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Insights International Women and Girls in Science Day – Senior Hydrogeologist Genevieve Pomerleau

This February 11, we’re marking International Women and Girls in Science Day on a global level as part of our Global Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) Program and our focus on ED&I UN International Days.

This year’s theme of “equality, diversity, and inclusion: water unites us” recognizes the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change. To mark the day, we’ve interviewed Genevieve Pomerleau, Senior Hydrogeologist, Canada, who talks about her career so far and her passion for water supply projects, her advice to aspiring engineers and her favourite projects she has worked on.

According to the UN, "Water use efficiency has risen by 9 per cent, but water stress and water scarcity remain a concern in many parts of the world." Meaning that the work that Genevieve and her team do is more important than ever.

image of Genevieve smiling

Tell us a little bit about your professional background?

My name is Genevieve Pomerleau and I am a senior hydrogeologist based in Nelson, BC in Canada. I am originally from Quebec where I completed a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering and a master’s in hydrogeology. I immediately started working as a consultant after graduating. I started my career working in Quebec and moved to British Columbia a few years later to live in the mountains. The technical challenge, fast pace and practical aspects of consulting suit me well.

This year, International Women and Girls in Science Day has a special focus on SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Can you tell us a little of your experience in helping further this goal in your career?

I developed a passion for water supply projects early on in my career and was always supported by my employers to pursue this expertise.  In the last 25 years, I provided hydrogeological services such as groundwater evaluation, production well design, construction and assessment, groundwater protection planning for various municipalities, other local government, indigenous communities and developers. Outside work, I also volunteered on an interesting project in Ethiopia.  It was a short mission where I completed a Drinking Water Assessment for the City of Gondar.

 Water has always been a valuable resource. In the future it will be more valuable than ever due to sever water stress and water scarcity. What do you think the biggest impact of this will be in society?

Sadly, increasing water scarcity will accentuate the divide that already exists between developed and undeveloped countries, between rich and poor. Even in Canada several smaller rural communities, including indigenous communities, do not have access to clean water and have been on boiling advisories for years. Better water resources management practices have to be implemented at all levels of government. Everyone should have access to potable drinking water.

 What advice would you want to pass along to women and girls who are thinking about a career in engineering?

The fields of geoscience and engineering are fascinating with so many career opportunities.  Don’t underestimate or undervalue yourself, women have a lot to bring to the profession and are an incredible asset for companies.  Follow your heart and go for it, you can make a difference.

What is the coolest project that you have worked on?

I have worked on a wide range of small and large hydrogeological and environmental projects across all client sectors, but I still remember my first municipal water supply project where I led all phases of the project.  The project included desktop groundwater assessment, geophysics surveys, test well drilling, design and drilling of a 400 mm (16 in.) diameter production well in a new area.  When the long duration pumping test confirmed a sustainable rate of 63 L/s (1,000 USgpm), it felt like a great achievement for a young hydrogeologist fresh out of university.  To this day, this the largest drinking water well I designed, drilled and tested.

What is your favourite book and why?

I read “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park with my son a few yeas ago, he was about 10 years old then.  The book is based on two true stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is a two hour walk from her home. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay.

It was eye opening for my son to realize that in the 21st century, access to clean water is still a privilege in several countries. I highly recommend this read for you and your family.