Former aide to John McCain helped craft Safe Drinking Water Act; led NWF assessment of Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Heather Wicke is passionate about water quality, having devoted her collegiate and professional careers to environmental protection, natural resource conservation, and sound water resource management.
Now, as the newest member of the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority, Wicke is contributing her more than 40 years of training and expertise to the county’s efforts to preserve clean water.
“I’ve spent my professional career on environmental issues, primarily water quality,” said Wicke during a recent conversation at her home on Hickerson Mountain outside Flint Hill. “I appreciate how important high-quality drinking water and sewage systems are to our community.”
To complete her Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Wicke wrote her dissertation on risk assessment and water management in the Great Lakes.
In the 1980’s, she served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. There, she helped develop key federal legislation, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986, Clean Water Act amendments, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Amendments.
“I understand the regulatory framework under which those laws were enacted,” said Wicke.
Later, she was the director of the Toxic Substances Program at the Environmental Law Institute, and went on to serve as Arizona Senator John McCain’s Environmental Legislative Assistant from 2002 to 2005.
As vice president and director of policy at the Piedmont Environmental Council, she was responsible for developing and coordinating Virginia regional policies and positions for environmental concerns at the federal and state levels.
After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, she led efforts at the National Wildlife Federation to assess the effects of the spill on land, water, and wildlife, and identify action plans for short- and long-term response.
Today, she directs a series of collaborative water well analyses between the Centers for Disease Control and the Water Systems Council.
So how did she land in Rappahannock County?
Wicke’s husband, Bob Hurley, used to come out here from Washington, D.C., to hike.
“We had a place in West Virginia,” said Hurley, “but it was too far away.”
“This was back when 211 was two lanes,” said Wicke, “and what is now the visitor center [next to the county library] was owned by a woman who sold furniture.”
After busy careers and raising their family, Wicke and Hurley came back out in 2005 with the thought of finding a retreat from the city. They settled on their place in 2006. For the time being, they split their time between Arlington and Rappahannock County, but “we plan to become full time residents by next spring,” said Hurley.
“We chose Rappahannock because it’s beautiful and has an active community,” said Wicke. “We really wanted to become engaged in areas that benefit the community.”
One of those areas is the annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour held each November by the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and Community. She currently chairs the art tour committee.
Calling herself “a failed artist,” Wicke began taking art classes and doing paintings of Hubble satellite images.
“I showed at the first art tour,” she said, “and I’ve converted half of our garage into an art studio, but I just have not found the time” to do much painting lately.