We Are “Essentially” Just Doing Our Job

A message to essential workers from our Director of Water Resources, Jeff Phillips

A lot has changed in my life over the last six months. My wife worked from home until the funding for her job ran out and she had to transfer to a new location. My son was restricted from the “unnecessary travel” to come home for a visit. And my upstairs has been transformed into the Greenville, SC satellite campus of Emory University.

What has not changed? My alarm clock. While many people I know made the shift to work from home, I left the house each morning at 6:00 a.m. – business as usual (sort of). In our industry, I am far from alone in this. I am very grateful that travel bans, or curfews were not imposed, but in the event they were, I was armed with a letter declaring me to be an essential worker and permitted to report on site.

There is no question that water industry workers are essential. It’s spelled out specifically in “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID- 19 Response” issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

Our status as essential workers actually predates COVID by a long while. But the reality is that the public only recognizes that when we are unable to do our jobs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen articles and stories about the unsung heroes of the pandemic – the grocery store clerks, truck drivers, farmers and others who are credited with keeping the country functioning under these unprecedented circumstances. I did not see any mentions of the people who keep the water flowing. People take for granted that they will have an endless supply of clean, fresh water when they turn the faucet.

Perhaps it’s our own fault that the public is unaware of all the hard work it takes to get water from the source to their homes. We are, after all, very good at what we do.

While we make it seem effortless, each gallon of water distributed is the result of a team effort. Plant operators, lab personnel, engineers, accountants, customer service representatives, administrative staff – all are deserving of recognition. I am proud to work for Greenville Water, who uses social media to promote our organization’s different facets. We need to do this statewide and nationally! To that end, I wholeheartedly support the idea that public education should be a primary objective at all levels of our organization. Just as water is essential to life, so are the water industry workers to making it clean, safe and available.

So to all of you who have kept your alarm clocks on, THANK YOU. We see who you are and what you do, and we are grateful that you keep doing your job as usual (sort of).

And above all, stay safe. You are essential to us, but to your loved ones, you are irreplaceable.

Read the latest issue of the Journal SCAWWA/WEASC for more essential stories from water and wastewater utility workers throughout our state.