The Journey Begins

Everything starts somewhere, and for me this day is the start of a new adventure into the world of blogging.

Today’s blog is addressed to all who work in the world of water, wastewater and storm water collection and distribution utility systems. Operators, managers, producers, distributors, contractors and regulators all belong in the pot. Collectively we are the people with responsibility for the water, wastewater and storm water utility industry. Sure the elected politicians that govern have authority over funding, codes and ordinances that play a significant part in our professional world, but to use them as an excuse for not doing our job is just that, an excuse.

Forty-five years ago I returned from Vietnam to begin my carrier in the waterworks industry. Over the years I have seen private utilities go public and public utilities go private. I’ve witnessed tremendous advancements in water and wastewater treatment processes, water quality testing, and advancements in materials and products. Like weeds in an abandoned, field many new regulators have sprung up to make sure we are doing our job, but these just point us in the right direction by reminding us to do what we already know is right.

I have met some wonderful people in our industry who take protecting public health very seriously. However, in one respect we all seem to have missed to mark. Sure, we talk about and look at the impact that our utilities’ deteriorating infrastructures will have on our ability to live up to our commitment to protect the health of our customers; but, as our systems’ infrastructures continue to decline, are we really doing anything more than paying lip service to the responsibility of protecting the public?

When we have to follow the rules, most of us usually do; but, when the cost is too great, we find ways to avoid the problems we face. ” Let the next guy worry about it” is too often the mantra we follow. We don’t necessarily do it conscientiously, but our action belay the truth. Budget-minded bureaucrats decide, “Let’s only fix what breaks and not worry about what will happen tomorrow.” They just don’t understand that the public health that is at risk. If managers continue to budget for today with total disregard for the future, the results will be devastating.

Sure our staffs are too small, the budget to tight, the political climate not quite right, and low rates make borrowing difficult. But isn’t it true that most of the public utilities would have enough money to fix the problems if they were allowed to keep their revenues to use on their own projects and not share them with the ubiquitous “General Fund.”

We have solutions to correct most of the problems found with our utilities’ infrastructures, but do we have the will? When it comes right down to it, do we have the will to stand up and be counted? Not just talk about “this or that will happen if we don’t do something;” Eric Sevareid did that on 60 Minutes over 20-years ago in a piece I think was called “is New York Falling?”

20-years is a long time to do nothing. A band-aid here and a tourniquet there will not save the patient. Soon we will no longer be able to protect the public trust we have as members of the utility industry. We need to ask ourself, if your systems begin to have catastrophic failures, what then? Are we not responsible?

Bill Tone

One response to “The Journey Begins

  1. Jean-François Méthot

    Excellent text on a crucial problem facing humanity. In Ottawa, we have a challenge in treating used waters, and I am sure many other municipalities have similar problems, in spite of all the means available to do a good job. It’s always a question of short-term vs long-term priorities. Good work Bill.

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