The work just seems to keep flowing for Vernon’s own Western Water Associates.
With their humble beginnings in the spring of 2011 when they opened up a one-room office in Winfield and reached into their own pockets to get things up and running, the water-focused environmental consulting firm has now grown from an original group of four to a staff of 16 with three offices: the Vernon headquarters, and branch offices in Prince George and Victoria.
Owned, staffed and operated by professional geoscientists, engineers and biologists, Western Water Associates provides hydrogeology and environmental consulting services across B.C. and a few other Canadian Provinces and Territories.
“We assist a wide range of clients throughout the entire Okanagan and beyond from our Vernon office,” says Doug Geller, who is the firm’s founding President.
Geller, a professional hydrogeologist with about 30 years of experience, says it’s an extremely interesting time to be involved in the business of water in British Columbia.
“Climate change, continued population and economic growth, and regulations mandating sustainable management of water are all adding up to a demand for our service,” he adds.
As the company hits its stride after eight years in operation, Geller feels fortunate to be surrounded by a great staff, about half of whom share a stake in the company as owners. Western Water’s employees volunteer in the community and the firm regularly donates to non-profits and charities and also sponsors sporting and fundraising events like the Okanagan Shuswap Century bike ride.
In the Okanagan, a typical project might involve obtaining a permit to replace one of the many docks destroyed in the 2017 lake flood, conducting an environmental assessment for a municipal road construction project, assisting with creek dredging and flood mitigation, or overseeing the installation of a new water supply well for one of the local water providers or agricultural producer.
Higher profile projects in the recent past have included the Swan Lake Water Quality Study for RDNO, finding a temporary replacement water source for the contaminated Steele Springs Water supply in the Hullcar Valley, and assisting Veg Pro International with a number of water-related needs for its new facility on Highway 6 in Coldstream.
Western Water’s clients range from individual property owners to municipal and regional governments, Provincial Ministries, industry, agriculture, and First Nations.
“We do a lot of collaborative partnering with other firms such as civil engineers and others with complementary expertise,” says the firm’s Vice President and recent Top 40 Under 40 award-winner Ryan Rhodes.
Rhodes, who grew up in Trail, B.C. has seen first-hand how the Interior has diversified from its largely resource-dependent economy.
“The growth of tourism, agriculture, wine and other industries wouldn’t happen without access to reliable water,” says Rhodes.
Western Water Associates maintains a casual workplace environment.
“We not only accept, we encourage our staff to get outdoors and to do good things in our community,” says founding partner Bryer Manwell.
An environmental engineer, Manwell grew up in the oil patch of Alberta and moved to the Okanagan after completing her Master’s degree in the mid-2000s. She, along with Geller, Rhodes and others with the firm volunteer their time and expertise on a number of professional association boards, committees and non-profits and encourage the staff at Western Water to do the same.
The Vernon office, as well as the other branch offices, are staffed with many people who grew up in the communities with Vernon boasting three born-and-raised Vernonites in its ranks.
Lifelong Vernon area resident Trina Koch is the firm’s Senior Biologist. In the 2000s she worked as a water protection officer for the Ministry of Environment, later transitioning to consulting, starting with larger firms. With her degree in Freshwater Science from UBCO, she quickly learned how much she enjoyed working with community groups.
“I love how Western Water Associates has not only enabled me but encouraged me to work with local non-profits such as the Society to Protect Kalamalka Lake (now called Keep Kal Lake Blue),” says Koch, adding that with her previous jobs that probably would not have been possible without having to jump through a lot of hoops.