Water Hero: Carol O’Donoughue

Name: Carol O’Donoughue

System: Alburgh Fire District #1

Title: Water Operator

Tell us about your water system.

Alburgh Fire District #1 is a small surface water system, serving 27 connections in the Alburgh Springs neighborhood. It was originally a private water system, but in 2004 members decided to form a fire district to be eligible for state revolving funds (SRF) to fund an upgrade to the water system. The new  treatment plant was built in 2006.

The fire district has had exclusively female operators for its existence—first Nancy Christopher, then Judy Benjamin, and now Carol, who has served in her role for 18 years.

A volunteer board oversees the fire district’s operations. Carol’s husband, Ron Haskell, is the board chair. The treasurer, Sara Bigelow, has served in her role for over 17 years. Suzanne Lynch was the clerk for a long time and recently retired, so the fire district has a new clerk, Angela Prefontaine.

Carol O’Donoughue at the source water intake for Alburgh Fire District #1.

How did you get started in the water resources industry?

When the new surface water system was built in 2006, the fire district needed a certified operator. Matt Guerino—who was then a certification officer for the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, and later worked at Vermont Rural Water—asked Carol to step up and become the certified water system operator. So Carol took a course at Vermont Technical College in Randolph (now Vermont State University). She studied and passed the Class 4 surface water treatment exam and has been the certified operator for the past 18 years.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Carol said that spending time at the water treatment plant is a favorite part of the job. The sounds of the treatment plant making water are gratifying, and knowing that she is providing safe water to her community brings her a great amount of satisfaction and a sense of community.

What are you proud of?

Carol is very proud to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. When Carol first became a water operator and started attending classes, she was always the only female. Now she sees other women in classes.

She is also proud that she has been able to deal with a tricky surface water intake. The water source is Missisquoi Bay in Lake Champlain, which is very shallow with a maximum depth of about 15 feet. Surface water systems are encouraged to have their water intake at 80 feet deep. The bay being shallow poses turbidity problems, which cause many operational challenges. Carol has been able to meet these challenges and produce high-quality, good-tasting water for her consumers.

What challenges does your system face?

Carol says it is a challenge for her to be able to retire, because there isn’t someone else to take over as water operator. Surface water treatment is tricky, and it would be too expensive for this very small system to hire a contract operator.

Do you have any advice for other water/wastewater operators in Vermont?

Carol recommends having a good mentor and resources to turn to when you need help.

Ray Solomon with the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division has been Carol’s mentor throughout the years. Ray taught Carol about water chemistry and coagulation chemistry, and has continued to answer her calls for assistance throughout the years. Carol said that she has appreciates working with DWGPD.  They do their best to be helpful and provide useful guidance.

Carol also said that Vermont Rural Water has been a good, reliable resource over the years.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

Water operations is her hobby!! 😊 She loves being a water operator but does have some fun things she enjoys such as painting with watercolors and leading senior strength training classes. Carol also owns her own business as a French–English translator, where she works part time now.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Carol is originally from Montreal and relocated to Alburgh Springs to be with her husband. She likes the saying, “Bloom where you are planted” and lives her life this way.  Being the water operator for Alburg FD#1 is her blooming where she is planted.  Carol enjoys a happy life! 

Thank you, Carol, and to all of Vermont’s water and wastewater heroes who perform essential services to protect the health and environment of our communities!

Do you know a Water Hero who should be featured here? Email info@vtruralwater.org