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Delivering Tomorrow’s Solutions Today

Photo of Rahil Fofana
February 17, 2023

I have often reflected on the inspiring work of the women and men of Team Blue, and how they do a remarkable job of not only providing world-class water and wastewater services for our community, but also delivering solutions and water equity to District residents across every Ward in the city. I’d like to share a little bit about one such employee who has earned the respect of her colleagues and industry peers.

In December 2022, Rahil Fofana (Process Engineer I / Wastewater Treatment) was awarded the first PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering in the history of Howard University. Fofana joined the Authority in 2016, shortly after completing her master's degree. She initially served as a summer intern and was offered the research assistant position within the DC Water research laboratory.

In 2018, Fofana enrolled in Howard University to further her career through the study of advanced nitrogen removal from wastewater. Removing nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater is important because they represent a threat to the environment, wildlife, and public health. Her tuition was paid by the Authority, as her studies directly related to a promising, emerging technique for nitrogen removal.

Partial denitrification – anammox represents a process shortcut when compared to traditional methods of nitrogen removal. DC Water is interested in leveraging the anammox approach, as this technology will help the Authority reduce expenses relating to chemical additives and the energy demands of traditional nitrogen removal.

Perhaps most impressively, Fofana completed her doctoral degree while working full-time at the Authority. “It was challenging at first to balance my research at Blue Plains with my coursework for the first two years at Howard,” she explained. “Later on, I was able to entirely focus my research, thesis, and the required publication of four peer-reviewed journal articles.”

DC Water has high hopes for the application of anammox technology at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, and her professors at Howard expect that Fofana’s research will generate significant, national attention. “Rahil’s work exemplifies the research at Howard that leverages local partners to have a national impact,” said Jeseth Delgado Vela, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Howard.

A native of Côte d’Ivoire, formerly known as the Ivory Coast, Fofana hopes to one day return to her homeland to develop and leverage anammox technology there, but not just yet. “I do feel a connection to Côte d’Ivoire, and I would love to contribute to improving the water environment there, but that’s down the road and not in the foreseeable future.”

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