24 | ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATER MAY 2019
Retrospective and Perspective:
INTERVIEW with Julie Smith
Optimization Engineer, Miller Coors (retired)
By Tanja Rauch-Williams, Ph.D., P.E.
MANY OF US KNOW YOU THROUGH
your work for RMWEA and MillerCoors.
Tell us a bit about your life before.
I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and am
the oldest of three sisters. My dad was a
chemical engineer in the oil industry with
a focus on oil field water treatment for
injection and production wells. He worked
with chemicals to prevent corrosion, scaling,
and bio-growth. During this time the
industry just started to use polymers and
gels for increasing oil production and
minimizing water production from oil
wells. He was a huge skier and formed the
Tulsa ski club to come out every month to
Colorado. As soon as he could transfer to
Colorado, he did.
I was seven at the time and my dad
would take me out to the oil fields with
him on occasion. He would also use our
bathroom to run chloride, pH, and polymer
tests on oil oilfield waters, and he
would let me help him. We spent a lot
of time outside as a family in ski areas
around the state, and I fell in love with
the outdoors by third grade.
What were your first professional
aspirations when you got older?
I had a few horses and in high school
focused on math and science to become
a large animal veterinarian, but I became
disillusioned and instead started to work
for my dad’s company and his partner in
the lab doing bench tests. I actually patented
a few technologies using colloidal
dispersion gels that are still in use in the
Our company grew very fast, and I
enrolled at (Metropolitan State College,
then) for math and chemistry
classes. With a very supportive husband,
I juggled over the coming years
working full-time, having babies, and
taking classes. I eventually transferred
all classes to Colorado School of Mines
and completed my Chemical Engineering
This was a very successful career
start. So how and why did you then
transition to the water field?
In the early ‘90s I started to understand
that our resource consumption is unsustainable.
The New York trash barge fiasco
made me think that our problems should
not be so hard to solve, and I started to
change how I did things in my life. We
converted our company and household
to zero waste, but overall my colleagues
in the petroleum industry were not too
supportive. I saw that everything I did for
the oil industry was geared towards perpetuating
our addiction to petroleum. My
heart and soul were not in it anymore,
and I knew I had to leave and find something
that was more environmentally
sustainable as a career goal.
I looked around and applied at Coors since
they had a good reputation for the environment.
I was not hired as an engineer since
I had no food background, but Gordon
Whittaker hired me in 2000 for the lab
position at the wastewater treatment plant
with the perspective that after some years
I would likely get an engineering position.
I loved the lab and had time to study and
obtain my professional engineering license
since I could only work 40 hours a week.
Coors then paid for my master’s degree in
environmental engineering at Mines from
2002 to 2004. I did a research project with
Linda Figueroa on troubleshooting nitrate
removal at our wastewater treatment plants
and presented at WEFTEC. I also got my
A-operator licenses in water, wastewater,
and industrial during that time.
How did your plans work out to
be promoted into an engineering
position with Coors?
In 2005, I was promoted into a plant engineering
position. My first project was to
add disinfection to our process treatment
plant when we got coliform limits from
the state in mid-2000. In another project
we converted an aeration basin at the process
plant to aerobic digestion to improve
dewatering and reduce sludge hauling
costs at the general treatment plant.
We also switched magnesium hydroxide
and lime addition in the anaerobic pretreatment
plant to soda ash for cost savings
and easier operation. We needed to
stick with our cryogenic oxygen aeration at
the process facility since our reactors were
too small for conventional treatment, but I
got funding for a smaller compressor that
saved us energy. We also added variable
frequency drives to a number of pumps at
the water treatment plant.
How much attention did wastewater
treatment receive within the