A part-time job led Emily Fritz to a full-time career as one of Louisville’s top water scientists. She first got into the field as a biology student at the University of Louisville, where she worked long hours in the chemistry lab, focusing on ecology, which meant she took many courses in river and stream ecology.
“I knew early on that working in environmental science and water quality would be something I wanted to pursue,” Fritz says.
One summer she participated in a co-op at Louisville Water Company, which she was drawn to because the company “has a history of being a pioneer in water quality,” she says. The co-op led to part-time work that turned into a full-time position after she graduated.
Today, her title is Scientist 1 in Water Quality Compliance. She spends her work hours analyzing water samples, entering data, compiling reports and reading national news and regulatory notes related to water.
“My primary analytical responsibilities are heavy metals in drinking water, for which I maintain all EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] certifications,” Fritz said. “As a scientist at Louisville Water, I have to be knowledgeable of current regulations and the delicate balance of water quality to meet all regulations—as well as to prepare for future regulations.”
One of the current EPA regulations is the Lead & Copper Rule, which is designed to minimize heavy metals in drinking water by reducing its corrosiveness. Lead has been in the headlines during the last few years in other parts of the country, but it’s not a water quality concern in Louisville. The city’s water does not contain lead when it leaves the treatment plant. It’s a potential risk for drinking water only in distribution systems with lead pipes and plumbing.
Louisville Water has a multi-pronged approach to managing potential lead risk that includes proactive customer education, maintenance of distribution mains and elimination of any remaining lead service lines. The approach also includes a commitment to maintaining excellent water quality through corrosion control and continual research—and that’s where Fritz comes in.
“The water chemistry plays a critical role in maintaining water stability and reducing corrosion,” Fritz says. “We maintain ‘scale forming’ water chemistry, which refers to the amount of calcium magnesium that precipitates out and coats the interior of metal pipes such as lead and copper. This provides a protective layer between the water column and any metal plumbing materials.”
Fritz also oversees a comprehensive School Lead Monitoring Program. Louisville Water initiated it in the late 1980s before the Lead and Copper Rule was even implemented, and the company launched an even more robust program in 2004 by offering free monitoring to all schools in the company’s tri-county service area.
“Although this program is voluntary, our community’s schools realize the importance of water quality within their facilities, and participation has been excellent,” Fritz says. “In recent months, Louisville Water has begun providing the same free monitoring program to daycares and childcare centers within our service area.”
She says the most challenging part of her job is “to always be prepared for change, whether that comes in the form of regulatory change, treatment changes or changes in technology. It is essential to identify gaps, gather and analyze information skillfully and develop solutions. Staying abreast of new information and figuring out how to apply new knowledge is challenging, but we have an established team of scientists who work well together to accomplish these tasks.
“It is especially rewarding to see our team work together during a water quality event to ensure quality is strictly maintained. For example, in 2012 we had the largest taste and odor event ever recorded due to an algae bloom on the [Ohio] river, but we did not receive a single customer complaint. Our monitoring programs, treatment strategy and plant operations were successfully implemented.”
“I am very fortunate to say that I love my job,” Fritz added. “It is very rewarding knowing that our efforts can make a difference in a positive way. Louisville Water provides an excellent service to our community, and we serve as an example to other utilities across the country that face similar challenges.”