Letters - April 2014

Favors A Name Change

After reading your comments and those of Sam Wade, in the January 2014 issue of TPO, I feel obliged to respond. I started in the water and wastewater business 20 years ago after a downturn in the oil and gas industry. In many parts of Texas, particularly in the Greater Houston area, municipal utility districts are the owners of the systems and plants.

These are quasi-governmental entities set up by the state to provide water and wastewater services needed by customers. Many of these districts are operated and managed by operating companies that perform all the services involved. This includes meter reading, billing, plant operation, collection and distribution operation and maintenance, customer service, and repairs.

With most of these operating companies, one person may be responsible for the operation of four or five districts. That person will operate and monitor the wastewater plant, water wells and lift stations for each of those districts. Daily process control testing and periodic lead and copper sampling are other duties. They also respond to customer complaints and do initial evaluation of collection and distribution problems.

The point I am making is that the title of “operator” just doesn’t cut it in my mind. I like “clean water specialist” on the wastewater side and “water production specialist” on the potable side. As immediate past president of the Sam Houston chapter of the Texas Water Utilities Association, of which I am vice president, as well as chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Water Utility Operator Licensing Advisory Committee, I have contact with a great many folks across the state.

Since I entered this industry, I have never seen a plant permit for a “sewer treatment plant” or a license that identifies the holder as a “sewer treatment plant operator.” These terms are at least 20 years old. Yet I still run into folks that say they work at a sewage treatment plant or that they are a sewage treatment plant operator. When asked, I tell people that I am a water utility manager, although that is not my job title with my employer. I support the effort to change the employee titles and plant identification, but I am afraid it will be a slow process.

Allen P. Schreiber

Supervisor, Field Services

Fort Bend County

Stafford, Texas

Profession Needs Positive Recognition

I have been in the wastewater field for seven years as a pretreatment operator and now two years as an operator of five small rural activated sludge plants in Pennsylvania. This is a career path as far as the job goes, and we as operators are very much overlooked.  We work behind the scenes, so to say, and not many people really think about how important our positions are. I believe we need to bring more light to the service we are providing, so that the public will recognize us more, and in a more positive way!      

Mark E. Rightmyer

Class B Wastewater Operations Specialist

Miller Environmental, Pennsylvania

It’s Not A Waste

Regardless of the name used in the industry, I always felt there was no such thing as “waste” water. It is too precious a commodity to be referred to as waste.

Dale Baker

Environmental Coordinator/Laboratory Director

Deep Creek Lake Laboratory

Oakland, Md.

Makes No Difference

In reference to your article about what title to give to a person or a facility: It doesn’t matter. The operator is an operator, regardless what you call him or her. As for what pretty name you give a wastewater treatment facility, it is still a sewage treatment facility.

Gary Boileau

T.H. Enterprises

Arizona City, Ariz.

Call Them "Specialists"

In reference to your article, “What’s in a Name? Or a Title?” I have been in the water industry for 38 years and prefer the term “water production facility” and the title of “water production specialist.”

Kenny Henry

Water Treatment Plant Superintendent

Manhattan, Kan.

Names Matter Greatly

I’ve had issues in explaining to friends what my career and work have been all about. If you bring up wastewater or say that what goes down the sewer is what we clean up, the conversation is over and people slowly move away from you as if you smell.

A TV news director was the guest speaker at a Wisconsin Wastewater Operators Association Conference in Green Bay a few years ago, and he told the audience that the association needed an image change. Instead of being thought of as “Ed Nortons” who work in the sewers, we are environmentalists protecting resources for future generations. We work in a spirit of cooperation with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. EPA to meet clean-water goals.

In Illinois, treatment facilities have been renamed “water reclamation facilities.” Their purpose is to  reclaim clean water. The treatment facility in Grandville, Mich., (featured in November 2013 TPO) is named “Clean Water Plant.” We visited this facility, and I asked how they came upon that name. In essence, they said:

“We look at what we do as similar to an industry. We have product coming in and product going out. We have quality standards that must be met. We have operating budgets for which we are held accountable. We are very much in the public eye, and we need to produce 365 days a year.”

We support TPO 100 percent in efforts to bringing back pride and the reason we love this industry. It is time that others recognize the industry for protecting the most valuable resource for life: Clean water!

Harlan Mueller


Need To Change Perceptions

I have proudly worked in the wastewater field for almost 36 years. When I told people what I did for work, it wasn’t so much the title that they turned up their nose at, it was the perception of the job itself. I have always considered myself to be a professional, no matter what title I have held — although I do like the title of “water resource recovery specialist.”  

Lucien J. (Lou) Colburn

Chief Operator, Pretreatment Coordinator

City of Brewer (Maine) Water Pollution Control Facility


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