Joanne Quarmby Wins PWABC Dedicated Service Award

Dr Joanne Quarmby (right), a Water and Wastewater Specialist with Urban Systems, was recently awarded the PWABC Dedicated Service Award, for PWABC members who’ve contributed significantly to the furthering of the interests of Public Works in British Columbia

Based in Kamloops BC, Joanne is a woman full of energy and drive. She’s been with Urban Systems since she arrived in Canada from England over 17 years ago. She’s a registered professional biologist of BC, with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Virology and a PhD in Public Health Engineering. A former lecturer, Joanne has over 30 publications to her name and she’s well known for her contributions to the Kamloops Wastewater Management Plan, where she helped challenge provincial regulations and save the City of Kamloops over $30,000,000 in capital costs.

A day in the Life

When we asked Joanne to describe what she does in a typical work day the same way she’d describe it at a party, she laughed. “Well honestly, I try not to describe it at parties. Especially dinner parties—in case I put anyone off their food!”

Squeamish stomachs aside, Joanne works in the management of wastewater effluents and biosolids.  She’s on-call around the clock for emergency issues or unplanned, short-notice treatment issues at water and wastewater treatment plants.

“I’m here for emergency situations and also for ongoing advice, a second opinion and to chat things through one-on-one with the operators. I also liaise with government agencies on compliance issues, reporting and permitting to take that burden off the client.”

Career Path

As a child Joanne was sure she wanted to be a doctor, but when a friend who went to medical school warned her that it was a lot of memorization, she worried she might get bored.

“That friend left medical school and started studying physics and things like planets and black holes. I thought wow that sounds terribly interesting… perhaps I don’t want to be a doctor after all but something more challenging. I wanted a career that would take me anywhere in the world so picked my education accordingly. I did end up getting my doctorate in Engineering, so I suppose I checked the ‘dr.’ title off, but I am very glad I chose the career field I did. There’s certainly never a dull moment here.”

Recognizing Operators

Joanne is quick to point out that it is the plant operators (those hired by municipalities to run the wastewater plants) who truly deserve recognition.

“The operators are out there working at 3am to make sure that when you wake up at 7am and flush your toilet, it will flush. We all turn the tap on and take for granted that it will work. The operators are the unsung heroes—they’re the people who keep our everyday going. We don’t think about who has been out working all night. These are truly an amazing group of people I’ve had the fortune to work with.”

Never a Dull Moment

Joanne says she loves that just when you think you’ve seen it all, another curve ball pops up and there’s another new problem to be solved.

“It’s all about immediate problem solving. You have to think fast in emergency situations, think on your feet and work out practical solutions that can be implemented immediately without costing millions of dollars. There’s always something that keeps you active. Three am panic calls have happened. I’m often called away during birthday parties, meetings and lunch hours. But I love it, I love being able to help.”

“Three am panic calls have happened. I’m often called away during birthday parties, meetings and lunch hours. But I love it, I love being able to help.”

Pat Miller, Director of Utility Services for Sun Peaks BC, says Joanne is hardworking and dedicated, putting in countless hours to help operators.

“Joanne is always willing to help. She considers alternative and sometimes out-of-the-box disposal methods. She’s there at many council meetings to make sure operators’ voices are heard. She works hard with large and small communities to help develop solutions that balance the needs of public health with the environment and economics.”

When asked what the future holds for her, Joanne laughs again. She says that in this line of work she never knows exactly what any given day will bring, but that the guarantee is that “the phone will ring, and there will be another emergency I will need to drop everything to deal with, so I can give people the support they need and deserve.”

SIDEBAR: Joanne encourages young people to consider careers as operators. “It’s a great and interesting job, they’ll never be without work. We have a retiring population. EOCP is an organization that regulates the industry and provides training, support and certification for operators. That’s a great place to start for career advice. There are also universities in Kelowna and Kamloops running courses. After about two years of schooling, you come out as an Operator in Training, ready to move forward with a very interesting and important working career.

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