Janine Burke was recently honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a 2011 Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Excellence Award. The award is given to recognize municipal personnel who manage and operate wastewater-treatment facilities in New England. Burke is the executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority Treatment Plant, a position she has held since 2008.
PBN: What is your educational background? What led you to a career in the environmental field?
BURKE: I love science! In grammar school I was in an advanced science group and went to the state science fair with a catalytic converter I built myself. In high school, I fell in love with chemistry and went on to get a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Rhode Island. Then I got hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and worked in the Boston regional office for 10 years, during which time I earned a master’s in public administration degree from Northeastern University. An opportunity came up shortly after that at the West Warwick wastewater treatment facility which put both my engineering and management skills to the test. A former boss encouraged me to get my wastewater operator’s license.
PBN: It’s been nearly two years since the Warwick treatment plant was underwater from the March 2010 floods. How did the facility recover?
BURKE: I would not have thought we could get the plant back on line as quickly as we did. We had primary treatment and disinfection up and running in less than a week. Secondary treatment and biological nutrient-removal processes were back on-line (permit compliant) in about two months. We have all new process and electrical equipment and we rebuilt the facility better and more environmentally and operationally efficient than it was before.
PBN: What initiatives are you currently working on?
BURKE: In the next year, I plan to continue implementation of our cost-of-service rate study and new utility billing software. I would like to secure more grants for necessary capital improvement projects. We are currently in the planning stages for a new process that will remove phosphorus to extremely low levels, so we will be very busy with that project. I would also like to complete an overhaul of WSA’s regulations and continue with improvements to our computerized databases, such as our Geographic Information System. •