Written by Brantley Bissette, HRSD Community Education and Outreach Specialist
Published on November 29, 2023

In the latest entry to the Making Waves blog, we sit down with Christel Dyer to discuss her career at HRSD as well as her upcoming children's book, Lemon and Cedar.

Q: In addition to being a future best-selling children’s book author, you work at HRSD as the Chief of Treatment for the Atlantic, Boat Harbor, and Nansemond Treatment Plants. Can you give us a brief history of your time here, and what your day-to-day responsibilities look like?

A: I am coming up on TWENTY years at HRSD.  Honestly, it was supposed to be a place holder until I completed my master’s in engineering from ODU, but here we are.

I have always wanted to work in the environmental field, and in 2004 I completed my under-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Virginia Tech (Go Sports!). I was super fortunate in being hired at HRSD as a Water Quality Investigator, and I started my new role two weeks after graduating. Since then, I have gradually worked my way up into my current role as the Chief of Treatment for the Atlantic, Boat Harbor, and Nansemond Treatment Plants. This group of plants is also known as the ABN group throughout HRSD, and the three plants have a combined design capacity of 109 million gallons per day (MGD).

Christel Dyer with her team at the Atlantic Treatment Plant.
Christel Dyer with her team at the Atlantic Treatment Plant.

My day-to-day at HRSD is never, ever the same. The ABN group has a high functioning and highly dedicated team of plant operators, maintenance staff, treatment process engineers, and electrical and instrumentation staff, who are responsible for each plant meeting permit, while optimizing operations and ensuring the equipment is properly maintained. I work closely with the leadership staff for each of the plants and provide support and guidance where it is needed. I help with the budgeting process, the design and construction for plant upgrades, and strategic planning and implementation, along with filling the gaps wherever needed for the group.

Q: Your book “Lemon and Cedar” tells the story of a unique friendship between a red wolf and a cottontail rabbit and their adventure to find more wolves. For those unfamiliar with this amazing species, can you share a little bit about red wolves and what inspired you to make them the focus of this book?

Christel with a copy of her new book, Lemon and Cedar.
Christel with a copy of Lemon and Cedar.

A: I learned about the endangered red wolf more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have followed their story and even visited the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The red wolf is highly endangered, but they used to be found up and down the entire East Coast, and as far west as the Ohio River Vally, to southern Missouri and central Texas. Now, they are only found in the wild at the refuge in North Carolina.

In 2018, I painted a canvas with my son that had a red wolf and a yellow rabbit (I was reading Watership Down at the time, so I had bunnies on the brain). I immediately had the thought that this would make a great children’s book, so I began tinkering with the story.

In 2020, I decided to hunker down and focus on bringing these two characters to life, in the hopes to inspire children, and even adults, to care for the species that inhabit this planet with us. At the back of the book, I provide brief information on each of the species in the story, along with their status. I started following the Red Wolf Coalition around this time as well, and in early 2022, once I realized my book would in-fact be published, I decided to donate 10 percent of my proceeds to the non-profit.

Q: In addition to reading the book to learn more about them, how can we help with red wolf conservation efforts?

A: If you can provide monetary support, donate to the different non-profits that are helping to protect this amazing species. If one cannot provide monetarily, then donating time for any environmental cause will spill over into protecting all the species. This can include picking up trash, planting native trees and plants, and volunteering directly with local environmental groups. And spread the word about the importance of conservation - share, share, share on social media!

Q: While on the topic of conservation, how has your work at HRSD impacted the environment? Are there any memorable conservation-focused efforts that you have been involved with here?

A: At HRSD, we have a direct, positive, impact on the environment. We effectively treat up to 225 MGD (million gallons per day) of wastewater at our state-of-the-art treatment plants. Up until 1940, wastewater used to just flow from homes and businesses directly to the waterways of Hampton Roads, which is just crazy to fathom. Since then, HRSD has continued to improve the wastewater treatment process, to include recovering the resources of water, nutrients, biosolids, and energy at the different plants.

Hampton Roads is known for its oysters, and in 2011 we started oyster gardening at the Boat Harbor Plant in Newport News, which we then dropped off to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for their various sanctuary reefs. We also recently partnered with the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance in supporting efforts in oyster restoration throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and we have a new sanctuary reef of our own near our VIP Plant in Norfolk. 

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

A: Stick with it! First off, writer’s block is real, so walking away and coming back to the story is A-OK. Second, don’t get discouraged when trying to find a publisher. I think I had eight rejections before I finally received positive feedback. And finally, becoming published is a long process, but the journey is well worth it. There is nothing like holding a completed copy of your book for the first time!

Q: When will “Lemon and Cedar” be released, and where can we purchase a copy?

A: Lemon and Cedar officially releases on April 2, 2024, so just before Earth Day, and it is available now for pre-order on all the major websites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org). More information about the book is also available at www.belleislebooks.com, or my author website.

Artwork from the book shows characters Lemon and Cedar watching the sunrise on a beach.
Lemon and Cedar enjoy a beach sunrise together.