In Memoriam – Martha Hahn, Colorado Authority Manager and Researcher

November 24, 2015


Martha Hahn working on the anaerobic baffled reactor that was the focus of her Ph.D. research project and subject of her WEFTEC 2015 presentation. Photo courtesy of Craig Hulburt.

Martha Hahn working on the anaerobic baffled reactor that was the focus of her Ph.D. research project and subject of her WEFTEC 2015 presentation. Photo courtesy of Craig Hulburt.

Martha Hahn, authority manager of the Plum Creek Water Reclamation Authority (PCWRA; Castle Rock, Colo.) and WEFTEC® 2015 speaker, died Oct. 1. A member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association since 2007, she entered the water sector in 2002 and quickly made a name for herself as a leader.

“Martha had hoped to use her knowledge and Ph.D. in the future in other countries to help and teach them about safe water,” said Lissa Oelkers, administrator at PCWRA.

Hahn obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a master’s degree in environmental engineering and science from the Colorado School of Mines (Golden). She was pursuing her doctorate in environmental science and engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. It is expected that Hahn will be awarded her Ph.D. posthumously in May 2016, according to Hahn’s memorial Web page.

For her doctoral research, Hahn engineered and built a pilot-scale anaerobic baffled reactor for the biologically enhanced treatment of municipal wastewater. The research, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), the state of Colorado, and PCWRA, showed the process to be economical, energy positive, and able to be used in cold climates, the memorial Web page says.

Photo courtesy of Hulburt.

Photo courtesy of Hulburt.

“She was passionate about her research and water quality issues. Being selected to present at WEFTEC 2015 was a great honor for her. We are all very proud of her,” said Hahn’s husband Craig Hulburt.

Hahn was lead author on the paper describing her research, “Anaerobic Baffled Reactor Pilot at Plum Creek Water Reclamation.” The paper, which described anaerobic baffled reactors as a simple and low-cost alternative to conventional digesters that exceed conventional primary treatment standards. The paper was selected to be a part of WEFTEC 2015 in technical session 101, Carbon Diversion for Energy Recovery: A-Stage Forum. WEF’s innovation partner, BlueTech Research (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) selected the paper as one of the top 91 papers with the most impact out of more than 800 presented at WEFTEC 2015. The paper also has been published in the journal, Water Research.

“Her work has set the stage for a new paradigm for mainstream anaerobic treatment as the basis for carbon removal,” said Linda Figueroa, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and Hahn’s Ph.D. advisor. “She was a rising star in the re-imagination of the domestic wastewater treatment paradigm.”

Hahn also was set to lead two new research projects starting this fall. She envisioned PCWRA as a test-bed for research on upscaling anaerobic processes, direct potable reuse, and nutrient recovery, Figueroa said.

“Martha’s life’s work was dedicated to the engineering and science of water reclamation, treatment, and sanitation,” Hulburt said. “She understood the importance of reclaiming our precious and limited water resources and giving them back to the environment in a way that is safe for people and wildlife. She devoted her life to this work and research in this field.”

Hahn started working at PCWRA as temporary laboratory technician in 2002. Later that year, she was hired as a permanent operations specialist and went on to become operations supervisor in 2005, operations manager in 2007, and plant superintendent/assistant authority manager in 2008. Just before her death, Hahn has been notified of her promotion to the position of CEO/authority manager at PCWRA, which would have gone into effect Jan. 1, the memorial Web page says.

“She genuinely cared about everyone here at PCWRA and wanted the best for them. Because of that we all strived to be our best, and she was able to create a highly functional small group of employees who take great pride in their work and the service we provide through the wastewater plant,” Oelkers said. “She was so admirable not only for her vast knowledge of water, biology, and the environment but, perhaps more importantly, for her compassion. Martha was so much more than just a smart woman running a wastewater treatment plant and fighting for what she believed to be right for the environment.”

Hahn served on the Industrial Advisory Board for the ReNUWIT Engineering Research Center. She also represented members of the Colorado Wastewater Utility Council as council chair.

“She stepped up by volunteering to become council chair and providing leadership, not only to council members but to other clean water community stakeholders.” said Amy Woodis, member of the Colorado Wastewater Utility Council from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Denver).

To honor Hahn’s water-sector efforts, Hulburt has set up a memorial fund to benefit Water For People (Denver) at

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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