The Rural Water Perspective
By Susan Robbins, Louisiana Rural Water Association Source Water Protection Specialist
Among the unsung hero’s during a disaster are Water & Wastewater systems personnel and those agencies who help to protect our health every day. We take for granted the water that comes through our pipes every day, and that our sewer will magically disappear to some unseen plant to be cleaned-up before it re-enters our environment.
Having worked with these guys on two previous hurricanes, I can tell you the job is tough and requires tenacity and often creativity to bring these utilities back on-line. When a boil advisory is issued for your water system, it means crews have often worked through the night to repair lines, restore power, and get those pumps up and running again. The boil advisory is for our safety, but it means someone worked really hard to make sure you can flush.
The devastation in our southern parishes is beyond description. As we have all heard, it may be weeks, even months before the electrical systems are restored. Generator power often brought in from out of state must be used to work the pumps for both water supplies and at sewer plants. Systems often must be re-wired, or at least re-configured, to accommodate the new source of power. Often backup generators are already present on-site, but must be maintained and re-fueled in order to continue operations. In the swamps of south Louisiana and in the hills of our northern parishes, system operators often sleep on-site, catch a nap in their truck, eat the snacks they brought with them or just make do in order to ensure their customers and friends are taken care of.
The dedication of these folks is evident when an operator goes to a well site with you and points out the slab where his house used to be. Or when a young lady from the State Health Department, who is working with these systems, took a moment to cry on my shoulder, then shakes it off and goes back to doing her job to make sure our water is not contaminated, even though her home was heavily damaged. Dedication is also evident in the office manager of a system who hands you distribution maps, which are essential in locating water lines when all other landmarks have disappeared. She did this just prior to the mandatory evacuation deadline, instead of making one more trip home for additional personal items. That kind of dedication cannot be put in a job description and is prevalent throughout this industry.
Many things we think are essential in life are really only conveniences, but WATER is genuinely essential to life.
My husband and his entire family have been in the plumbing industry all their lives. I’ve worked in the water industry for well over 30 years. I hope this helps you appreciate this everyday source of life that is never taken for granted in our household and how quickly these men and women spring into action during times of disaster. When you are remembering unsung heroes be sure and keep them on your list and in your prayers.