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April 3, 2018 > The secret water engineer

The secret water engineer

Submitted By Shane O?Nesky

The Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, and the Golden Gate Bridge?I marvel at the ingenuity of man, and how our need to make things bigger and to improve our surroundings has produced these icons, the modern wonders that inspired me to become an engineer.

When I first joined the water district, veteran engineers and treatment plant operators guided me around the District?s remote facilities, located throughout Fremont, Newark, and Union City. As we reviewed these sites I was surprised at how unaware I was of their existence until I was right on top of them, and sometimes not even then; at the first facility we visited, I had to be waved to the side because I was unknowingly standing on top of a steel access door!

Once inside the underground vault, I saw a veritable treasure chest of machinery and instruments that provide the evenly regulated water pressure that prevents your bathroom faucet from merely trickling or gushing like a fire hydrant. At the next stop I encountered a row of dense trees. I had no clue from simply looking around that they masked a six-million-gallon reservoir ready to cool a dry throat, bring joy to a flowerbed, or spray the words ?wash me? off the rear end of a minivan.

Since my first days with the District I have carried on the theme of hidden equipment by designing and supervising buried pipelines. I?ve also spent weeks ensuring that the computer programs that monitor and operate treatment plants will react in time should some rare occurrence threaten to compromise them. I?ve purchased pumping equipment that is as powerful as a car engine but fits down a 10-inch hole, hundreds of feet below ground. I?ve installed self-cleaning screens that submerge completely underwater to keep endangered fish safe.

Several years ago, when I was driving my then four-year-old son through town on a Saturday afternoon, he asked me what I did for work. Given we weren?t too far from one of my jobsites, I made a quick detour to show him. When we pulled up to the site I excitedly pointed out the newly placed electrical gear and the location of a new pipe that ran under the roadway. I also showed him the plan drawings which happened to be in my car and described how a big pump would bring lots of water up from the ground and provide drinking water to people.

Clearly unimpressed, he paused, and then asked me two questions: ?Do they let you color the drawings?? and, pointing to backhoe, ?Do you get to drive the yellow tractor?? Readjusting to his level, I tried again: ?Making the water we drink better is like solving a puzzle and I?m the puzzle solver. After I find the answer I get to play with others in that sandbox over there, and when we?re done it works better than before. As long as the stuff keeps working, you?ll see a busy, growing city around it.?

I don?t have the most glamourous job in town, and I have yet to see my son build a water facility from his LEGOS, but I am proud to serve the public knowing that I?ve done the best I can to bring quality water and reliable service to everyone?s taps for years to come.

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