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Women in STEM: Danielle Fisher oversees EWEB’s water quality lab

February 08, 2023 Rachael McDonald, EWEB Communications

Woman in lab coat stands in laboratory.

Eugene has some of the best drinking water in the world. That’s thanks to our source, the pristine McKenzie River. It’s also thanks to the people at EWEB; whether an engineer designing a new reservoir, a treatment plant operator ensuring the safety and quality of drinking water, or a member of a crew maintaining the infrastructure in our community, water professionals work around the clock to ensure tap water is there when you need it.

One of those careful professionals is Danielle Fisher who runs the EWEB’s Water Quality Lab at the Hayden Bridge Water Treatment Plant.

“I oversee the operations of the Water Quality Laboratory, and I manage the lab-accredited program,” Fisher said. “So, this laboratory is really in service to the public water system.”

Fisher said she moved into this new state-of-the-art facility just two years ago. She previously worked next door in the 1950s-era Hayden Bridge building.

“When we were designing this laboratory, we kept in mind that that laboratory had been in service to the public water system for about 70 years,” Fisher said. “This lab could be here 70 years. So, it was really important to choose a footprint that would work as well as the different types of equipment that would be needed now and in the future.”

EWEB employees test more than 85,000 water samples from source to tap each year . Fisher said it benefits the public water system to be able to do so much testing onsite, including for potentially harmful bacteria like coliform  and other toxins.

“That keeps costs down,” Fisher said. “We don’t have to take those samples to, say, a private laboratory where it would cost more. We get a really fast turnaround on results. So if there ever were a coliform issue, we can handle it immediately.”

Fisher has expanded the lab’s capacity to include testing for cyanotoxins from algae blooms which can become unsafe in drinking water.

“The most satisfying part of my job for me is anytime I get to bring in a new test method into the laboratory,” Fisher said. “When I first started here, we were just doing, coliform testing and some basic wet chemistry. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to really expand the portfolio of testing that we do here. And that does come from my previous experience too.”

Nancy Toth with EWEB’s drinking water source protection program, said the new lab’s improved capacity has made it possible for her department to be more agile.

“If there is something in the water, we’d like to know that sooner than later, to be able to handle that,” said Toth. “So, it’s extremely valuable both from a time and money savings for the utility.”

Toth said she appreciates Danielle’s commitment to the science of water quality.

“Danielle has a lot of integrity in what she does and I trust her completely,” said Toth.

Brenda Casarez is a water compliance specialist at EWEB. She said everyone at EWEB wants to serve our customers with safe, reliable drinking water and Fisher’s work helps ensure that.

“It is not easy, and she makes it look easy,” Casarez said. “But it is not easy to start all these new testing methods. There’s a lot of work that goes into that.”

Fisher takes her responsibility to be accurate very seriously.

“The core responsibility is that we are generating data of what's called, “known and documented quality,” meaning data that we can prove to be correct,” Fisher explained. “And that data is then used by different groups at EWEB, such as our water quality group or source protection group or the focus and distribution group. They take that data and they make decisions and actions based off of the data that we generate. So in that way, I feel like our work here is of real service to the water operations part of EWEB.”

Fisher said her dream in high school was to be in the medical profession.

“I loved anatomy and physiology and pharmacology and all those types of classes,” Fisher said.  “And once I got into college, I started branching out into genetics and evolution and ecology and found that I also really loved chemistry. So it was really just kind of where my interests took me."

Fisher graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Science. She worked in Southern California for a while the job that didn’t suit her.

She returned to Oregon and began testing drinking water and wastewater for a private company. She moved up from lab tech to lab director over 11 years.

Fisher has been at EWEB for going on 13 years.

“What I take a lot of pride in is the quality of the work that we do here and the data that we produce,” she said.

Fisher said people who are interested in doing lab work should pursue a degree in chemistry, biology, or physics, and to look for internship opportunities – even at the high school level--that can offer hands-on experience in the lab.