The eight women engineers who helped change the world of wastewater

You need a strong stomach to work with sewage and women are proving they’re just as tough as their male colleagues at the North West’s regional water firm.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, United Utilities has named four of its own female engineers and four women engineers from partner/supplier firms who were instrumental in introducing a ground-breaking technology to treat wastewater.

Nereda® is an award-winning aerobic granular sludge technology that has significantly reduced the company’s investment costs to treat sewage, reduced its reliance on chemicals for phosphorus removal and at the same time improved the firm’s carbon footprint.

Working together the eight women engineers were fundamental to the successful introduction of this emerging technology in an industry that is often resistant to change.

United Utilities’ chief innovation engineer, Lisa Mansell led the company’s evaluation of the new technology and convinced stakeholders to take on what was seen as a more risky solution.

Joanne Rands, head of process delivery in engineering at United Utilities, used her problem-solving and influencing skills to smooth the path of this implementation during many challenges.

Process engineer at United Utilities, Rebecca Shields, was instrumental in commissioning the technology for use at wastewater treatment works in Morecambe and Failsworth and was on the United Utilities’ graduate scheme at the time. She has worked closely with her colleague Emma Brabazon lead process engineer on the Blackburn and Westnewton Nereda schemes, who endeavoured to learn the lessons on earlier schemes to improve our understanding and delivery of Nereda solutions.

Elizabeth Fox, worked at United Utilities as a process engineer putting the pilot plant through its paces and then went on to commission the Morecambe Nereda plant in a new role at Construction Delivery Partner, C2V+.

Wanda Koczula, Senior Process Engineer from Nereda technology supplier Royal HaskoningDHV, was involved in Kendal and Morecambe designs, and was fundamental to project start-up and operations.

She worked alongside her colleagues Cristina Cominelli and Saskia Moll, who worked on the software and assessed the suitability of the batch recipes which ensure the process is treating the wastewater effectively and efficiently.

The hard work of these pioneering women engineers meant that the technology was successfully introduced at five of United Utilities’ wastewater treatment works ranging from the largest new build Nereda plant in Europe at Blackburn wastewater treatment works to the world’s first Nereda package plant at Westnewton.

Lisa Mansell comments: “It’s really important to show the great work that many female engineers are responsible for in our society and to showcase the work we do to inspire the younger generation. Many girls in school don’t see a career for themselves in engineering due to it still being a heavily male dominated sector but it does make for a really rewarding career.

“It’s also fantastic to share the career progression opportunities in engineering too. Rebecca Shields, a graduate process engineer, came with enthusiasm to take on the new opportunity, a keenness to learn and has now moved into her full role as a process engineer bringing a wealth of knowledge not only of Nereda but on the wider complexities of implementing innovations at full scale.

“Find what you are passionate about and believe in yourself! Often women don’t apply for roles if they don’t think they will get them or that they don’t tick all the boxes. It took a really great mentor for me to see what I could achieve and for me to stop holding myself back from opportunities,” she added.

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