April Walker spent decades as a government representative and engineering consultant fighting flooding issues throughout North Dakota. Now, she is bringing her unique client perspective to Barr’s Bismarck, North Dakota, office as a senior civil engineer. Here, we learn more about her experience as a former public client and the challenges she's faced.
How did flood mitigation become a focus for you in your career?
Necessity. I had just gotten my professional engineering license when I became the storm sewer utility engineer for the City of Fargo, North Dakota, in 2006. I was in this position until 2011 when I became the city engineer. Fargo experienced major flooding from the Red River in all but one year of my tenure. The constant flood fighting, flood recovery, and flood mitigation cycles dominated the city’s priorities during those years and ultimately led to the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project.
What barriers have you encountered in the pursuit of your career, and how have you overcome them?
"As a young, indigenous, female engineer, there were times when it was a struggle to be heard. I made it a point to show up, follow through, and let my work speak for itself."
As a young, indigenous, female engineer, there were times when it was a struggle to be heard. I made it a point to show up, follow through, and let my work speak for itself. That, coupled with my work being the center of attention due to the repeated disasters, gave me the chance to have my successes recognized on a national scale, leading to more responsibility and opportunities.
What challenges did you face while working with Barr on the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project?
As a community, it was a unique challenge to be both infamous for facing repeated flood fights and yet struggle to meet the threshold required for federal assistance. That was the first challenge to overcome, and it required expanding our initial, modest proposed project into a metro-wide flood mitigation plan. To achieve this, it was necessary to forge many alliances and shift the perspectives of stakeholders, local governments, state governments, and the federal government. Having a solid, world-class technical plan was an absolute necessity, and bringing in firms capable of solving complex problems (like Barr) is how we were able to be successful.
What motivated you to move into consulting?
My roots. When I graduated from college, I had to leave home to find the opportunities that would allow me to build my career and gain professional licensure. I wanted to put what I had learned to work for clients who were like me. I have roots in rural North Dakota. I am indigenous. My maternal grandparents were farmers. I am very happy to have the chance to take on the challenges affecting communities like the one in which I grew up.
From your perspective as a former client, what did you look for in an engineering consulting firm?
We expected all firms to have strong engineering skills and we were seldom disappointed. I appreciated firms that were direct and did not overpromise. When you’ve beaten the odds and survived a record flood with minimal damage, the community you serve tends to raise the bar and expect more in other areas. If an expectation was unrealistic, it was helpful for the consulting firms we worked with to deliver that news early in the process, as that would allow us to manage the expectations of the community.
What advice would you give an engineer working with a public client dealing with flooding?
"It is important to listen with true empathy and be willing to adapt and provide a less perfect alternative that leaves room for the priorities of the community."
These can be very emotionally charged working environments. You can have the perfect technical answer, but it may not be implementable. It is important to listen with true empathy and be willing to adapt and provide a less perfect alternative that leaves room for the priorities of the community. The people you are serving must want to live in the community that you leave them with after a project.
When you’re not busy fighting floods, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
For the most part, my days of emergency flood fighting are over. I like to be productive, so I have taken on several roles. I serve as the indigenous representative for the U.S. side of the International Red River Watershed Board, and I am the chair of the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, which strives to make giving easy by connecting philanthropic donors with the causes they care about. I also serve the area where I live in the upper Red River Basin as a commissioner on the North Dakota Water Commission, and I’m proud to be an advisory board member for the North Dakota State University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Industry Advisory Board. These opportunities have proven to be very rewarding, and I am incredibly grateful to have the time and ability to be a part of the work done by these organizations.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know that I was very shy as a kid and struggled to be comfortable with public speaking. I still struggle with that today!
Interested in joining the Barr team? Check out our open positions.
About April Walker
April Walker, senior civil engineer, has more than 20 years of experience working on civil engineering infrastructure projects, including a five-year tenure as city engineer for Fargo, North Dakota. April previously operated her own consulting firm, A. Walker Consulting, where she helped clients with water supply services, project development, project administration, floodplain management, disaster recovery, emergency preparedness, flood risk reduction, and hazard mitigation.
Image gallery (below):
Board members and staff of the FM Area Foundation attend an event in the summer of 2022. Pictured left to right: Toni Sandin, Louise Dardis (Past Chair), April Walker (Chair), Eric Wilkie (Executive Director), Marilyn Guy, Sandy Korbel, and Lisa Bode.
April with her son and daughter representing North Dakota Universities at Mt. Fuji in Japan.