Which Side of the Fence?

The water profession has its wastewater and drinking water sides. How do operators compare the two for challenges, rewards, respect and work conditions?

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For the past year it has been my privilege to edit magazines for both wastewater treatment plant operators and drinking water system operators. I find quite a bit of similarity between people on both sides of the business.

In general, they're extremely proud of what they do. They're highly dedicated to the profession and to the services they deliver to the public. They're modest and team-oriented, always inclined to share the credit. They are far more schooled, intelligent and professional than their publics will ever understand.

Their work is similar in many ways, yet also quite different. Of course, a goodly number have crossed from one side to the other during their careers. Many hold dual licenses, and even work both sides on a regular and even daily basis.

What drives the choice?

I wonder: What makes a person choose one side over the other? Wastewater or drinking water? Among those who have worked extensively on both sides, which side do they prefer and why? But rather than just wonder, I've decided to ask these questions of you – our readers.

I'm asking wastewater operators here in TPO, and I'll be asking the drinking water side for impressions in this month's issue of our sister publication Water System Operator (if you're not familiar, find out about it at www.wsomag.com).

From my observer's position (I have never run or worked in a wastewater or drinking water plant), I see attractions to both sides.

On the wastewater side, I see the challenge of blending art and science — of putting microorganisms, a workforce of who knows how many trillions, to the task of scrubbing wastes from water. I see the pride of knowing that one forms a critical line of defense in the pursuit of fishable, swimmable waters.

On the drinking water side, I see the pride in delivering a high-quality product to people's taps every day (whether or not the recipients fully appreciate it). I see the challenge of meeting extremely high standards of purity, not once in a while but always, and of maintaining immaculate plant conditions.

But I don't know firsthand how the participants on each side of the water profession see things.

Here's your chance

So, one side takes in filthy water and makes it clean. The other takes in (usually) pretty good water and makes it even better. One system flows (mostly) by gravity, the other under pressure. One takes water from homes and businesses, the other gives it. In that context, how do you see yourself and your career?

Which side is more mentally challenging and stimulating?Which feels more intrinsically rewarding?Does the public seem to understand and value one side more than the other?

Please share your impressions, especially if you have experiences on both sides of the fence on which to draw. Send a note with your comments to editor@tpomag.com. I promise to respond, and we'll publish a summary of the comments in future issues of TPO and WSO. I look forward to a lively interchange.


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