Drinking water and wastewater professionals keep society functioning

  • Left to right: Dick Kilhart, assistant superintendent of Athol Department of Public Works; Rob Sexton, Chief Operator; Collin O'Brien, Engineer and consultant; Jeremy Burnett, Operator; Andy Belloli, Assistant Chief Operator. Contributed photo

  • Matt Bardsley (in blue) and Dave Carr, Water Distribution Supervisor (yellow). Contributed Photo

Athol Daily News
Published: 6/26/2020 5:16:27 PM
Modified: 6/26/2020 5:16:19 PM

ATHOL — The Athol Department of Public Works was very pro-active during the initial stages of the Covid 19 Pandemic. Dick Kilhart, assistant superintendent, said, “We began by trying to split shifts and rotating crew members.

“This very quickly became one crew member in each of those water/wastewater divisions. There was even a plan in place for the Water and Wastewater operators to quarantine, sleep and live at the plants to continue essential services to the residents of Athol. These employees volunteered on their own behalf to do so, if needed or warranted.

“This was not ultimately required but single staff rotation became the new normal for 2½ months. During this time, only emergency calls were responded to.

“I’m so proud of this dedicated group of water and wastewater professionals. They helped keep the residents of Athol safe by continuing this vital service that most folks take for granted.

All DPW staff returned to work on June 8.”

Kilhart contributed the following opinion piece by Kirsten King, executive director of the New England Water Works Association:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global shift in how we function as a society. From quarantine orders, to face masks, to social distancing, we are all getting used to the “new normal.”

“However, two sectors, quietly working in the background, almost invisible to the public, but who are the basis for HOW we can continue to function as a society, are water and wastewater.

“Health care workers, hospitals, grocery stores, and restaurants — cornerstones to protecting public health and continuing to provide the essentials needed to get through the quarantine in our homes — would all crumble if water and wastewater services came to a halt.

“No water to wash hands or shower with? Sanitize equipment? Clean floors? Cook with? Wash dishes? Think of the current state of the world, and then imagine it with no water.

“Can’t flush a toilet? Drains no longer work? Can’t shower? Do laundry? Think of the current state of the world, and then imagine it with no wastewater services.

“On March 27, 2020, The U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to Governors in all 50 states, territories, and Washington, DC, requesting that water and wastewater workers, as well as the manufacturers and suppliers who provide vital services and materials to the water sector, be considered essential workers and businesses by state authorities when enacting restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“In addition, water and wastewater professionals are considered first responders by the Department of Homeland Security, meaning they are critical to helping protect public health and safety.

“So the next time you turn on your faucet, or flush your toilet, think of and thank the highly trained, licensed, dedicated, and humble water and wastewater operators (i.e., heroes) who are still working to ensure the lifeblood of our communities continues to flow — in both directions.”

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