Rebuilding Communities

The efforts of water and wastewater utility teams deserve thanks and appreciation.

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The city of Houston is just beginning to dig out from the wrath of Hurricane Harvey as I write this. Some of the city is still under water. Portions are uninhabitable.

As focus shifts to cleaning up and rebuilding, the city is facing another flood — this one bringing hope rather than despair. Countless contractors and other municipal utilities are sending crews to help with the cleanup and to get water and sewer systems back online.

For the most part, however, it will be the local utility people who bear the brunt of rebuilding and restoring service for their customers. They’re the heroes who will make it safe for people to return to their homes and communities. It’s a huge job, and it deserves widespread appreciation.

I’ve said it before: You are first responders. You are health care professionals. Your role in community health is as critical as police, fire and emergency medical personnel. And the situation in Houston is a good example.

Utility workers are going above and beyond, doing everything they can to restore some semblance of normalcy to their communities and give residents the basic services they depend on.

Approximately 2,800 water systems were affected. More than a week after the worst of the storm, 168 utilities still have boil-water advisories and 50 more are completely shutdown. On the wastewater side, more than 300 utilities are only partially operational and 34 are inoperable. The amount of work to get everything back up to speed is incredible and will likely stretch out for many months.

And now, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida. Utilities are bracing for a major impact. The coming days will tell, but the storm could easily rival Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.

There’s not much I can do from my desk in northern Wisconsin besides tell your stories and be a cheerleader for the vital work you do. But these storms make the importance of your work painfully obvious. When people don’t have water service, they quickly realize its importance. And the fact it often takes events like these to cast a light on it speaks volumes about the work you do on a day-to-day basis. It takes a large-scale natural disaster to interrupt service, so it’s easy to see how it can be taken for granted.

I don’t have any direct ties to Texas or Florida, but I’ve talked to a lot of utility leaders across those states and have helped tell the stories of their successes. So, in many ways, it feels like it’s my friends who are being impacted.

Mostly, I’m just hoping people’s lives can get back to normal, and that the work you’re doing garners the thanks and appreciation it deserves.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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