After nearly four decades of service defined by a barrier-breaking career that helped remold the centuries-old Philadelphia Water Department, Commissioner Debra McCarty announced her retirement at City Hall on Thursday.

Joined by City officials and Water Department staff, Mayor James Kenney recognized McCarty’s tenure in a ceremony marking the end of a dedicated and prolific career in public service. Mike Carroll, Deputy Managing Director of the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure & Sustainability also offered remarks, and City Representative Sheila Hess attended the announcement.

Addressing a packed Mayor’s Reception Room, McCarty marveled at how much the waterways she strove to protect through her work with the City had changed over the years, with improved water quality transforming the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers into “economic engines.”

“No one succeeds on their own,” McCarty told those gathered for her announcement. “I look around me, and I know I’ve been lucky to work with so many dedicated City of Philadelphia employees over the years.”

Appointed as the first woman ever to hold the title of Water Commissioner in January 2016, she oversaw the development and implementation of the nation’s first water affordability program with the launch of the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP) in 2017. To date, more than 20,000 households have enrolled and received more affordable water bills.

McCarty’s other recent career highlights include a long list of achievements:

Commissioner McCarty Leadership Highlights

  • Expanded the Department’s capital program to increase the amount of water and sewer main replacement and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.
  • Implemented a policy providing free curb-to-meter lead pipe removal and replacement for homes found to have lead service lines during scheduled water main replacement work.
  • Expanded a zero-interest loan for emergency residential plumbing repairs to include the removal of lead service lines to help residents get rid of lead pipes.
  • Spearheaded the Department’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) contract negotiations and award.
  • Led the drive to build a newly opened LEED-certified, high-tech Sewer Maintenance Facility in West Philadelphia.

A celebrated graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s Environmental Engineering program, McCarty joined the Water Department as a sanitary engineer at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant in 1982.

She has held several leadership positions at the Department and was appointed Deputy Water Commissioner of the Operations Division in April 2004.

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In that role, she was responsible for overseeing the operation and maintenance of three drinking water treatment plants, three wastewater treatment plants, 3,200 miles of water mains, 3,500 miles of sewers, 79,000 inlets, 25,000 fire hydrants, and various pumping stations throughout the city.

Speaking with her staff for a look back at her tenure with the Water Department, McCarty noted that she found a sense of purpose in a job defined by duty and service.

Below are clips from that conversation:

Water Commissioner Debra McCarty on How the Challenges of Being a Woman in Her Field Made her Stronger:

Water Commissioner Debra McCarty on Her Legacy at PWD

Water Commissioner Debra McCarty on Why You Should Work for the Philadelphia Water Department

Water Commissioner Debra McCarty on How to Get Through Tough Times