Interests in water, the outdoors and the environment guide career path
It’s another hot Florida afternoon when Emily Wakley steps out of her truck to visit a local plant nursery in central Florida. The trip is to review compliance with a consumptive use permit, part of her responsibilities as a hydrologist with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Inspired by a college class during her sophomore year at the University of South Florida, Wakley graduated with degrees in environmental science and policy, music studies, and a master’s in public health.
In 2010, her interests led to a job within the district’s water well construction program — a fitting place to begin a career in water since wells can be, many times, where the water starts. Taking knowledge gained from her previous job with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, Wakley never hesitated to ask questions. She says, “This program is very interesting because it can be a male-dominated field of work, especially the contractors you work with on a daily basis. It was a little bit daunting to think about at first, knowing that.”
In her current role in water use permitting, where she reviews consumptive use permit (CUP) applications and compliance, Wakley’s daily work ranges from groundwater modeling and geographic information system (GIS) work to occasionally conducting a bit of research to understand different processes and industries. “We face the challenge of limited resources, especially in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) area.” The CFWI, a collaborative water supply planning effort, covers a five-county area with a shared goal of ensuring water supplies meet future demands.
For Wakley, water is seen as an important, limited resource. She finds pride working in a field that allows her to make a positive contribution that ultimately benefits not only natural resources, but also people. She shares that, “It’s exciting when we find projects that can provide benefits and utilize water that might otherwise be wasted. In Florida, water is often seen as a readily available resource, yet there are many places in the world where water is very scarce.”
One of the most exciting areas of her work includes learning about different industries as well as seeing and understanding how water is used in different areas across communities. Through her work she’s become a steward for Florida’s resources, working to strike a balance between water resources and water demands.
Turning a love of nature into a career is something she would encourage young women to try, knowing that there are many paths to follow. Wakley’s own career is one that parallels life-long personal interests in water, the outdoors and the environment. She also continues to indulge her love of music as a member of the Maitland Symphony Orchestra where she plays clarinet. To young women undecided in their career, she says, “Don’t be afraid to pursue your passion and work through the challenges. You can be great and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”