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Women’s History Month

Highlighting women in the groundwater industry

Lily R. BarkauLily R. Barkau
Groundwater Section Manager, Water Quality Division
Wyoming Dept. of Environmental Quality
NGWA Member

How did you enter the groundwater industry?

I was fortunate enough to receive a position with a small environmental firm in Wichita, Kansas, when I was an undergrad. The company, Terra Tech Environmental Services, had only three people — the owner, Bruce Reed, geologist and Geoprobe operator, Richard Stone, and myself. We worked on several high-profile groundwater investigations in the Wichita area and I learned so much working with Bruce and Rick.

I received my B.S. in geology from Wichita State in 1998 and an M.S. in environmental science and engineering from Colorado School of Mines in 2004. I’ve worked in consulting and for the past 15 years as a regulator for the State of Wyoming at the Dept. of Environmental Quality. I started with the DEQ in 2006 in Hazardous Waste Permitting and Corrective Action and, in 2015, became the Groundwater Section Manager of the Water Quality Division of DEQ.

What has been your proudest career achievement so far?

In 2011, I received the National Notable Achievement Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the collaborative efforts I was part of in working with Frontier Refining Co., Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. EPA. As part of collaborative efforts, we completed corrective action activities, which included the completion of a Resource Conservation Recovery Act Facility Investigation Report and Corrective Measures Study in 18 months. It also required the completion of the longest barrier wall in Wyoming around the facility to prevent groundwater contamination from migrating off of the refinery and entering Crow Creek. The timeframe to complete the work was the most difficult part of the project, but working with others at the refinery and U.S. EPA was an amazing experience. This is a project that I am very proud of to this day.

Who influenced you to dive deeper into a groundwater-related industry?

Two people. First would be my father, Dr. Robert Barkau, who is now retired. He is a hydraulic engineer. He insisted when I started college that the future was in groundwater and I should focus on geologic engineering and groundwater. I was adamant that I was going to go into mining geology, but he insisted every step of the way that groundwater was going to be my future, as clean water is vital to current and future generations. The second would be Bruce Reed, who gave me that first job and has been my life-long mentor. He made fieldwork fun and gave me real-life experience in groundwater investigations that a textbook couldn’t cover. I stayed in touch with Bruce over the years, who checked in to encourage me in my career. Bruce passed away in 2020 and is terribly missed.

What do you hope for the future of groundwater, hydrogeology, and/or environmental science?

Continued protection and conservation of groundwater. I’ve worked on groundwater contaminated sites/areas for over 25 years and further consideration for protection and immediate response to address spills and releases to the environment are needed. Scientists, regulators, and communities will need to work together to ensure that groundwater is protected and not wasted.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female groundwater professionals?

I feel like a detective some days, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. There are so many ways to look at an issue and there isn’t as clear of an answer as one would hope. Be prepared to wear many different hats working in groundwater. Keep an open mind and work collaboratively with regulators, industry, and the community. It’s a team effort to solve groundwater issues. Always use facts and science to guide your decisions. Never jump to conclusions.

To read more profiles of women in the groundwater industry, click here.