Member’s Corner: Spotlight on Shellie Chard-McClary of Oklahoma

Welcome to the Member’s Corner – our monthly series to introduce and share information about your fellow state drinking water program administrators. Please let us know if you’d like to “volunteer” for an interview.

Shellie Chard-McClary has been the Water Quality Division (WQD) Director for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) since January 2010. She is only the second person to hold the Director position in the 19 year history of Oklahoma DEQ, following the long tenure of Jon Craig. Shellie began to serve on ASDWA’s Board of Directors this calendar year and also participates on ASDWA’s State Resource Needs Advisory Panel. Concurrently, Shellie is serving on the Board of Directors for the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA, formerly known as ASIWPCA) and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC). [Editorial Note: We believe the Oklahoma DEQ must have perfected cloning.] Regarding the upcoming March joint meetings, Shellie says that she is really excited and pleased. “It is a great opportunity for all three of the water organizations to meet together to discuss overlapping issues. So many times we think about our own ‘slice of the pie’ and miss opportunities to address bigger water concerns.”

Shellie received her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to becoming the Director of the WQD, she worked in multiple areas of the state water program and was the Assistant Director (and then later, the Division Director) for Administrative Services. Her job now oversees all of the clean water and drinking water compliance and permitting programs, as well as the DWSRF program and watershed planning. Her children, she says, claim that “my job is to go to meetings.”

The book that made the most impact on Shellie as a water professional is, “The Ghost Map,” by Stephen Johnson. It is about the Cholera outbreak in London in the 1860s which, for the first time, connected drinking water, wastewater, and public health. This book sheds new light on ‘you dump it, you drink it.’ “If you haven’t read it, you should,” she adds.

When we asked Shellie what she feels most passionately about related to drinking water, she noted that she feels strongly about using sound science to address public health impacts. “EPA should be working with states, health agencies, the National Academy of Sciences, CDC, and others to develop drinking water standards rather than allowing sensationalism and law suits to drive policies and decision making.” In addition, Shellie is concerned about the lack of adequate funding to administer the ever expanding regulatory program; implement new rules; and provide adequate technical assistance and funding for water systems to comply with the rules.

The most terrifying thing Shellie has done in her current position is testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the impact of nutrients in water bodies. “If that wasn’t intimidating enough, she says, 30 minutes before my time slot my cab driver drove off with all of my bags. Amazingly enough I got them back three days later delivered to my house by FedEx.”

Shellie has had several humorous experiences in her job as the WQD Director. Three months after she took the position she received a letter back from a municipality that she had signed an order against saying, “Dear Mr. Craig, we received the enclosed order from Shellie Chard-McClary. We will continue working with you on our drinking water and wastewater issues. We will be contacting you by telephone soon so that we can resolve this matter. We would appreciate you informing Ms. Chard-McClary.” Another entertaining “complaint” that Shellie’s office received was from a guy who called and was upset that there was dog poop in his yard. He wanted us to make his neighbor get rid of the dog because he was sure that the dog caused his well to become contaminated with bacteria and nitrates. It turned out that he had a 15 foot deep, hand dug well, covered with plywood and located in the area behind his house that he used as a livestock pen. He would apparently not accept the fact that his 20-30 cows were the cause of the bacteria and nitrates in his well.

For the future of her program, Shellie is focused on financial issues. She believes that the DEQ must find a way to adequately fund the drinking water program or return it to EPA to administer. Oklahoma’s state funding is at 1993 levels. “We have had mandatory increases in health insurance, retirement contributions, and new state drinking water program requirements — in addition to the federal program changes. Our federal money has remained fairly constant, as have the fees we are able to charge. We are trying for the second year in a row to increase fees in order to meet the costs of PWS program implementation. Currently, EPA is administering three rules in Oklahoma already (LT2, Stage 2 DBP, and Groundwater). Systems are confused at who to call and are struggling with the double regulator system we currently have. We have done a good job of ‘doing more with less’ but are rapidly approaching the breaking point.”

Shellie is also focused on technical issues due to drought conditions, expanding metropolitan areas, and cost of treatment; as well as water reuse, which is getting really big in Oklahoma. “Our water reuse rules have passed the first hurdle to get issued. They allow certain industrial uses and landscape uses of treated wastewater rather than potable water being used. It is hoped that this additional source of ‘process’ water will help reduce the volume of source water being treated to drinking water standards only to be used for non-potable uses. Over the next few years, we hope to expand the water reuse rules to allow for more reuse options and opportunities to augment source water.

In her spare time, Shellie likes to go on beach vacations with her husband; attend and watch the football games and tennis matches of her three sons; and attend home football games at University of Oklahoma (“Go Sooners!”). Shellie also gets together with her extended family every week for Sunday lunch, which for any week may include as many as 25-30 people.