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.
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