#2 with Nellie
Almost all of us in the USA take our water for granted. We turn on a tap and there it is. The process isn’t that simple, however, and I enjoyed finding out what goes on behind the scenes to keep us in clean, safe water. I hope y’all will, too.
Today, I’m tickled almost completely to death to share a slice of my second son’s life as part of his birthday celebration this week. He is currently the system manager for our rural water district, but this is the winding road he took to get there:
#2 was born prematurely, but he soon took off and grew up doing the things most farm and ranch kids do. When he was a little pee-wee sized kid, #2’s nemesis came in the form of a big, white rooster with long spurs that cornered him up in the shed and soundly pecked his head. I don’t think he’s had much use for chickens–except the fried variety–since.
As soon as he grew big enough, he was riding a big gelding named Shorty in junior rodeos, milking our family cow, Peanut, slopping hogs, feeding cows, and hoeing in the garden. As a bigger kid, he rode motorcycles, took care of the overpopulation of varmints with his .22, used the roof of the house as a diving board to the trampoline, and did other stuff with his friends that seemed like a good idea at the time.
As a teenager, he worked on our family farm and cattle operation, logging in many, many hours operating tractors, combines, and hay swathers. By eighteen, he already had a lot of experience with farm fires, so he joined our volunteer fire department and graduated from his home school as one of its best students.
In addition to his present occupation, he has been a farmer and cattleman, a custom hay harvester, a custom wheat harvester, a custom cotton harvester, a volunteer fire chief, a restaurant owner, has worked at a hot dog factory, and is a professional fence builder.
Presently, he lives on a small farm with his wife and the grandkids, Blondie and GitRDone. He is active in his church, and is an all around super-nice guy who loves the Lord.
One of seven stand pipes in the water district’s area. They are used for water storage and to regulate pressure in the lines. The fence is to keep out meddlers, livestock, and–post 9/11–terrorists. Looking at that fence, I can only say, “Yikes”.
On the beautiful, 20* morning of this interview, #2 picked me up in his truck and I went with him to collect a Bac/T sample to test the water for the presence of E coli. (And yes, the sky was that blue.)
Danni: I know the water district is pretty big, but how much area does it actually cover?
#2: It’s huge. Takes in parts of four counties and has over seven hundred miles of pipe. It’s not unusual for me to drive two hundred miles in the course of the day.
Danni: What are your main duties?
#2: I’m mainly supposed to oversee the operation of the system and deal with the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), and contractors, but I’m shorthanded so a lot of my time is spent locating water lines and valves, and repairing leaks.
Danni: How many are on your crew, now?
#2: (grins) One besides me. I could easily use a four man crew, but the rural water districts out here (western Oklahoma) don’t have the money, or a pool of qualified people to draw from.
(The situation in many rural farm areas is pretty grim. Young people graduate high school and move away to college or better paying jobs, so there are few workers left to keep up aging infrastructures with money from diminished tax bases.)
Danni: What have been some of the biggest challenges you face aside from being shorthanded?
#2: Well, I wish I’d had somebody to show me the ropes a little when I first started, but the former manager was already gone. I’ve pretty much had to learn everything about water pressures and where all the lines and valves are by trial and error. Keeping up an old system is challenging, but I actually enjoy it.
Danni: Where does the district’s water come from?
#2: All of it comes from wells near the Red River that tap into an aquifer in the area. We have six active wells, two reserve wells, and three or four test wells
Danni: How is the water treated and filtered?
#2: Since it’s a ground water system (as opposed to lake water or another above ground source), we treat it with just chlorine gas. Sand traps are the only filters needed.
#2 sanitizing a hydrant with bleach before taking a water sample
Danni: Why are you taking a sample from this particular farm hydrant?
#2: The DEQ mandates two Bac/T samples each month from sites they choose. I also take two daily samples from random hydrants to test for residual chlorine.
Danni: Have you ever had a Bac/T sample show positive?
#2: Not yet.
Danni: What would happen if you did?
#2: Well, just a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean there is E coli present…it could just mean there’s a bacteria there that could harbor E coli. But the lab would test it again. If it came back positive for E coli, I would have to report it to the DEQ then test all the wells and take multiple tests throughout the district and warn the customers.
The Bac/T test jar is 100 ml and comes with a tiny white pill to neutralize chlorine in the water. Each jar is carefully labeled to avoid mix-ups with other samples at the lab.
#2 also took a residual chlorine test. This sample, at 1.4 ppm chlorine, was in the safety range between .2 ppm and 4.0 ppm. Hot weather dissipates chlorine so more is needed then, but chlorine gas is expensive, so #2 dials down the amount used in winter to avoid waste.
Danni: Do you test the water for anything else?
#2: Yeah. We test the wells for heavy metals like copper, zinc, etc, every three years and nitrates once a year.
Danni: What do you enjoy most about this job?
#2: That I’m outdoors. Trying to turn around an aging infrastructure is a challenge I enjoy. I get to see a lot of differing landscape from one end of the district to the other and meet a lot of the old timers around here. They have some pretty cool stories.
Danni: What is your least favorite part?
#2: I’m on call 24/7, so that means fixing leaks in the middle of the night sometimes. Probably what I hate most, though, is having to shut off someone’s water meter for non-payment.
Danni: Do you have any advice for us consumers?
#2: Well, in the current drought situation, everybody needs to conserve as much as possible and keep an eye out for leaks. Enjoy your good water.
Danni: Well, we’re about to wind up here, do you have any water guy jokes?
#2: (grins) No acceptable ones come to mind, but I found this story interesting: There are dive teams who will dive into water towers to inspect them and what not. One of these divers was talking to a district employee and said that in a large northeastern city, his team was up in one of those huge towers that looks like a bubble on a stem. They found sheets of plywood covered in styrofoam floating on the water inside the tower. It seems teenagers were climbing through an unlocked hatch and partying on those homemade rafts. (laughs) Lots of violations in that story.
#2: Yeah. The thought of a bunch of teenagers partying in the drinking water is kinda scary.
Danni: No kidding. Gross.
Happy, happy birthday, #2, and thank you so much for doing this interview, it’s been my pleasure. I appreciate you and all your fellow rural water guys out there in the freezing cold nights, up to your eyeballs in mud, and with water sloshing around inside your rubber waders just to keep all of us in water. (I also appreciate y’all poking your hands down into scorpion and spider infested meter cans in the summertime.) I think you guys do an amazing job with what you’ve got to work with and if there’s one thing I know about you, #2, I know you’ll do everything in your power to keep clean, safe water flowing.
Thanks so much for reading and God bless all y’all. I hope you enjoy Jars of Clay doing Flood, because not only is it appropriate with all that talk of water and mud, it used to be one of #2’s favorite songs when he was younger.
*These artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like ’em.