What's My Story: Water Quality Engineer

Maverick Raber has been a Water Quality Engineer in the Stormwater Division for the City of Durham since 2011. Over the course of his 10-year career, he has worked for private, federal, state and local agencies improving water quality. His career was following a dream driven by a love of fly-fishing for brook trout. 

Maverick RaberWhen did you discover you liked stormwater?
I didn’t discover that I liked stormwater, I discovered that I loved fly-fishing for trout. As a kid, I was big into the outdoors. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. My original dream in high school was to restore trout streams because even up in the mountains a lot of the streams where I fished were too degraded for trout.  
What did you study in college?

Well, I left the mountains for the coast and went to UNC Wilmington. I was in the environmental science program for my undergraduate studies and in the geology program for my graduate studies. Many people think of geology as the study of rocks, but I was interested in the way streams and rivers carry sediments downstream (sedimentology) and the way the landscape is shaped by rain, erosion, and run off (geomorphology). As an undergrad, I had work-study jobs through the university in the Wetlands Ecology lab and the Chemistry lab. I also worked in the Aquatic Ecology Lab while in grad school. Not only did working in these labs help me pay for my living expenses in college, but they also gave me valuable experience that really prepared me for and gave me an advantage in the job market. 

Once you finished graduate school, where did your career take you?
My first real job was a Staff Geoscientist for a private environmental consulting company in Virginia. We were responsible for investigating and remediating groundwater around a closed landfill. We installed monitoring wells and drilled cores to collect water samples understand how water flowed through the local bedrock. We cleaned up toxic solvents by injecting food for a type of bacteria that would break down the cancerous chemicals and make them harmless. My second job was for USGS Water Science Center in Richmond. I installed and operated real-time water quality monitoring stations across the state of Virginia. These stations measured various water quality parameters every 15 minutes and sent the data back to our office by satellite. That allowed us to see how water quality was changing in streams across the state without having to leave the office. For one of our projects, I backpacked in Shenandoah National Park to monitor the stream concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria. That wasn’t a bad deal for a trout fishing mountain boy! My third job took to me to New Bern, NC to work for the Department of Water Quality in a rapid response team after fish kills and algal blooms. We were like a “CSI fish kill unit.” The work was challenging and fun. Many days were spent in a boat on the Neuse River estuary taking water samples and surveying aquatic vegetation.  We also had regulatory and enforcement responsibilities along the miles and miles of the inner banks of North Carolina. When the recession started, the rapid response teams lost their funding and the office was closed. Just before the office shut down, I got my fourth job back in Wilmington with an environmental consulting firm. Our task was to identify good locations for stream and wetland restoration for a large North Carolina mine. In the past, farmers would dig ditches to drain wetlands so they could till the soil. We located pieces of property that had been converted to farmland and restored them back into wetlands. To do this, we had to design the contours of the topography, specify the native plant species to be installed, and then monitor the success of the restoration.

What do you like about your job today?
The City of Durham is really innovative. I work with some really smart people that are willing to try creative pollution prevention strategies and think outside of the box. We strive to provide the residents of Durham with the most bang for their buck by implementing high quality cost-effective programs. We have a couple of really cutting edge studies underway. One looks at how mats of algae can help us remove nutrients from the water. This is an important study because a lot of the City’s streams drain to lakes that supply drinking water.

What makes a career water quality science satisfying?
It is important to me to make our programs work better so that we really make a difference in water quality. My goal to have the best trained water monitoring staff practicing the most stringent sampling protocols so that we can really measure whether these innovations like rain gardens work. I would really like to see my profession bring trout back to those mountain streams back home.

- By Lucy Laffitte

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