Lifetime Member – Carrie Baron (inducted in 2021)

Note to Reader:

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia has honoured Carrie Baron as a Lifetime Member because of her sustained commitment and contributions over two decades to the enduring success of the Partnership. Carrie Baron is an innovator and local government leader in the Metro Vancouver region. Below, she reflects on her career as a professional engineer. Her life story makes for an interesting read. One of the first generation of women to go into civil engineering in Manitoba, Carrie Baron has left her imprint on the profession.

Carrie Baron, P.Eng.

“Growing up, I lived across Canada. I started in Richmond playing in ditches before moving with my family to Edmonton. Then it was onto Montreal before finally graduating from high school in Winnipeg,” recalls Carrie Baron.

“Coming out of high school, I was interested in chemistry and thus entered the engineering program at the University of Calgary in 1979.  I worked at the Shell refinery in Winnipeg in the testing lab for the summers.”

“After two years in engineering at U of C, I decided I wanted to be a civil engineer instead of a chemical engineer.  So, in 1981, I transferred back to Winnipeg to enter the civil engineering program at the University of Manitoba. In the summers I worked for the City of Winnipeg doing work on rain water management and water systems.”

Overcoming Gender Stereotyping!

“In 1985, I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. From there, I worked for the City of Winnipeg before starting my consulting career. There were few women in engineering when I graduated.  Manitoba was in a significant recession such that it was a difficult period for new graduates to get jobs.”

“At the time, the government had some equal opportunity programs, but many thought these were the only reason that the women were hired.  Many of us had to prove we were good engineers and deserved our positions.  We also had to overcome stereotypical thinking that we were only in the profession to get married and would therefore leave at the first opportunity!”

An Early Career Focus on Drainage Modelling

“A year later, in 1986, I joined ID Engineering in Winnipeg.  While I worked on a variety of projects, I was soon focused into stormwater management work and solving drainage issues.  I worked on combined sewer modelling and spring thaw simulations.  Today’s graduates might find it hard to believe that original coding was done on tape and then later on early computer systems.”

“During this period, I worked with Reinhardt Sprenger who helped test early SWMM models with professors from Florida.  We would test coding by doing hand calculations on gate and chamber losses etc. In the early days of modelling, the systems were know to have many flaws. So, continuity checks etc., were important to ensure that results made sense!”

“In Winnipeg, the majority of our  work involved combined sewer modelling.  We also modelled new developments with complex pond systems, spring thaw with partial frozen waterways and complex pump systems, plus flood modelling.  Most modelling involved a version of SWMM or HEC 2 as this was the period before HEC RAS.”

The Move to British Columbia

“In 1991, ID Engineering purchased Duncan & Associates, a BC company. The firm needed a drainage engineer to assist the BC offices particularly with the design of the 1994 Commonwealth Games facilities. And so I was transferred to the Victoria office in 1991 where I worked under Stuart Parkinson.”

First Victoria

“While based at the Victoria office, I worked on various water resource projects. These included the University of Victoria student housing (used for Commonwealth Games), various subdivision designs, modelling sanitary and storm services for the Western Communities in the Capital Regional District (this was prior to sewage treatment or collection), and also some logging road bridge hydraulics.”

Then Surrey

“In 1994, I was transferred to the Surrey offices of the ID Group because they needed a hydraulic modeller to assist with various projects.  While In Surrey, I worked under John Sidnell and Sudu Vatagodakumbura. We were one of the first firms to undertake master drainage modelling for the City of Surrey.  The three of us had been involved in this type of modelling across Canada  – Manitoba and BC for myself, Ontario and Alberta for Sudu and John.”

“In 1995, I left ID Group just before it was purchased by a large consulting firm, and joined Dillon Consulting in Richmond. At Dillon I reported to Dave Clark who had a wealth of knowledge in environmental engineering. Dillon Consulting in Richmond was primarily focused on natural environment and contaminated sites. I brought the drainage perspective to the group in BC and assisted in merging projects involving the design and integration of the natural environment in drainage works.”

“In 1996, Dillon was given the challenge by the City of Surrey to develop a summer employment opportunity so that students could gain experience by doing work in Surrey creeks.  The scope of work included creek enhancements and community education.  Ken Bennett, City of Surrey, and I developed the Salmon Habitat Restoration Program (SHARP). It has now been in place for over 25 years in the City of Surrey.  For the first 20 years, I was part of the program.

25 Years at the City of Surrey

“In 1997, I was recruited by the City of Surrey to assist with resolving significant flooding that had occurred in the winter of 1996/1997.  Before that, I had been seconded to the City for a few months because they were short staffed.  Within my first month at the City, I was dealing with additional flood events.  When I first joined the  City, I reported to Eric Emery. Soon I  was dealing with flooding issues and those of drainage planning and land development.”

“A few months after I started, the manager of engineering split the drainage section into two sections.  One section would focus on land development and planning for development while the other section would focus on resolving drainage issues.  I was appointed manager of the existing drainage systems section.”

Dual Portfolio: Drainage and Environment

“The City created a drainage utility to assist with development, lowland flooding and the significant flooding from the winter runoff in the urban areas.  With this transfer of funding, the natural environment was rolled into the drainage section. It was then that my portfolio was expanded to encompass both drainage and environment.”

“I would manage this section for almost 20 years. My expanded duties included fisheries approvals for capital and maintenance works, flooding issues, urban dyking issues and foreshore areas, spill investigations and contaminated sites issues.”

“Once created, the drainage and environment section coordinated monthly ERC meetings with federal and provincial approving agencies. As well, we facilitated the process for obtaining the fisheries approvals. Over the years, the approval processes changed as higher level legislation changed.  Similarly, contaminated sites regulations frequently changed and it was my section’s responsibilities to stay on top of the legislation.”

“In or about 2015, the City put the two drainage sections back together but spun off the environment portfolio.  By 2015, the environment portfolio was quite large because the expanded responsibilities included new bylaws such as the Sediment and Erosion Control Bylaw and a revised Drainage Bylaw. The latter included receiving water quality and a new Soil Bylaw.”

Leadership and Innovation Along a Continuum of Interests

“Through the years, I have been involved with regional, provincial and federal committees on fisheries, contaminated site, climate change and sea level rise. I sat on the sea level rise consortium with multiple governments and experts from BC, Washington State, Oregon, etc.”

“I was also on the CSAP board of directions for 4 years at the request of the BC government. From 2000 onwards, I sat on the Fraser Basin Council’s Joint Partnership Committee. I was also a member of Metro Vancouver’s Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) from about 2000 until my retirement.”

“More recently, I was involved with the National Floodplain Mapping Program as a reviewer on numerous documents.  Similarly, as a CSA reviewer on a flood risk document.  I continue to serves as a member of the UBC advisory panel for the Masters of Urban Systems.”

“During my 25-year tenure with  the City of Surrey, I was  involved with the development of Surrey’s Integrated Stormwater Management Plans (ISMPs), the updated Official Community Plan, numerous Neighbourhood Concept Plans, the original Surrey Sustainability Charter as well as the subsequent update, the Environmental Management Plan which was followed by the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, and most recently, the Climate Action Strategy.  This was one of the first climate action strategies. We later updated it with more recent science.”

“My section was responsible for the City’s Climate Change Sea Level Rise reports and later the City’s Coastal Flood Adaptation Strategy (CFAS).  After CFAS was adopted by Council, the City was successful in obtaining significant DMAF funding to begin some of the works.  These works are ongoing and include such items as a Living Dyke and Sea Dam replacements to name a few.”

Career Reflections

“When I reflect on my career, it is with a sense of satisfaction because of the enjoyable opportunities I had to work on a variety of issues. These opportunities allowed me to push forward science and incorporate new ideas and concepts.”

“Our society is always changing and we need to be open to change and learning from nature. We also cannot work in silos.  Our best progress comes from working together and solving issues together.  Younger staff also need to move forward with their ideas and concepts,” concludes Carrie Baron.