Siri Roman (EnvEngr’03) the next leader of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
When you turn on a faucet, you expect clean water to pour out, but making it happen takes a massive network of pipes, treatment infrastructure, reservoirs and environmental engineers like Siri Roman.
As director of operations for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (ERWSD), Roman oversees the flow of millions of gallons of drinking water and treated wastewater every day in a critical Colorado watershed serving communities including Vail, Avon, and Beaver Creek.
“Working with water and wastewater is so awesome,” Roman said. “Wastewater treatment in particular is something I’m very passionate about. I don’t think you’ll find another job that has a more positive impact on the environment. And it has all the engineering disciplines – electrical, mechanical, plus biology, chemistry, hydrology, water quality, everything.”
Roman, who was recently selected by the district board of directors to be their next general manager starting in January, is a 2003 University of Colorado Boulder environmental engineering Bachelor of Science graduate.
“At 17 I don’t think I totally knew what engineering was, but I liked math and science and had a natural interest in the environment and outdoors,” she said. “I chose CU Boulder because of its location and certainly the engineering school reputation.”
After graduating, she worked in environmental-related positions in multiple mountain towns – Telluride, Bozeman, Aspen, and Vail, continuing to learn new things and offering to help coworkers where she could.
She encourages young engineers to take a similar approach.
“My career has never been linear. I wasn’t aiming to be the district’s general manager. My ambition has always been satisfaction in my job and connection with the community. Each job gave me experience and skills that all fit into this new position,” Roman said.
She also advises students to build a professional network and avoid burning bridges.
“Relationships matter. I’m constantly interacting with people I met 10 to 20 years ago,” she said. “This is an important industry, and it’s a small one.”
Roman joined ERWSD in 2012 and said overseeing operations in a mountain community offers unusual challenges and opportunities.
“Utilities in the West face wildfires, floods, mudslides, and shrinking water supplies due to a warming climate; there’s a lot of risk. We have a Gold Medal fishery at the outfall of one of our wastewater treatment plants. Protecting our watershed for the future is equally as important as providing clean and safe water today. Water operations are 24/7, 365. You can’t turn off the wastewater collection system. It’s very dynamic. Every day is different,” Roman said.
The physical location of the district’s wastewater treatment facilities are in the heart of their communities, which demands exacting standards.
“One of our wastewater treatment facilities is across the street from a five-star hotel, another is next to the largest public park in town. The expectation of our customers is to not notice we’re there. That isn’t easy. All of our facility processes are covered, and we treat the air along with the water. It’s very unique,” she said.
Effectively serving full time residents along with thousands of seasonal tourists creates challenges not faced by many utilities. Depending on the time of year, water usage in the district ranges by 700 percent – from 2 million to 14 million gallons per day.
Although the work is demanding, Roman is exactly where she wants to be.
“People move to the Vail area because they value the environment, and our customers value water,” she said. “I live here for a reason. My family recreates on water everyday – skiing, skinning, swimming, fishing, and walking along the creek. I’m very fortunate.”