As a Walkerton, Ontario native, providing access to clean water has been Ellen Stitt’s calling since 2000. That year, more than 2,300 people in her hometown became sick and seven people lost their lives after a heavy rainfall event contaminated the drinking water supply with E.coli. It was this crisis event that influenced Ellen’s career path and saw her pursue a Water Quality Technician diploma at Durham College (DC).
“Durham College gave me the education, skills and support I needed to become a treatment plant operator and help prevent major events, like the Walkerton E.coli outbreak, from ever happening again,” says Ellen, who graduated from DC in 2013.
It’s been seven years since she earned her diploma and in that time Ellen has fostered an incredible career. Currently, she works as a senior operator and mechanic with the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) and is the marketing manager for the Ontario Association of Sewage Industry Services. In 2016, she was a recipient of the OCWAmarine Citizenship Award and was a finalist for the Water Environment Association of Ontario’s Outstanding Young Professional Award and the Water’s Next Young Professional Award in 2018.
Aside from her operational responsibilities as a senior operator and mechanic, Ellen facilitates the agency’s OneWater Education workshops, teaching grade eight students about water and wastewater treatment processes and how everyone has a role in protecting and conserving our water. She also promotes the I Don’t Flush campaign, which protects wastewater infrastructure and source waters from items that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, like pharmaceuticals, personal care products, fats, oils and grease and household hazardous waste.
“I love my job and the fact that every day brings a new challenge – you can work in this industry for five years and still not know everything,” Ellen remarks.
Outside of work Ellen volunteers much of her time serving on the Walkerton Clean Water Centre’s Board of Directors and numerous other committees. This includes the Great Waters Challenge Youth Advisory Board with Waterlution, a non-profit organization that promotes water awareness and collaboration. Through her work on this committee, she also co-authored a children’s book entitled Canada’s Great Water Adventure.
Ellen has also had the opportunity to attend Waterlution’s H20 Global Leadership Training, and participated in their Water Innovation Labs in Australia and Canada, where she was chosen to receive seed funding for her project Rain It In, a competition that empowers college and university students to make a difference in their communities and positively impact the environment.
In March 2019, Rain It In became a reality when it was hosted for the first time at DC, with 10 teams from post-secondary institutions across Ontario pitching innovative solutions for mitigating the impacts of intense rainfall events to a panel of industry experts.
“Like with Rain It In, the work I do in the industry helps inspire future water warriors and opens the door for others to dive into a career in water,” says Ellen. “I hope to inspire change in perspectives and behaviours related to how we interact with water in our day-to-day routines.”
Since founding Rain It In, Ellen has graduated from the Water Environment Federation’s 2019 Water Leadership Institute, adding to her long list of accolades. As she looks toward the future, Ellen hopes to eventually transition into a career that is primarily focused on public education and engagement in the water industry.