Women in Abigail Ortega’s profession — water engineering — often find they’re the only female in the room.
“I’m in a very male-dominated field,” said Ortega, manager of water resources for Colorado Springs Utilities. “You have to figure out how to work in that environment. Building trust and relationships is the biggest challenge.”
Ortega joined CSU in 2002 and became a staff engineer the following year. She served as senior project engineer from 2003 to 2009. Her job entailed working in the complex area of water rights and making sure the utility was abiding by water rights decrees.
In 2009, she was promoted to planning supervisor for the Water Conveyance Group, gaining a thorough knowledge of Colorado water law and the history and development of water resources in Colorado Springs and the Arkansas, Colorado and South Platte river basins.
She now oversees her department’s $15 million annual budget, manages water rights that span 13 Colorado counties and helps plan to make sure Colorado Springs has a sustainable water supply for the future.
“We do that in a lot of ways,” she said, “making sure we are valuing the environment, how we weather periods of drought and how we use what we have in the wisest possible way.”
Ortega is working to finalize the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association Sharing Agreement.
“We’re really close to a neat, innovative solution to get water to agricultural users while still keeping up the water supply here,” she said. “It’s a first-of-its-kind water sharing agreement that meets the goals of the state water plan, agricultural users and Colorado Springs. It’s been awesome to work on that.”
She has worked hard to build relationships with her colleagues, “following through on what we say we’re going to do, being consistent and present, and knowing when to speak up and when to listen,” she said.
Ortega has served on a number of regional boards through CSU, such as the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Citizen Task Force and Pueblo Flow Management Committee. She’s proud of “getting our voice heard because of the relationships I’ve built.”
It took Ortega a while to figure out what she wanted to do with her life after she graduated from high school.
“I tried a couple of different things in college,” she said. Nothing clicked, so she decided to take a break and went to work for a small consulting engineering firm that designed water systems and worked on water rights. She loved it.
Having found her passion, she went back to school and earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University in 2002.
That same year, she and her husband decided to return to the Pikes Peak region to raise their family. They relocated to Fountain, where their daughter was born in 2003. They now have another daughter, 13, and a 6-year-old son.
“I am most proud of raising my kids to be strong, independent individuals, being a strong role model and setting them up for success,” she said. “So far, so good.”
She serves as treasurer of the Parent Association Board of The Colorado Springs School, which her three children attend, helping to raise funds and plan activities to be inclusive of the school community.
With her husband, Gabriel, who serves as mayor of the city of Fountain, she participates in many community activities. She also volunteers at the Fountain Valley YMCA.
Ortega loves being outdoors and camping with her family, which they do whenever they can.
“When I have time, I love to lay down and read,” she said.
While women in engineering still are in the minority, “it’s getting more diverse,” she said. “Some of the women coming into the workforce are not that isolated any more.”
Her advice to young women: “Find something you’re really passionate about and stick to it. When you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t seem like work.”
— Jeanne Davant