As many towns and counties throughout the southeast have found themselves engulfed in water shortage dilemmas, one glaring
factor still remains to be neglected. There is very little, if any, appreciation given to the very people whom most of American
society relies on to provide them with drinking water: water plant operators.
Water is so important to this planet that it is the one basic element every living thing needs to sustain life, multiply,
and stay healthy. It is so commonplace in our everyday lives that we all take it for granted, even those of us who work in
the field. Stop and think for a moment just how many times during a given day that you actually come into contact with water.
It's a lot more often than you realized when you really thought about it, wasn't it? So much of everyday life is done
subconsciously, so we take for granted how the water got there, just who was responsible for it being there and why it is
safe to use.
The drought has forced the topic to the front-page news. Everyone is concerned about the reduced lake levels and the low
flow of the Pee Dee River. Water quality has been questioned, as has the need for two separate water facilities in Richmond
County. All this is appropriate at the present, yet one thing remains over-shadowed, just as it always has...the importance
of the people who are responsible for providing us with the water we so desperately need.
These technicians have always been under-appreciated and that apathy is evident in many areas, which include little attention,
low pay, and almost no respect from the very communities they service. Imagine for a moment, your child's class comes in from
a hot day playing outside during recess. The first thing they do is line up for a drink from the water fountain. How important
did the water plant operator just become in your world?
In reality, a water plant operator is the only person who can produce the one element that life could not exist without
so that it is safe and healthy for us to use everyday in every aspect of our lives. In today's world the need for licensed
operators is paramount to any other government position in its over-all actual importance for our daily lives and finding
qualified people is getting harder to achieve.
Even in the few US cities where aquifers are the most prevalent source of fresh water, licensed technicians are still
needed to verify that water is viable. Purification of ground water (lakes, rivers, and streams) is the only and most used
alternative, which begs for an even higher level of technical expertise and larger group of educated environmental personnel.
In most areas of the country, including ours, licensed technicians are at or near the bottom of municipal payrolls and
the equipment many have to work with is outdated. Public Works departments are almost always the first to get budget cuts
and those cuts are usually the largest for any department. When problems arise and the public wants answers, more often than
not, the operators bare the brunt of responsibility, even when the true culprit is that lack of funding.
Recently, the subject of homeland security has become an important topic to everyone. Terrorism has affected America in
ways most never dreamed of, but some of us have always known. Municipal water supplies are targets for terrorism. On a daily
basis, operators protect our water supplies from pathogenic organisms that cause diseases in humans and can even be deadly.
But now there is a heightened awareness to the danger terrorism possesses and the only people between a terrorist act and
our water supplies are environmental technicians.
Many professions are filled with people who do their jobs admirably even though they work for low wages because they have
pride in their work and love for their jobs. Most perform their tasks never giving thought to how their contribution benefits
mankind and do so thanklessly. No truer statement could be said of the technicians who operate water facilities.
Lee P. Butler