George Hawkins ’83 (Courtesy DC Water)
George Hawkins ’83 (Courtesy DC Water)

As CEO and general manager of DC Water, Washington’s water authority, George Hawkins ’83 helps to provide clean water and wastewater management to a city of more than 600,000 people. But his interest in water and the environment began far from the pumping stations and treatment facilities that are now his domain.

Hawkins was an associate at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, not long after his graduation from Harvard Law School, when a partner asked if he would be interested in working on a project examining environmental issues. The case centered on a manufacturer’s new water conservation plans, how the change would affect the concentration of chemical discharge at its factory, and which EPA regulations would apply.

“I loved it from the minute I got it,” Hawkins said. “It was one of those moments in life — it was very clear that this lined up everything that I ever liked in the humanities and sciences, all in one project.”

From that moment forward, Hawkins said, he knew that he wanted to be in the environmental field. The path led him to a job at the EPA; later work directing the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, near Princeton, and New Jersey Future, a smart-growth advocacy group; and most recently, recognition as one of Governing magazine’s 2014 Public Officials of the Year, for his forward-looking management of DC Water.

Hawkins, a visiting lecturer in environmental law at Princeton since 1999, went to Washington to work in the District of Columbia’s Department of the Environment, a job that put him on the board of DC Water. Impressed by the scale and significance of the water authority, he applied to be general manager and landed the job in 2009.

The same things that drew Hawkins to that early law project — public policy, technological innovation, and economic significance — take shape in DC Water’s work, he said. Hawkins also values the personal connection that the authority has with the people who live and work in the District: “You know the value of your work and why you’re doing it every day.”