UD alumna Sara Albrecht works with Maryland Department of the Environment to reduce nitrogen in Chesapeake Bay

When Sara Albrecht graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with a degree in Natural Resource Management (NRM) from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and followed that up with a Master’s in Agricultural and Resource Economics in 2017, she wanted a job that would allow her to implement conservation practices with regards to nature, but do so in a way that would benefit everybody.

Now working with the Maryland Department of the Environment in their On-Site Systems Division as part of the Bay Restoration Fund, Albrecht gets to do just that, working with members of the local community to upgrade their septic systems to cut down on the amount of nitrogen coming out of their systems and into the Chesapeake Bay.

UD alum Sara Albrecht lowers a well camera to monitor a well as part of her duties with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
UD alum Sara Albrecht lowers a camera to monitor a well as part of her duties with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Using what are known as Best Available Technology (BAT) units to cut down on a minimum of 50 percent to as much as 76 percent of the nitrogen coming out of home owners’ septic systems, Albrecht said that her responsibilities include managing the database of the units and working with counties and contractors who do the actual installation, operation and maintenance of the units.

“Some of my work involves being out in the field, which I greatly enjoy,” said Albrecht. “I do inspections of the units to ensure that they’re running properly, and I’m also being trained to do soil and site evaluations to help repair failing systems.”

Along with installing the BAT units, the Bay Restoration Fund also helps farmers plant cover crops. Both of these practices are integral in trying to cut down on the amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay, which affects everything from shellfish harvesting and crab populations to swimming and recreational uses for the bay.

“The bay is a precious natural resource whose ecosystems have suffered greatly from pollution. It can sometimes take a long time to see results, but we’re finally starting to see impacts of bay restoration efforts,” said Albrecht.

As for her time at UD, Albrecht said that the NRM program suited her perfectly.

“I’ve always loved nature, so I knew I was interested in pursuing that. I loved NRM because it’s all about a balance. I feel that when people think of conservation, they can think of it in isolating terms of ‘don’t develop anything’ or ‘develop everything.’ NRM helps show that there can be a compromise between the two that can benefit everyone. That’s what I really like about it,” said Albrecht.

And while she jokingly admits that she never envisioned herself going into a career involving septic systems, she is enjoying getting to learn more about them while also helping the environment.

“People don’t think about septic systems but they involve really interesting processes. I’m excited to be in this field and I’m excited to be working for the state and the Department of the Environment. I love working here in Baltimore and feeling like I’m giving back to my home state of Maryland,” said Albrecht.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo courtesy of Sara Albrecht

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