Water keeper: Holly Newton puts science to work to protect Markham’s water
What’s the best job for a science graduate who’s not afraid to get dirty? Holly Newton believes it’s keeping an entire city’s water supply clean. Newton is the water conservation program specialist for the City of Markham, where the average resident uses 189L per day. She’s charged with getting the message out about how it’s all pumped from Lake Ontario, passes through treatment plants and then travels through 1,000 km of water mains before it pours from the tap.
Newton started in Markham as an operator sampling drinking water and waste water, repairing fire hydrants and checking water meters. Then she worked on regulations and policy. Now, alongside her public education campaigns, she’s also tasked with helping the city meet the regional goal of reducing water use by 150 litres per person, per day, by 2051. It’s a tough job because the city is growing, and most people don’t give water a second thought. But Newton has passion to push forward.
She first got interested in water and wastewater treatment when she was a Sheridan student. She decided to try the environmental technician program after finishing her biology degree at Trent University. That led her to Janet Bedard’s water treatment class, where she went on a field trip to a wastewater treatment plant.
“I fell in love immediately. I was like, this is my calling. I liked doing labs and experiments, but that’s not all I wanted to do. I felt like (water and wastewater treatment) would be a great opportunity … to apply that science knowledge. But you can also get dirty, hands on and mechanical.”
Newton started working in Markham just after classes ended. She says the years she spent in the field allow her to answer just about any question she gets in her education sessions. She knows first-hand how rigorous the testing process is, and she’s seen how garbage flushed down the toilet plugs up sewer pipes. Newton presents to community groups ranging from Girl Guides to English as a second language classes. She’s also responsible for the city’s Water on Wheels (WOW) trailer that heads to community events to dole out drinks of tap water. She says the safety of the water is a particularly important message for many of Markham’s residents who have moved to the city from countries all over the world, where the water supply may not have been potable. She says people are often excited to hear the facts about the amount of work that goes in to ensuring water is clean and safe.
“It just warms my heart when someone comes up after a presentation and says ‘wow, I had no idea about this, where can I get more information?’ It always puts a smile on my face.”
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