Thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of water and wastewater operators across the country, clean, safe water continued flowing – even amid a global pandemic. Garver launched the Behind-the-Scenes Operators Initiative to give an inside look at what it takes to supply our communities with reliable water services.
Delivering clean water sometimes means working 14-days straight
How many of us were able to start our career at the age of 19 and stick with it for 23 years? Not many. Joe has been an operator for 23 years, starting at the age of 19 with the City of Fort Worth. He started as an entry level operator then worked his way up to operations and maintenance technician to specialist, and now assistant water systems superintendent for Fort Worth’s Holly Water Treatment Plants, which provide the community with a combined capacity of 180 million gallons of water per day.
What attracted him was the daily challenges and problem solving necessary to running a treatment plant properly. “I’m constantly learning on this job, making decisions on the go, and I really love that. Nothing is ever the same, and there’s always new challenges. When something happens and you only have minutes or hours to respond, it gives you an adrenaline rush. We don’t get a lot of time to come up with solutions. You have to think quickly to solve a problem and keep water flowing to the people.”
He takes pride in supplying water to over one million customers and having the responsibility of making sure their water is safe and clean to drink. That level of responsibility certainly comes with its own unique set of challenges. When something happens at one of the plants, it can affect things for 10 to 12 hours throughout the city. So, it’s imperative that Joe and his team resolve the issue quickly, like when a water main breaks and his team has to work with other plants and field crews to maintain water while fixing the break.
Every day Joe shows up to the plant, discusses any changes with the night shift, and then checks the pressure and chemical flows for the entire system. All of which needs to stay at a constant rate to keep safe water flowing through the system. Running a treatment plant can be a calm environment until something stops functioning right. Then Joe and his team fall into action to provide a quick and effective solution.
However, the pandemic has stopped one of Joe’s favorite daily activities, face to face meetings with his staff. With COVID protocols in place for social distancing, all his communication has gone virtual, and he feels there’s something that’s lost in lack of face to face interaction. “Day to day talk built relationships and allowed us to interact on a personal level. Now it’s gone and those personal relationships are lacking.”
Another staffing challenge is when someone tests positive for COVID. When that happens, the whole team for that shift goes home for quarantine to prevent further spread. This means Joe has had to break up his team into more shifts to prevent having too many people on shift at one time, causing some staff to work up to 14 days straight. But no matter what issue arose, his team has risen to the challenge to keep water flowing for Fort Worth.
Besides staffing challenges throughout the pandemic, Joe has had to manage a rapidly growing distribution system. New tanks and pump stations have been added to the system to meet rising demands due to a fast-growing community.
As for COVID precautions that will stay in place, Joe believes they’ll maintain their practices of disinfecting areas and workstations, even keeping the plexiglass partitions they put up in their controls workroom between stations. He also sees the virtual training and webinars used throughout the pandemic to continue operator training becoming a part of everyday life for his team even after the pandemic.
Because of his team, the City of Fort Worth is continuously supplied with safe drinking water. Their constant dedication to monitoring the system, ensuring it’s maintenance, and quickly solving problems is essential to the success of the Holly Water Treatment Plants.