WASA staff works holiday to keep water, sewer safe

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

COVINGTON -- Today, residents throughout the county are gathering with loved ones, enjoying a good meal and celebrating. They'll turn on their faucets without thinking twice, and automatically assume cold, fresh water will flow. And, let's face it, toilets flush on Christmas just like any other day.

It's easy to forget there are people behind the scenes who make sure the water's flowing and the toilet is flushing. Out of sight, out of mind perhaps. But Santa won't be the only one working hard this Christmas.

Staff with the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority won't get a holiday if something goes wrong with the water or sewer system. Some will have to report to work even if things are going fine. They lose time with their families so you can have a better time with yours.

Andy Butts is the lucky fellow who's manning the wastewater treatment plant this Christmas morning. A class 3 wastewater operator who has been with WASA for four years, Butts has three daughters, ages 11 months, 2 and 9. He said he intends to get to work and get his job done so he doesn't miss out on all the festivities: It's his youngest girl's first Christmas.

Butts knows all about missing holidays. A Mother's Day outing with his wife and mom got cut short one year just as they took their seats at a restaurant. Someone ran over a water line with a lawn mower, and Butts got the call.

Butts' coworkers have their own stories to tell, too. Jason Mock, a crew foreman who's been with WASA four years, spent an entire Father's Day on the job, and he missed Thanksgiving this year.

"If the phone rings, I'm here," he said.

R.J. Johnson, a water service crewman 2, spent Thanksgiving day two years ago repairing a busted water main on Fairview Road.

WASA is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. Holidays included.

"No one wants to wake up Christmas morning without safe water," said Bryant Kirkley, senior water reclamation operator. "We know we're working on the front lines of public health and that's what makes it worthwhile."

But none of these guys would mind if the public took a moment's pause and recognized what they do and just how important it is.

"Most people don't even know we exist," Kirkley said.

Added Butts, "Ninety-five percent of people think if you flush it down the toilet, it magically disappears; the sewer fairy comes and picks it up."

Butts and Kirkley know it doesn't. They've seen it all come through the wastewater plant, including golf clubs, baseball bats, plastic dinosaur toys, even a pallet of shingles. They never cease to be amazed what people will flush down the toilet or drop down a manhole.

Mock and Johnson have seen some pretty interesting sights, too. Baseballs and Matchbox cars have been known to fly out of fire hydrants they're flushing and they've dug up needles, tires and piles of clothing while working on a line.

One way the public can show its appreciation for their tough job is simply not to put things where they don't belong. If you see them working on the side of the road, slow down. They've all nearly been mowed down by speeders. And whatever you do, don't pour grease down the sink.

"It will solidify somewhere," Kirkley said. That means the line will get blocked and he or his coworkers will have to leave their warm homes and their families to fix it. Give them a break this holiday.