Pam Parker '88

 

From the Poop Deck

%537%right%Someone who dons the professional nickname "princess of poop" clearly loves her job. And if wastewater discharge is the issue, the princess, a.k.a. Pam Parker '88, is the authority.

As manager of Pumpout Grant, Overboard, and Vessel Discharge Programs for Maine's Department of Environmental Protection, Parker oversees programs that regulate and license sanitary waste discharges into Maine's streams, rivers, bays, and ocean.

Important stuff? Consider that the untreated sewage from just two recreational boaters in one weekend puts the same amount of bacterial pollution into the water as does the treated sewage of 10,000 people. Parker's royal status is well deserved.

She spent the summers of her youth on Cape Cod and later on the Maine coast, where she caught hermit crabs, built mini-ecosystems, and lay on the dock observing the happenings underwater. Though she came to Colby wanting to become a veterinarian, Parker realized she "didn't have the intensity." She changed course and majored in biology with an environmental science concentration. In her junior year her interest in marine biology blossomed while she participated in the Sea Semester out of Woods Hole, Mass. The classes on land and on a research vessel were academically rigorous, she recalls, and they "lit my fire for learning. The professors at Colby really inspired me to become a learner. So by the time my senior year came around I hit my stride academically. I learned how to learn."

After graduation Parker looked for an environmental job using Colby's alumni career network. An alumnus encouraged Parker to apply to the state government in Maine, where she cut her teeth on the state's version of the federal Super Fund program. Four years later Parker moved to her current job, in the Bureau of Land and Water Quality, and started managing the overboard discharge (OBD) program. Overboard discharges come from residential and commercial dwellings with treatment systems that discharge directly into water. Armed with a legislative mandate to reduce the number of OBDs, Parker's team helps property owners replace those systems with septic systems or tie into municipal sewage systems.

It's not always easy. What she calls the silver-handle syndrome ("hit the silver handle and it all goes away") afflicts many. In some cases, homeowners don't want to spring for a septic system. "Granite countertops are much sexier than septic systems," Parker said. But sexy doesn't hold water. When Parker took over in 1992, there were approximately 3,000 OBD licenses in Maine; fewer than 1,600 now exist.

Parker recently co-wrote national precedent-setting cruise ship legislation. After high-profile cruise ship violations of the Clean Water Act in the 1990s, "we wanted to make sure we protected our water quality, because theoretically that's why these ships were coming to Maine, for the scenic beauty," Parker said. A cruise ship creates between 300,000 and 400,000 gallons of wastewater each day, and Maine law now prohibits discharges into Maine's harbors unless stringent treatment standards are met.

%538%right%The pump-out program, which Parker also manages, targets recreational boats. Grant money subsidizes marinas and boatyards to install pump-out stations for small boats, which pay a nominal fee to pump out their holding tanks. Parker is a customer, too, when she pumps out Portunus, a 40-foot wooden yawl she now owns and whose lifelines she held while learning to walk.

By water and land, Parker knows the locations of all Maine's pump-out stations and can point out former hazardous waste sites and new septic systems around the state. When she's out for leisurely drives with her husband, he asks, "Can't we just enjoy the scenery?"

But she does,enjoy herself, that is. "What really floats my boat is helping people work together to solve an issue," Parker said. "I have the privilege of having the potential to come to work every day and make a difference. It might take five years to notice, but I made a difference."

For that, this princess deserves a promotion. "The czarina of crap," she suggested. With a tiara and "lots of velvet."

,Laura Meader