Maria Gutzeit | On Labor Day, Thinking of the Hidden Workers of Our Water

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On Labor Day, I always like to think about the workers who make our world function. 

Some are seen — like truck drivers and first responders. Some are behind the scenes, like administrators and accountants. 

Like the world of water itself, the workers behind our water are complex and varied. It’s time to give them a nod… and maybe contemplate a terrific career path for our kids. 

Planning: Water is all about planning. Engineers, water resource specialists and finance people all contribute to finding and paying for water.  

Half of our valley’s water comes from groundwater. More complex is the water that comes from Northern California through both the physical means, like the aqueduct, and negotiations that took years to set up. 

Lawyers are involved in contracts. Environmental folks assess habitats and pros and cons of projects. Water resource planners juggle the odds of what could be available in any given year based on climate, earthquake and legal mandates. 

They make recommendations on water purchases, sales and trades. 

Finance people develop budgets and seek financing and partnerships for both long-term projects and short-term needs. 

Public agencies like the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency are nonprofit, so budgets need to balance every year. 

Engineers need to find means to transport, store and treat all of our water — local and otherwise. This kind of inside-baseball work is amazing and makes for lifelong careers. 

Building: The aqueduct running from the Sacramento Bay Delta is very visible infrastructure. The Delta itself is a series of earthen levees that move water from the snowpack to the ocean, at times with the water level above the tops of nearby homes. 

From there to here there are gates, bypasses and reservoirs, all built by women and men over many decades. Earthmoving, rebar, concrete and electronics all take a human hand. 

Locally, we can see little cinderblock structures, tanks and pumps, hidden in plain sight. Those are for pumping and treating water all over our valley. 

Wells are drilled by drill rigs going hundreds of feet below ground. They are connected by hundreds of miles of piping and monitored by electronics. Pumps transfer water to hillside tanks so we have water in the event of power failure because it will flow by gravity. 

Much of our growing recycled water system is being put in under a community workforce agreement with first preference to locals and veterans in the skilled trades. 

I once watched with fascination as a small business owner explained how he safely bypassed the entire aqueduct while building a connection for our underground water storage in Kern County. A guy in jeans, with a backhoe, can briefly stop all of the water flowing from Northern California to Southern California, to enable us to bank water for dry years. 

It takes all hands on deck to make the magic of water happen. 

Service and Maintenance: You’ve probably seen SCV Water workers out in pickup trucks, reading meters and checking equipment. Many others play a part as well. 

Technicians sample water at hundreds of locations in our valley on a routine basis. 

Chemists provide the disinfectants and filtration products we use to keep our water safe. 

Laboratory operators run tests on a near continual basis in a valley as large as ours. 

Analysts take the data and translate it into reports to compare to regulations to ensure we meet requirements and look at trends with an eye to preventing problems. 

A constant stream of planned replacement on aging infrastructure keeps construction crews busy, as does responding to emergency work. 

In most cases, pipes are in the ground and the city requires overnight work to reduce impact on traffic, so crews are hard at work while we sleep. 

Each of us might have needed help from a customer service agent when setting up our accounts or paying a bill, and that’s important. 

Many more are involved and they also deserve our appreciation on Labor Day.  

To get water to our tap there is an entire economy, entire industries, thousands of companies and tens of thousands of men and women planning, building and servicing water in California. 

Thanks to all of them, we have the precious resource that is safe and reliable water.  

Maria Gutzeit is a water official, engineer, business owner and mom living in Santa Clarita. 

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