By Marco Palilla, CASA Associates Committee Chair, Associate Vice President at HDR Engineering
Yes, I appreciate wastewater infrastructure! And no, not just because I am an engineering consultant. I appreciate wastewater infrastructure because it improves my quality of life in so many ways. The fact that we can flush our toilets and send waste to our local city collection system and then on to our regional sanitation agency is by far one of the greatest achievements of modern mankind. But why doesn’t everyone feel the same way? Can’t they see how incredible this system of pipes, pump stations and tanks is? On more than one occasion I have tried to explain this to a group of laypeople (my neighbors, family, golf buddies) but they don’t get it. Why not? I believe it’s because they’ve never really stopped to consider a world without wastewater infrastructure. And why would they? We’ve done such a good job of keeping these things under the radar and working below the surface, that no one even knows they exist. This is a huge problem!
As a teenager I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that my life would become so wrapped up in wastewater infrastructure. I never even considered it as a career choice. Why? Because I wasn’t aware of it. Nobody ever told me there were opportunities or a vast system that existed out there. In college I took a field job in Sacramento that included crawling around in sewers and my eyes were opened (literally). Not only did I realize there were good jobs in infrastructure, but that these facilities were critically important to the daily existence of life itself. Okay, that may be a little over the top, but I really believe that. And I think everyone should see it that way. When you add other utilities to the mix (water, garbage, power, and communications), the critical nature becomes even more obvious weight loss tablets.
So how can we change this?
The public only hears about wastewater infrastructure when there are problems (sewer overflows, discharge violations, system failures, etc.) They don’t hear about the billions of gallons of wastewater that are properly treated and discharged or recycled every day. They don’t see the massive effort that goes into operating and maintaining this system. Let’s start reminding people. Let’s blow our own horns! Let’s take credit for making modern society comfortable and safe. Let’s help people appreciate their wastewater infrastructure by educating them at every opportunity.
What are you doing to educate people about wastewater infrastructure? Or how do you think we might do a better job of getting the message out there? Please share your thoughts!