Kim Sturgess needs her space. She has lived high on the banks of the Elbow River in Springbank, just west of Calgary, for 21 years, and is acutely aware that water is essential to her - and everyone's - quality of life.
The professional engineer, entrepreneur and corporate veteran is channelling her expertise into Alberta WaterSmart, a not-for-profit group committed to improving management of the province's quickly diminishing water resources.
She says that when the South Saskatchewan River basin was closed to new water permits in August, 2006, Alberta experienced a major shift - a "now what do we do?" moment.
"It doesn't take much looking at the facts to see that water is the next important issue that Albertans will have to face," she says. "We're already short."
As chief executive officer of Alberta WaterSmart, the 52-year-old is leading several initiatives, including a Web portal through which entrepreneurs and researchers can communicate and share water data.
"I'm convinced the portal is our legacy," says Ms. Sturgess, who today is named, in the Professionals category, as one of Canada's Top 100 most powerful women by the Toronto-based Women's Executive Network.
Along with building public awareness about water issues, Alberta WaterSmart also works with industry. "Eighty-four per cent of the water in our province is allocated to some form of industrial use," notes Ms. Sturgess.
She has worked with Newalta Corp., Canada's largest industrial waste-management and environmental services company, to recycle and reuse oil-field wastewater for industrial purposes.
"It's a change in thinking - that water is not a waste product, but also a revenue stream," she says.
"As we develop new water-management practices, they've got to end up as new business opportunities."
Alberta WaterSmart is also working to influence the province's building code, which does not allow the use of recovered or recycled water to flush toilets or irrigate.
She explains: "We're not lobbyists or advocates," but rather engineers who want to create practical solutions that work for everyone.
Ms. Sturgess, whose country home is shared with two cats and a white German shepherd, Chinook, is an engineering physics major who specialized in applied magnetics at Queen's University.
She says that when she arrived at the Kingston, Ont., school, she knew she was in the right place. With a father in the military, she had lived all across Canada. "I actually spent more time at Queen's than any other place I'd lived. It became my home."
At 24, she joined Queen's University Council. Eight years later she was asked to join the board of trustees, continuing what would become a lifelong commitment to the school. "It's heady stuff to be on the board of directors of an institution of that size at that age," she says.
In 2005, Ms. Sturgess started the Sustainable Engineering Student Initiatives Endowment Fund, which helps engineering students at Queen's fund environmentally sustainable projects.
She is a big believer in engineers making use of their education. "Many of the best and brightest engineers transition into non-engineering careers, but wouldn't it be great to keep those bright minds involved in engineering?"
She is also a committed member of provincial and national professional engineering organizations.
"If we're going to move forward as a nation, we need to provide a strong technologically savvy work force in order to be globally competitive."
Ms. Sturgess started her career in 1977 at the National Energy Board as a gas pipeline engineer. Then she spent five years at Esso Resources Canada Ltd. as a reservoir engineer and business analyst.
After completing her MBA at the University of Western Ontario in 1984, she spent four years at McKinsey and Co. as a management consultant focusing on technology, energy and transportation projects. Later she became vice-president at Greyhound Lines of Canada.
Ms. Sturgess's first entrepreneurial endeavour was to lead the spinoff of Revolve Technologies Inc. from Nova Corp. in 1992, after serving as manager of Nova's seal and bearing group.
She was president and CEO of the resulting company, Revolve Magnetic Bearings Inc., until 2001. The company, which produces magnetic bearing products for high-speed industrial rotating equipment, was sold to AB SKF of Sweden in 2000.
In 2002, she co-founded Guigne Advanced Materials Ltd., which develops wear-resistant industrial products. She was also president and CEO of Pan Terra Industries Inc., a Calgary-based construction services company, from 2003 until 2005.
Now, she says, Alberta WaterSmart is her "day job."
Ms. Sturgess is the "energy that we live off of," says Fred Stewart, chair of Alberta WaterSmart's board of directors.
A former MLA and Alberta minister of technology, research and telecommunications, Mr. Stewart says that when she asked him to get involved in water issues, he was happy to oblige.
"The moment Kim talked with me, water was my new gig," he says, describing her as a team player with passion, confidence and the ability to make things happen.
"She's big on contacts. She knows everyone in Alberta and beyond."
Understandable, considering that she has served on the boards for countless Canadian corporations and not-for-profit groups. She is currently on the boards of the Calgary Airport Authority, Edmonton-based CCI Thermal Technologies Inc., and St. John's-based Guigne Advanced Materials.
She is also an adviser to the board of Pressure Pipe Inspection Co., and a member of the boards of the Canadian Academy of Engineering; Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta; Alberta Water Council; and Alberta Economic Development Authority.
Her achievements have been recognized with awards from Queen's University, as well as the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Science and Technology, the Alberta Centennial Medal and the Calgary Woman of Vision award.
Special to The Globe and Mail