Ohio Women in Conservation: Cathy Bernardino Bailey

If you were to look up Cathy Bernardino Bailey’s Twitter, you would see that she calls herself the “1stLadyofWater.” This handle is more than fitting, seeing as Cathy is the first female director of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works in close to a 200-year history. Cathy oversees the distribution of clean water to over a million people and works to ensure our water sources are protected. Cathy took a few minutes from her day to share her insights, wisdom and story. 

Meet Cathy Bernardino Bailey (she/her)
Cathy Bernardino Bailey

Great Parks: How and why did you get into the world of conservation?

Cathy Bailey: Early out of college, I had worked part-time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Clifton. My love for water developed while working on water research projects. My passion deepened once I figured out that water safety is one big chemistry equation. From there, I wanted to figure out how I could do more, learn more and encourage others to ensure that our water resources are protected. 

GP: Did you have someone who was a specific inspiration?

CB: I have had a couple of inspirations along the way. Sally Gutiérrez, who works for the EPA, has been someone that I have looked up to. She has been a trailblazer, so I always looked to her and how she’s leading us. Even people that I work with now provide me with inspiration. Jeff Swertfeger is a key person who makes sure we monitor what is happening with our water sources. I enjoy seeing his passion for protecting our water sources. 

GP: Did you experience any barriers in this field? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

CB: Yes, plenty of barriers. Frankly, there are not a lot of women in water. In my early days, it was a challenge to find mentors or other women to discuss the challenges we were experiencing. As the culture has morphed over time, and there are more women in water, I try to be a resource for those women who are joining our industry. As much as it may have been difficult, there is certainly something I can take away from those situations to learn from and build on. Then, I may be able to share those stories so that others who may be experiencing similar issues can have a better time dealing with them than I did. 

GP: What value do you believe parks and other public green spaces have in conservation efforts?

CB: There is significant value in the role that parks play in conservation. They’re leading the way in showing the beauty in the community and connecting us to nature. Parks also take on ownership in preserving natural resources, so we can enjoy them. We get a lot of comfort from those resources. We always have a connection when we think of parks and enjoying the moments spent in them with family and friends. 

GP: What would you recommend to someone who wants to get involved in the world of conservation?

CB: Most people look at conservation as reducing the use of a resource. However, I would encourage others to look at conservation as protection. What can you do to protect, in my case the waterways, but beyond the waterways? Join the clubs and organizations that are working to protect and keep our resources beautiful. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the value and beauty we have in our community and playing a role to protect it.

Protecting our community, its clean water and river ecosystems is a task that Cathy takes very seriously. Under her guidance, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works works in tandem with other regional organizations to coordinate an early warning organic detection system on the Ohio River. This system was the first of its type in the U.S., according to the City of Cincinnati’s website. Cathy doesn’t boast much. The work continues. At the end of the day Cathy hopes that at the very least she can, “put us on a path to enact changes that would have more of an impact in our community.”

To explore more about Cathy’s work check out the links below.

Cathy Bernardino Bailey:

Greater Cincinnati Water Works:

Will Buelsing
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest