Integrity Key to Success, Says Water Safety Expert
Canadians count on safe water flowing from their taps, and Dr. Steve Hrudey, P.Eng., has dedicated his career to ensuring that happens.
A world-renowned expert on drinking water safety, Dr. Hrudey’s advocacy efforts and contributions to environmental health sciences over the past 40-plus years were recognized in 2019 when he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada.
The recognition was an honour, but protecting public health is his biggest reward—and something that requires continued diligence by professionals, regulators, public health officials, utility boards, and politicians alike.
“Producing consistently high-quality, safe drinking water requires investment and commitment. It doesn’t just happen—it requires skilled, knowledgeable operators, and that costs money,” says Dr. Hrudey, who served as APEGA’s president in 2016.
“Any time the responsible parties take their eye off that ball, you’re at risk.”
Dr. Hrudey understands those risks all too well.
Over the course of his career, he’s served on 28 national and international expert panels on science and public policy, with a focus on environmental health risks.
Among them: in the 1980s, he led an independent expert investigation of Edmonton’s drinking water quality, and in 2000 he served on the research advisory panel for Ontario’s Walkerton Inquiry, which examined the town’s fatal waterborne E. coli outbreak.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, have also co-authored two internationally published books, which studied the causes, consequences, and lessons learned from nearly 100 waterborne disease outbreaks in developed nations around the world.
Steve Hrudey, P.Eng., and his wife Elizabeth Hrudey
“By and large, drinking water in Canada is safe, but there are far too many places where we’re treading close to the line of allowing things to go wrong—mostly in smaller, more remote communities,” notes Dr. Hrudey.
As a young boy growing up in Edmonton, Dr. Hrudey tinkered in his dad’s garage, trying to figure out how things work. Later, he chose engineering as a career because of its focus on critical thinking and the application of scientific evidence to solve real-world problems.
He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Alberta in 1970 before earning an M.Sc. and a PhD in public health engineering from the Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London.
Early in his career, he worked as an environmental regulator with British Columbia and Environment Canada before joining the University of Alberta as a professor in 1975, retiring as professor emeritus in 2008. He spent 13 years as a cabinet-appointed member of Alberta’s Environmental Appeals Board and was the first non-lawyer to serve as its chair.
Over the past almost three decades, he has served his profession as an APEGA committee volunteer and councillor—another opportunity to use his knowledge and skills to protect the public.
“Self-regulation is a privilege, not a right, and it can only be sustained for our professions if we continue to place the public interest above the self-interests of our members,” he says.
Looking back, Dr. Hrudey says the key to his success has been “integrity above all else.”
Those are words he’s lived by during 46 years as a professional engineer.
“That has to be the foundation for all professional engineers and geoscientists. Keep making sure that you can justify and defend the professional advice you provide.”