finding harmony between environment, environmental health one, two social equity, so social justice between people, people pursuing human rights and also economic growth because we can’t do anything unless we’re also making money to be able to keep doing it.  

So sustaining all three of those things, not one and not two of them you can’t have. One of them without the other. You can have all the money in the world, make all the money in the world, but you’re going to degrade your environment and people, or you can have a perfect environment where the earth will last forever in pristine health, but we won’t be able to survive that and we won’t make any money doing it.  

So it’s finding a balance between all of those things. We have to do that every day in our work, and I think everybody does. It just looks a little bit different in every industry.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, no, those are all really good points, especially if you think about the areas where the obvious examples are where these things in your particular area have gone awry.  

Right. We all know of the Flint, Michigans of the world, and nobody wants to end up in that condition. Nobody wants their water department in order to be the ones that are in the news for all of this.  

What is it that you and the people of Albany, the Albany Water Department, what are some of the proactive quality measures that you all have taken part in order to assure that you have a robust and high integrity water infrastructure and that you are able to provide the level of really the assurance that everybody needs and the continuity that everybody needs?  


Katie McKitrick: 

Yeah, so the Albany Water Department, many water departments are like this and some have more focused responsibilities. But we are in charge of water from when it hits the ground and gathers in a reservoir the way till it gets to your house.  

So through filtration, through distribution, and then again from your house, your sewer pipes, all the way until the county treatment plant. So we have a huge team of people that are working on. You know, all facets of getting water to you safely and taking sewage away from you safely.  

Some of those examples are our hydrant guys that are out in the field today, flushing hydrants and making sure we’re fire ready, or our team sampling water out at the reservoir to make sure the water we’re putting into the pipe in the beginning is being treated correctly and there are no hazards there.  

I specifically am in charge of our lead service replacement program, which is a pretty hot topic at the moment, federally, which is good. There’s a lot of regulation changes coming down the pipe and a lot of funding opportunity federally for lead service replacement.  

I run that program in Albany. So my day to day is figuring out, one, how can we be compliant with the EPA to make sure we are meeting those standards? But then also, and I have a good administration that gives me the freedom to do this, but how can we be better than those regulations and be prepared for whatever they might be?  

So we’re actively replacing lead pipes in the city of Albany. I do it every day. And on days when I’m not out in the field watching my team do it, I’m planning for how we can do it, continue to do it in a way that is economically sustainable, environmentally sustainable and socially just for our community of 100,000 people.  


Wes Edmiston:  

No, that’s really valuable. It’s great that you have a group around you that also enables you to not just strive for the minimum. What are some of the ways that you all are able to go in and not just entirely disrupt the entirety of, I guess, the city?  

Because as I think about it, I think people take for granted just what all we have going on. The time to maintain our infrastructure, right? Unless there’s like a water main break or any other kind of outage, people don’t think about it and they really don’t know what the infrastructure means.  

So you have a whole bunch of pipes that are running underground underneath the roads that if you’re going to go up and replace all of these because it sounds but it needs to be done, we’re going to disrupt basically everything that’s going on and rip up the roads and everything as well.  

So how is it that you all are able to do this without bringing the city of Albany to a screeching halt?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Lots of project planning. So lots of planning for new shovels go on the ground. But also, I guess from like a construction technology perspective, I also manage a lot of the city’s trenchless rehab work.  

So in both water and sewer, and even more so in sewer, we try to stay learning about state of the art trenchless technology. So a lot of times we are repairing a sewer underground. You don’t see us except for a small pit or maybe trucks on the street, but guys are in the pipe or machine tools are in the pipe underground, repairing before major breaks happen or rehabbing before something major happens.  

So we try to keep a small footprint. We don’t want you to know that we’re there most of the time. Except for a little traffic disruption maybe, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes we’re definitely disruptive.  

Lead service replacements themselves are disruptive, but for a very short amount of time. So when we’re doing our best to plan ahead and know exactly what you’re doing, it’s repetitive. So know what you’re doing ahead of time and also plan strategically so that you can get in and out and impact people as little as possible.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, I think that’s a lesson that most people need to learn a little bit better. Also, though, it’s just the level of planning that goes into any one thing. I mean, it’s something that we all universally experience is especially for these areas where we’re going to be interfacing with a whole bunch of other moving parts.  

The flow of traffic is an unknown variable for the most part. Right. We have a pretty good idea, but we can’t guarantee on any one day what it’s going to be, so yeah, I’m sure the level of planning going into it is especially high for you all.  


Katie McKitrick: 

Yeah. And we always are trying to get better. So working with our other departments on when is the street getting paved so that we’re doing the digging ahead of the street getting paved and not after because that can get really bad for everybody.  

We’re working with the gas company, gas companies replacing a gas line on this street. Well, what else needs to happen on that street? And can we do it this year so that that community is not facing excavation, dust, traffic disruption two years in a row, but all at one time?  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah. No. Again, it really resonates as far as the kind of the thing that we do on projects all the time, especially like my background and on industrial projects. It’s always one of those things that you just kind of want to beat your head against a wall whenever you see somebody erect a scaffold.  

Go through, bring in a bunch of pipe, tear down a scaffold and then bring it back up, go to code it, tear it down, bring it back up, insulate it. We just do these things over and over and over again.  

It’s great to hear that you all at the city of Albany are going ahead and assuring that you’re just doing all of the work as much as you can at one time, right?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Yeah. We’re not perfect and nobody will be perfect.  

But if you go to a table and you’re prepared for communication and you’re not always stepping forward like you are the most important utility and you’re the most important department and you’re open to communication and collaboration with other people, then it’s not too bad.  


Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah. Again, that’s a lesson I think we all need to learn quite a bit. But thinking about it, I believe that in most areas people need to be their, their own biggest advocate, right? Not always. Can you do you have the luxury of having a Katie or the city of Albany that is on your side and looking out for you?  

Is there anywhere that people can go or how can people look up, I guess, one, the quality of water that they have in their city, two, what the plan is for the remediation of their infrastructure or any of these other things?  

Is there anywhere that people can go to find maybe in their municipality or in their county find this information out?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Yeah. So I always encourage people, even, especially people that aren’t in the city, to Google your municipality, google your water department and your local government.  

Most likely they have an abundance of resources that they are trying to get to you and it’s just really hard to we send out mailers or we post on social media, but it’s really just hard to. Get to people until they need you for something they’re probably not really aware.  

So I always recommend to people, find out where your water comes from. Are you getting it from the closest river? Does your water department pump it out of the ground? Do you have a mountain reservoir like we have?  

Access your local government and just read what they have out there for you, or find what programs they have out there there for you. Every municipality water authority is required to have a water quality report.  

So they have a publicly available report telling you about where your water comes from, what specific criteria they might have issues with in your area. Because it’s different geographically. Most municipalities and most local governments are trying to engage with you, and they just need usually a little bit of help from your side that you want to engage with them too.  

But most have resources, most have water quality reporting, and they’re trying to get that information. And really knowing where you’re getting the water from, in my mind, is huge. Especially, again, it’s easy to point out all of the bad things in the news, right?  

But the train derailment here recently in Ohio is a really good example of you really want to know where your water comes from, right? And really that way you understand the things that happen upstream because you’re downstream are largely going to affect you.  

So again, not to just point out that it’s only for bad circumstances that you want to know this stuff. It’s just really a best practice to understand where it is that all of your life sustaining nutrients and requirements are coming from.  

Right. Even kind of coming along with that. What other programs are out there for people, not just to maintain the infrastructure of the general city, the general populace, what the pipes that are underground, is there anything I imagine there are lead pipes and walls as well if we were using them underground.  

Are there any programs or services that are out there that people can look to in order to, one, I guess, even have their pipes, hecked, in their house, but two also to get those remediated as well?  


Katie McKitrick:  


And I can only, I guess, surely speak from the city of Albany’s perspective on that. But I do communicate with a lot of different municipalities just because we’re a little bit ahead of the game. So a lot of them are kind of taking pieces and parts of our program and implementing them.  

And then again, next year, the EPA will have new regulations for leading copper that will require municipalities to have programming and outreach. But in the meantime, again, if you call up your local water authority, your local government, we will anyways come out and take a look at that pipe for you, explain what’s going on.  

If you do have a lead pipe, you can possibly get a sample as well through your municipality or there’s a lot of local labs, water quality labs that will do sampling as well for less than $50 usually go.  

On to your local government websites because we have our lead service replacement programming and we have a grant available for our community to do that. But there are also federal grants distributed by local governments for low income communities and low income households for interior plumbing, like you were mentioning, lead inside the house or lead paint.  

Even or other kinds of home improvements. So those things are out there, and a lot of times, like I said, your local government is trying to get you access to them, but you have to do your part, too, and want to engage.  


Wes Edmiston:  

That’s a great point. Do you know about when the cut off was that people started or that people stopped using lead pipes and houses, for instance?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Great question. Go. Federally, the ban on using lead pipes was in 1986, 1985. 


Wes Edmiston:  

That’s recent.  


Katie McKitrick:  

Yeah, but we see every community is different, but we see the use of a lead pipe underground taper off in the 60s usually. So it’s definitely 1940s. You’re probably still looking at lead.  

After that, it gets a little bit questionable, but if you’re anytime before 1986, it’s worth checking out.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Wow, that’s really interesting. Also, I live here in the Midwest. We have a lot of houses. I mean, my mother in law’s house, I think was built in the 1880s, so they’re definitely old houses through the area, and that makes me think that I need to get it looked up and assure that my mother in law isn’t drinking out of lead pipes.  

So this is really good information. Katie, you work for the government, and that’s not really a career path that I think that most people think about either, unless you’re living around the Washington, DC area. Could you tell me about kind of what that journey was like in order to seek out a job with the government and some of the benefits that you’re seeing out of working with them and really just why you chose that career path?  


Katie McKitrick: 

I am personally very motivated by making change in my neighborhood, and for engineers specifically, you can kind of. Go. There’s more than two, but two main pathways. One is a private industry and one is the public.  

So working for a consulting firm where you’re consulting for municipalities and for other private industries and you’re kind of more regionally bound, so you’re popping around to different communities or local government public where you’re for me anyways, I’m very focused on the city of Albany, my neighbors.  

All the work that I do my entire day, every day, is figuring out how I can make my community better. And you get a little bit of that in the private sector, but we also do not have the same requirements or goals for profits as the private sector.  

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that and you need that kind of industry to fill its role. But this role that I’m in now was just a lot more motivating for me. Coming out of school and having student loans also and wanting to see my impact on my community, that’s very valuable.  


Wes Edmiston:  

I think that’s one of those areas that people see again, oftentimes in the news, they’re always seeing what’s happening at the state and the federal level, but it starts at the local community, right?  

So whatever you can do to get involved, that’s fantastic that you’re doing it the way, way that you are. But I really feel everybody should be doing something very similar to get involved, to better their local community.  

Right? That’s what feeds up into getting everybody into a better spot. You kind of said it earlier though, that you had somebody seek out or help you whenever you were younger with getting you into. Pursuing the STEM fields.  

But we all know that it’s not really commonplace to get women into the Stem fields, to get women into construction and to the public service. What sort of gender dynamics do you see when working in doing what you’re doing?  

And what advice do you give, I guess, to other girls, especially around high school and college, about getting into this sort of industry, to going into the Stem fields, what to expect and what can they do in order to best prepare themselves.  


Katie McKitrick: 

I had a lot of women talk to me about being an engineer, being a female engineer prior to experiencing it myself. But I don’t know that anything really prepares you. I’m sure it’s that way in many fields, but you’re right.  

I had some women in my life that got me into this role, and I went to a lot of women in Stem camps, girls in Stem camps when I was younger, and now I volunteer a lot of those things now to encourage girls to be in these roles.  

I manage many, many men that are older than me, that have been doing their jobs for longer than I have been alive, certainly longer than I have been an engineer. And number one, I have to respect that.  

So if I want them to respect me in my role, when I’m very small in stature and have a high voice, and I’m pretty young coming out on the job and being a director of What’s Happening, then I need to respect that they’ve been here a long time too, and that they’ve seen a lot and they know what they’re doing as well.  

And that we are a team. That’s kind of first. I need to respect their role so that they respect mine. And it doesn’t always work. And there are some people that will just kind of not really ever appreciate somebody younger than them or maybe a woman being ingrained in their in their roles for so long.  

But I’m learning to let it roll off sometimes, and I have great supportive management and teams that help me get through that. I definitely recommend having a mentor. If you can find another woman that has walked where you walked prior, then that can be really helpful too.  


Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. Whenever you are younger, it’s great that you say, start off with respect, regardless of how long you’ve been doing anything. When dealing with anybody else, definitely start off with respect and humility.  

It’s great to hear. Whenever I was 21, I first started supervising people in construction as well. And when I’m younger than some people’s grandkids, it’s like, well, gray, here we go. The feeling entirely.  

It’s great that you also volunteer with the other organizations as well. How can other girls go out there and find these organizations? What are some of these names of these organizations? How can they find them?  


Katie McKitrick: 

Oh, wow. Yeah. Different everywhere. But Girls Who Code, Girls in Stem, look up those kind of programs. There are summer camps. There are after school programs probably in just about every city. I would say one of the programs that I volunteer with is Future Cities, which is not just girls, but it’s all 6th through 8th graders in Stem and for girls also. I think it’s important to have somebody in your school that is rooting for you and sees that potential in you. So finding it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a science or a math teacher, but a teacher or counselor that wants to root for you and help you out is so important too.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. It seems like you’re like you’re really passionate about one, helping people with the work that you’re doing, with the volunteer work. And it sounds like you have quite a few irons in the fire.  

I’m curious, what would you say motivates you to volunteer to get up to go to work every day? What is your passion?  


Katie McKitrick:  

I think it probably all boils down. So I get lots of nasty calls when something goes wrong.  

People it’s easy to blame the government, I think, for a lot of people. Well, everything is your fault, so it’s fine, right? Yeah. So I get a lot of rough calls and I have a lot of rough days at work too, where we’re just trying to fix something or get the water back on or whatever.  

But if I get one call a week of somebody telling me, thank you so much, I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this. You’ve been so helpful. That’s that does it for me.  

That’s why I chose this pathway. That’s what keeps me here. It’s seeing changes in my neighborhood. It’s getting people to learn about how to turn their water off if they have an emergency leak inside.  

People don’t think about that until it happens. And being one of many faces of a public utility where people develop trust because they’ve spoken to me or now they know how to use a resource that’s available to them because they’ve spoken to me.  

That’s so motivating and enough for me to keep doing it for now. That is great. I’m sure that is extremely rewarding. Again, people don’t really think about the water district until something goes wrong, but it’s great to hear that you’re out there again being proactive and assuring that people have the resources that they need now.  


Rapid Fire Questions 

Wes Edmiston:  

That’s fantastic. I think, Katie, we’re coming up close on time, so we’re going to go into our rapid fire questions to get to know Katie McKitrick, the person, not just Katie McKitrick the professional.  


Katie McKitrick: 

So I’m nervous about this part.  


Wes Edmiston:  

There’s nothing to be nervous about. It’s just you. Right. So, first question, what song do you listen to to get motivated?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Taylor Swift, baby. All day. Every day. No one song is just anything T Swift. 

Anything t swift. That’s how I run, that’s how I prepare. She’s got my back.  


Wes Edmiston:  

That’s funny. What’s your idea of a perfect vacation?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Perfect vacation is going to have some relaxation, but it seems like every vacation we go on, we’re also trying to figure out what mountain we can climb or where we can kayak or something like that.  

So a little bit of adventure and a little bit of relaxation.  


Wes Edmiston:  

That’s perfect. And is that metaphorical mountain that you can climb or a literal mountain you can climb?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Physical mountain.  


Wes Edmiston:  

What’s the one word that best describes you?  


Katie McKitrick: 

I think we probably hit it today. I’d probably go with passionate.  


Wes Edmiston: 

That’s great. What’s your favorite book?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Too many books in the world to pick a favorite, but a current fave I will say is Jeanette McCurdy’s memoir.  

I highly recommend it.  


Wes Edmiston:  

I’ll look it up. What is your dream job?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Probably to be the boss. Right. Isn’t that most people’s dream job? Until you become the boss? Yeah, until you become the boss. I like what I do right now and I really like my management.  

I think they do a great job and I see myself someday probably filling those shoes and being someone that calls the shots. But also I am excited to one day create an environment or be in charge of creating an environment, a workplace where people like coming to work and like each other and helping solve those problems too.  


Wes Edmiston: 

That’s great. What is your favorite quote?  


Katie McKitrick:  

I don’t think I have a favorite quote. Don’t have one.  


Wes Edmiston:  

That’s okay. If you could have dinner with one person from history, living or dead, who would it be?  


Katie McKitrick:  

Okay, I’m going to go with my answer to this question is always Wangari Maathai. 

Probably never heard of her, but you should look her up. She started the Green Belt movement in Kenya, which was like her gathering thousands of women to plant trees as a revenue source for impoverished communities and also as an environmental movement.