Women’s History Month

Highlighting women in the groundwater industry

wilkes-wendi-quoteWendi Wilkes
Manager of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs
Association of State Drinking Water Administrators

How did you enter the water industry?

Water definitely found me. I studied geography at the University of Texas and knew I wanted to work in the environmental field. After graduation, I was hired by a contractor for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. When I arrived, they sent me to the Office of Water and I never looked back!

What has been your proudest career achievement so far?

One of my proudest accomplishments is my promotion to manager of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at ASDWA. It’s an honor to serve in this role and have the opportunity to work so closely with the State Drinking Water Administrators, Environmental Protection Agency, and Congress. I’m also very proud to serve on the American Water Works Association National Young Professional Committee. Being selected for this committee was another moment of achievement for me!

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

Last fall, I wrote a piece for Journal AWWA with my director, Alan, that covered this topic (entitled “Our Water Future Requires Action Now”), and much of it holds true. One of my core principles is to always be in the pursuit of progress and to that end I would love to see the development of what I refer to as a “National Water Vison and Strategy.” The water sector is facing some daunting challenges: workforce renewal, infrastructure replacement, climate change impacts, and affordability of service, to name a few. I’m a strong believer in having a plan and I think our nation would benefit from a strategy that addresses how, collectively, we will reckon with and overcome these challenges. Ideally, the strategy would include the water-energy nexus, increasing innovation in the water sector, modernized data systems, increasing compliance of water systems with federal standards, a unified research agenda, regionalization and cooperative solutions, and an evaluation of success and opportunities of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. It’s a big, ambitious task, but I think it could be a game changer for how different stakeholders (local, state, federal, utility, academia, associations, nonprofits, citizens, etc.) can contribute to, and work toward, shared goals.

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

As a young professional in the field, I may not be full of sage advice yet, but there are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Stay curious — ask questions, pursue interests, get involved, treat every situation like an opportunity to learn more. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, strengthen you, and who you enjoy being around — if I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room. Your network, the people you turn to when you need ideas, advice, inspiration, and encouragement, cannot be understated. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@wendiwilkes) if you want to connect! Never stop getting to know yourself — find your strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. You don’t have to necessarily overcome your weaknesses (no one is perfect!), but always play to your strengths and always have someone you trust who can call you out on your blind spots.

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