Clean Water Maven

Summer 2016

Debra McCarty ’79, Philadelphia Water Department commissioner, is the first woman to hold that post in the agency’s 200-year history. For 34 years, the intricacies of supplying clean water to 1.61 million people has been her round-the-clock preoccupation.

A Baltimore native and environmental engineering major at Johns Hopkins, McCarty became a Philadelphia Water Department sanitary engineer in 1982.

“At the time, there was still federal money from the 1972 Clean Water Act to upgrade our facilities. I watched our largest wastewater treatment plant being upgraded and expanded, and I was responsible for getting the treatment processes to perform as designed,” she says.

Today, as commissioner, McCarty oversees 2,000 employees, a half-dozen treatment plants, and thousands of miles of water mains and sewers. Challenges include aging infrastructure and keeping storm runoff out of rivers.

“We have some of the best-quality water you are ever going to get, and all of our water and wastewater treatment plants are award-winning facilities. And we pride ourselves on doing it at a very low cost,” she says. “The people here do such good work, and they do it together. I am just so proud to serve as their commissioner.”Photo of Debra McCarty