Engineers Week Spotlight: Richelle Hines, Engineering Project Manager

In honor of Engineers Week 2020, we asked one of your very own engineers to share their insights and experiences with us, and ultimately share why they love what they do. This article is written by Richelle Hines, an Engineering Project Manager here at Charlotte Water, who shares the “magic” behind what it means to be an engineer.

As an engineer I feel like a magician. I fell in love with wastewater when I toured a plant in college. When you think about everything that is in our wastewater and seeing how we treat it to be cleaner than the water in the river, now that’s magic! Our distribution system is amazing also. You can’t see it except for a manhole lid or water valve cover, but our system stretches miles underground. We collect wastewater from over 260,000 customers and send it to one of our five treatment plants to work our magic. On our drinking water side, it is just as amazing with having three drinking water plants and delivering this water to over 290,000 customers! Magic!

As a project manager I design and review plans to make sure they meet our standards. What that entails is ensuring the pipe is at an appropriate depth, we choose the right material, our slope is between our allowable limits, etc. When we review the plans we try to address construction issues and constraints that may come up.  My favorite part of the job is helping residents. I get calls from residents asking why we are painting lines on the road and I explain how we are locating utilities. I’ll get questions asking what survey crews are doing and if the flag colors have specific meaning. I’ll also get high level questions regarding how a project will affect their property. I like to be transparent and put myself in the customer’s situation when helping them.

As an engineer you are thinking about current issues we face while also looking at the future. When we design water and wastewater distribution systems it’s a balancing act of predicting what future growth we expect while also realizing that the larger our water and wastewater pipes and system are the more money they cost to build and maintain.

It’s easy for our industry to be taken for granted. We turn on the faucet and water comes out. We flush our toilets and water disappears. Our system is out of site. Until an issue comes up, we don’t think about it. Engineers are just one part of Charlotte Water. I have to give a shout out to our plant operators who keep our plants running seamlessly. Charlotte Water also has amazing field operators who maintain our distribution system and make emergency repairs at all hours of the night. During weather events that shut down the city, our staff is still working 24/7.

Being an engineer is a dynamic job that is sometimes hard to explain what we do on a day to day basis. I enjoy working for Charlotte Water and the service side of helping out the community. Next time you turn on the tap or flush your toilet think about the engineering that goes behind making it happen!