Get To Work: How To Qualify For A Job In Water

By Warren Tenney

Skilled people who treat and distribute drinking water and collect and treat wastewater are retiring at a high rate. Jobs are opening up in Arizona’s small towns and big cities. It takes smart, ambitious and persistent job seekers to get started in these public health jobs. Utilities will hire people who trained just after high school and those who opt to change careers. Cities have hired veterans, former health care providers, chemists, environmental study graduates, food workers, sales people, construction workers, auto mechanics, warehouse workers, janitors and police officers. Arizona has about 1,500 water systems and 800 wastewater systems. Interested? Know someone who might be? Here are the basics.

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91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant in City of Phoenix

What do I need? To start as an entry-level water or wastewater operator you need a high school diploma or a general education degree (GED) and Grade 1 certification in one of four areas:

  • Water Treatment or Water Distribution certification qualifies a person to work for a public water system.
  • Wastewater Treatment or Wastewater Collections certification qualifies a person to work in a plant that treats wastewater for reuse, such as irrigation or direct injection back into Arizona’s aquifers.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) grants these certifications. To earn Grade 1 level certification in any of these four areas a candidate must receive a 70 percent grade on a three-hour, 100-question, in-person, proctored exam. These exams are given throughout the year and throughout the state. Once you earn Grade 1 certification, you can advance by earning Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 4 certification in each of the areas. 

How can I prepare for the exam? Gateway Community College, 108 N. 40th St. in Phoenix, offers a two-year and a one-year program in Water and Wastewater Treatment. 

  • Two-year program: This program’s goal is to teach students the knowledge and skills needed to pass a Grade 1 certification exam and up to a Grade 2 certification exam. Students who complete the two-year program earn an Associate of Arts degree in Water and Wastewater Treatment.
  • One-year program: This program’s goal is to teach students the knowledge and skills needed to pass a Grade 1 certification exam in either Water or Wastewater Treatment.

The programs include online and in-person courses taught by local water managers, hands-on experience at local utilities, and internships. The program accommodates working adults, so most in-person classes are in the evening or on Saturdays. Graduates from both programs still must pass the ADEQ certification exams.

You don’t have to attend college to earn Grade 1 certification. There is information about study guides and classes at ADEQ’s website, AZ Water Association and Rural Water Association of Arizona.

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Operators take water treatment operator practice exams at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.  Photo: ADEQ 

What does it cost? In August 2016, Gateway Community College opened the Surprise Gateway Training Center dedicated to Water and Wastewater Treatment courses. The facility is open to anyone wishing to take courses through Gateway Community College. There are currently 14 one-year scholarships available for people living in Surprise or Luke Air Force Base. West Valley residents also are encouraged to apply. Without a scholarship, tuition is $2,781 for Gateway’s one-year certification course and $6,736 for the two-year degree. AZ Water Association in partnership with the American Water Works Association also has a scholarship program that offers $2,500 for water operator training and educational expenses.

It costs about $100 to take the ADEQ exam, depending on the location. Once you pass the exam there is a $65 fee to apply for certification.

Where can I work? ADEQ grades each water and wastewater treatment plant in Arizona from 1 through 4 depending on the complexity of its equipment, the number of people it serves and its size. The grade of the plant determines the grade of the operator needed to run the plant. Many large treatment plants also hire Grade 1 and Grade 2 level operators as staff members.

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City of Mesa water treatment plant.

If you plan to move, it’s best to plan ahead because each state has its own requirements for accepting out-of-state certifications. Arizona uses exams created by the Association of Boards of Certification (ABC), which are used in many states. 

What does it pay? The median wage for treatment plant operators nationally is about $45,000 a year. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2016 median wage in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area is $52,370 and ranges from $47,000 to $40,000 throughout the rest of the state.

How can I get hired? All the cities hire differently. Gateway Community College makes internships part of its course work, while some cities have their own internship and trainee programs. Some cities allow you to volunteer or intern a few days a week to get an idea of what the job is like before going through the training and certification process.

Water professionals have a few tips. Whether you are interviewing as a potential volunteer, an intern or a job candidate, come prepared to talk the language of water and wastewater treatment, water distribution and wastewater collection. Study the plant where you want to work and understand how it works. Take a class in interviewing skills so you can express yourself clearly and concisely. The City of Peoria recently had an opening for a Grade 1 Water Treatment Plant Operator. The City interviewed candidates that had shown interest in the job, such as those who interned at any city or private water or wastewater plant, completed online courses, or were Gateway students or graduates. Peoria hired a former warehouse worker who had volunteered at a treatement plant on his days off, earned an Associates degree from Gateway and passed the ADEQ Grade 1 certification exam in both water treatment and wastewater treatment.  

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org

 

The Whys Behind Changes In Your Water Bill

By Warren Tenney

You may have noticed from time to time changes to your city’s water bill. A city makes adjustments to water and sewer rates to ensure the rates charged to homes and businesses cover the city’s expenses. Such adjustments only happen after being approved by your city council. Here are a few of the rising expenses that impact the cost of a city’s water and sewer services.

Water. Cities are paying more for this precious commodity. For example, the cost of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) has increased an average of 6.8 percent annually for the last 15 years. The cost for Salt River water delivered by the Salt River Project (SRP) also has increased even if at a lower rate.  Both will continue to rise. For Valley cities, the cost of raw water can be between 10 to 25 percent of their water budget.

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Salt River Project canals deliver water to city treatment plants.   Photo: Michael McNamara 

Energy. Water and wastewater plants and distribution systems use enormous amounts of energy. Energy costs have risen. The extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities because each city has a different treatment processes, different elevation changes, and different energy programs. Two AMWUA cities report their energy costs rose about 30 percent over the last 10 years. Cost increases for energy are expected to continue.

Infrastructure. Water runs to homes and businesses 24/7 365 days a year with little interruption. That’s because the pipes, pumps, valves, tanks and meters it takes to make that happen are regularly maintained, repaired and, when needed, replaced. Other infrastructure costs, like expanding or building new treatment plants, occur less frequently but are very expensive.

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City of Peoria utility crew repairs a leak in water infrastructure.

Chemicals. The cost of chemicals needed to treat water and wastewater also are  increasing. Again, the extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities. One city reported a 33 percent increase in the cost of chemicals over the last 10 years.

Quality. Standards for safe drinking water evolve as scientific knowledge increases. For example, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the level of arsenic permitted in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. That required new equipment in the treatment plants and new pipelines to be built.  EPA is continually assessing non-regulated contaminants to determine if they should be added to safe drinking water standards, which result in higher costs for water providers.

Security. Government regulations to keep water systems safe are increasing as new threats are identified. It costs to secure infrastructure and to train staff to respond effectively in case of emergencies, such as vandalism or a terror attack.

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City of Scottsdale utility crew participates in a drill to keep water flowing during an emergency.

Debt Service. Building and upgrading infrastructure is very expensive and often funded by bonds. These bonds smooth out rate increases by allowing water departments to pay back the debt over long periods of time. Cities work hard to keep their financial houses in order to receive high bond ratings. High bond ratings result in lower interest costs on these debts.

There are costs involved in running a water department that most city residents don’t think about. For example, consider the vehicles necessary to transport water professionals to read meters, take water quality samples, make planned and emergency repairs, and everything else involved to ensure you have water.  One AMWUA city reports that it costs $600,000 a year to maintain its fleet of vehicles.

City water departments want residential and commercial customers involved in helping to maintain water systems that provide reliable services. Some cities have citizen water advisory boards, citizen water information seminars and citizen tours. Learn more about your cities’ water systems and help your neighbors understand that a well maintained water and sewer system that is staffed by knowledgeable professionals is vital to maintaining your city’s economy.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Five Things You Need To Know Right Now About Drought

By Warren Tenney

Ongoing headlines about drought in the southwest are confusing and often seem contradictory. Two weeks ago, a panel of experts advised the Governor’s Office that Arizona’s drought is not over and will last, at least, another year. After a rainy winter, that’s a surprise for many people who follow the state’s drought status maps. These monthly drought maps show no portion of Arizona remaining in “extreme” or “severe” drought. Then there is the conundrum created by the decline of Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir critical to Arizona’s water supplies. This winter’s heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming means Lake Mead will receive enough water to avoid a shortage declaration. Yet, the Lake’s levels remain a source of great concern among water professionals. Oh, and why has California, but not Arizona, declared its drought over?

Here are five questions and the answers you need to know about drought to help you cut through the confusion.

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Here is where to follow Arizona’s monthly drought conditions: http://www.azwater.gov/AzDWR/StatewidePlanning/Drought/DroughtStatus2.htm

1. What is drought?

A drought is not a moment in time. Drought is a cycle. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. That’s why you hear water experts say: One rainy winter doesn’t end a drought. One rainy winter can temporarily ease “drought conditions” in some areas of the state. The current drought cycle began around 1996. If rainfall and snowfall continue to be above average over the next several years then Arizona’s climate experts would be more likely to call this drought finished. These same experts say there is a 50 percent chance of that happening. The wild card is climate change.

2. Why is Lake Mead still at worrisome low levels?

Lake Mead is a reservoir that contains Colorado River water behind Hoover Dam. The legal allotments of Lake Mead water given to states and communities outstrip the average amount of Colorado River water entering the Lake. Even without a drought, normal withdrawals of water from Lake Mead would cause it to fall an average of 12 feet every year.  The drought on the Colorado River Basin has exacerbated the situation.  Voluntary efforts by states that depend on Lake Mead have kept it from falling to a level where the federal government would declare a shortage. A shortage declaration would mean less Colorado River water would be delivered to Arizona. It would affect farmers first, but if Lake Mead levels fall farther, Colorado River water supplies to cities would eventually be cut.  So far, the Colorado River has been able to keep delivering, but living on the edge of shortage is unacceptable to water managers. The Arizona Department of Water Resources is working with the state’s cities, Native American communities, farmers and industries to voluntarily cut back on water taken from Mead. Once Arizona reaches an internal agreement it can finish negotiations with California, Nevada and Mexico to voluntarily reduce legal allotments of Colorado River water to match the reality of what the river can supply. Right now, Lake Mead is only 10 feet higher than it was this time last year.

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Lake Mead

3. After 20 years of drought, why are Arizona’s water supplies not critically low?

Drought is a normal occurrence in our arid environment. Central Arizona has built, planned, and managed water supplies to ensure reliability during drought cycles.  Massive reservoirs capture water during wet periods for times when precipitation is scarce. The Arizona Groundwater Act of 1980 requires cities and farmers in the most populated areas of the state to implement conservation programs, protect the groundwater from over pumping and rely on renewable surface (river) water instead. The majority of the state’s water supply comes from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and the Salt River via Salt River Project (SRP).  Virtually all wastewater is recycled and put to use, and water is stored underground for use in shortage.  A limited amount of groundwater is pumped from the aquifers for use, as well. Multiple sources of water allow cities to offset reductions in one or more supplies. For example, Arizona’s drought has reduced the amount of water in SRP reservoirs in the mountains east of Phoenix, but SRP has been able to offset possible shortages by pumping from its numerous wells. Arizona law requires Valley cities to offset every acre-foot of groundwater SRP pumps by recharging (or returning water to) the aquifers from their renewable water supplies, such as extra Colorado River water (ordered but not immediately needed) or recycled wastewater. This keeps the Valley’s aquifers in good condition and hedges against shortages.

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Granite Reef Underground Storage Project   Photo: Mark Durben

4. So, if we’re in good shape, do we still need to conserve water?

We live in a desert. Long-term, ongoing conservation efforts are something AMWUA member cities promote tirelessly, and for good reason. Drought is an uncontrollable weather phenomenon and the impact of climate change is unknown. Our groundwater supplies are finite. Once used, aquifers replenish over decades, not years, and usually not to previous capacity. Using less water on a daily basis means leaving more water in the ground and storing more water for a time when river water supplies are short. If shortages were to prevent cities from meeting normal, everyday demands for water, all AMWUA cities, by law, have shortage-preparedness plans ready to go. These plans are designed to incrementally reduce water use to bring demand in line with available supplies while protecting our quality of life and the economy. Despite that, no city wants to declare a water shortage. So for now, keep taking those short showers, keep watering those shade trees efficiently, and keep using water wisely. Your city will let you know when it needs more help.

5. Why is Arizona’s drought continuing while California has declared that its drought is over?

California has declared an end to the drought’s State of Emergency, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely out of the drought that has gripped the state since 2012. Due to the economic impacts of ongoing drought, record low reservoir levels, and snowpack at 20 percent of normal levels, California’s governor declared in January 2014 a State of Emergency. In January 2015, with no end to drought in site, cities and towns across the state were required to reduce water use by 25 percent. Recent record-breaking precipitation freed the northern part of the state from drought and refilled the majority of reservoirs, allowing the state to rescind the mandatory water use reductions and lift the emergency declaration for all but four counties. However, almost half the state remains in severe drought.

Arizona’s current drought began around 1996.  Arizona’s Drought Emergency Declaration has been in effect since June 1999 and still remains in effect. We haven’t yet seen enough wet weather across the state to lift either the drought or the declaration. 

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Regional Partnerships Keep Water Affordable

By Warren Tenney

It is not easy for cities to build, staff and operate water and wastewater treatment plants and still maintain water and wastewater rates all residents can afford. That’s why Central Arizona cities traditionally work together to build regional treatment plants that can deliver more water for less money.

Valley cities treat two kinds of water for drinking: most of it is surface water, which is Colorado, Salt and Verde river water delivered by canals, and some groundwater pumped by wells. Cities also treat and recycle wastewater. The treated wastewater is stored underground for future use and also used to irrigate large expanses of turf, such as at schools, parks and golf courses. One of the Phoenix Metropolitan area’s oldest joint water projects is the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant built in 1968. It is operated by Phoenix but owned and used by AMWUA’s five original member cities: Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe. Most of the treated wastewater this plant produces is shipped through a pipe to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station 36 miles west of the plant.

 

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Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant is jointly owned by the cities of Peoria and Glendale.  Photo: Black & Veatch

 

For the next 50 years, joint water and wastewater plants were built all over the Valley to expand capacity, reduce costs and add redundancy. Water professionals are never satisfied with “enough” water. Cities build redundancy into their water supplies and systems to ensure water flows to their residents and businesses despite shortages, infrastructure failures or large fires. For example, the City of Peoria’s goal is to have a six-year supply of water stored underground and the city is about two thirds of the way to meeting that goal.

Right now, the cities of Peoria and Glendale are working on an upgrade and expansion of a water treatment plant they jointly own just north of Happy Valley Road near N. 63rd Avenue. Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant was originally built by Glendale in 1986 to provide drinking water to homes and businesses on the city’s growing north end.

 

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Inside the Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant   Photo: City of Glendale

 

In 1996, the City of Peoria needed to bring its allocation of Colorado River water through the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal to the homes and businesses growing on its north end. Peoria already had the Greenway Water Treatment Plant where it treated its supply of Salt and Verde river water (delivered by Salt River Project) and had numerous wells located throughout the city.

Peoria faced the expense of building, staffing and operating its own plant, including the extended process needed to create a separate turnout into the CAP canal. Seeking a better solution, Peoria approached neighboring Glendale with a plan. Peoria would pay Glendale to expand the existing Pyramid Peak Water Treatment plant to increase production from 30 million gallons per day (mgd) to 39 mgd.  Peoria paid for and received the capacity to produce drinking water at the rate of 9 mgd and meet Peoria’s current and future needs. Glendale would continue to operate the plant but the two cities would be co-owners and share operating costs proportionally. The agreement was signed May 15, 1996 and the expansion completed by July 21, 1998.

Last year the cities signed an agreement to once again expand Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant. The new expansion will produce an additional 15 million gallons per day (mgd) to serve Peoria’s growing northwest neighborhoods. This expansion will increase the plant production from 39 mgd to 54 mgd.  The entire project includes the expansion and upgrades to the existing facility and will cost about $72 million. Glendale and Peoria will proportionally share the $22 million cost to replace and upgrade the older equipment in the plant, such as pumps and tanks. Peoria will pay $50 million for the expansion and fund this part of the project through the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA). WIFA is a small federal agency that provides revolving loans to utilities to improve, build or expand water infrastructure.

Glendale held its first open house in April to gain input from the plant’s neighbors. The cities expect construction to start in the summer of 2019 and the plant to be operating by the summer of 2021. This partnership is just one more example of how water professionals consistently collaborate to solve large and small water challenges.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

So, Exactly How Much Water Are We Talking About?

By Warren Tenney

When it comes to meeting the water needs of a thriving desert economy, the amounts can really add up. Communicating these amounts in a way we can relate to sometimes misses the mark. We’ve all read or heard something like “That’s enough water to fill 200 Olympic size swimming pools.” It’s not an easy example to imagine, other than to think, “I guess that’s a lot of water.”

Trying to understand water news or even your water bill can be a challenge given the different measurements used. Just like we have feet, kilometers and miles for distance and Fahrenheit, Celsius and kelvin for temperature, water is measured with different units depending on the context. No one would talk about the distance between Phoenix and Tucson in feet and water professionals do not generally talk about the amount of water stored behind Hoover Dam in gallons.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the ways you see water measured in media reports, research, and your water bill.

Gallon: This is the easiest one but the most important. Everyone knows what a gallon of milk looks like. Nearly all water bills display usage in gallons. The average single-family home in Phoenix uses an average of just over 10,000 gallons per month (more in the summer, of course, and less in the winter). These 10,000 gallons of water per month are a real bargain. They’re delivered to your home ready to drink for one-third of a penny per gallon. If average cost-conscious water consumers tried to replace the water service to their homes with generic refillable five-gallon jugs at their local grocery store, their water bills would be around $2,500 per month. Not to mention the transportation costs of moving over 2,000 of those jugs.

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91st Avenue Waste Water Treatment Plant  Photo: City of Phoenix

MGD (million gallons per day): This measurement is used most often in the context of water delivery and sewer systems. For example, the City of Goodyear recently announced it would construct an eight “mgd” water treatment plant to treat a portion of its supply of Colorado River water. An average flow of just one mgd is enough water to supply nearly 3,000 average single-family homes in Phoenix annually. On the larger end of the scale, the state’s largest wastewater treatment plant at 91st Avenue in southwest Phoenix treats an average of 140 mgd but has the capacity to treat 230 mgd. Much of the treated wastewater from this facility is used to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

AF (acre-foot): This measurement takes a little imagination. It is the volume of water it would take to cover one acre of land in one foot of water  – or 325,851 gallons. If it helps, it takes two “AF” to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and is how much water three average Phoenix metro households use in a year. Acre-feet are usually used to measure huge volumes of raw, untreated water, such as how much water is in a reservoir. Here’s an incomprehensible number: each year 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water flows through the Central Arizona Project canal delivering a renewable supply of water to Arizona’s cities, industries and farmers. 

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CAP Canal near Picacho Peak  Photo: Central Arizona Project

ccf (centum cubic feet): For us non-Latin speakers, “ccf” is 100 cubic feet. One hundred cubic feet would fill a 5-by-5 feet box that is 4-feet tall  – or 748 gallons. While most AMWUA cities calculate water bills in gallons, if you receive a water bill from the City of Phoenix and examine it closely, you’ll see it is based in ‘units’ of water with each unit being one ccf. The average Phoenix single-family home uses 13.6 ccfs per month. Why use ccfs and not gallons? The city’s old water meters were designed to track your usage in ccfs and it is too costly to change the billing system.

cfs (cubic feet per second): “Cfs” is used to measure rates of flow, such as in rivers, canals, or large pipes. For example, the Mississippi River discharges an average of 600,000 cfs into the Gulf of Mexico. The Central Arizona Project canal, by comparison, delivers an average of 2,100 cfs to the state’s cities, industries and farmers. Cfs numbers vary widely depending on their context but even very low numbers can really add up. Consider this, a flow of just one cfs means 7.5 gallons every second. A flow rate of only one cfs over the course of a single day equals the amount of water used by about five average Phoenix single-family homes during an entire year.

Understanding and relating to water information is crucial to participating in the ongoing discussions about how Arizona can ensure we all have clean, reliable, affordable water supplies. Numbers make up a big part of that discussion.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

City Water Departments Answer Five Common Questions

By Warren Tenney

Your city’s water department does a great job using science and engineering, muscle and skill to get drinking water into your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water professionals at your city can answer your questions about water quality testing, water rates and billing, the efficient use of water, free water conservation classes, water conservation rebates, and water leaks in the street. But there are things they can’t do, such as fix your plumbing or chill your water before it reaches your home. We called the people who answer the phone at city water departments and asked them to share a few of the most frequent questions they get from customers. Here they are:

1. Why does warm water come out of my cold faucet? This is, of course, a popular call when summer temperatures are peaking. Your water department cannot make the water coming into your kitchen or bathroom colder or hotter. Water distributed by your city comes to your house and up to your water meter through pipes buried 12 inches to 18 inches below ground. If temperatures are particularly hot, the ground is not cool at that depth. (If you are from a place with cold, hard winters, perhaps Connecticut or Minnesota, water pipes are buried 42 inches below the surface to prevent them from freezing.) From the water meter, the water coming into your house enters through a line (usually under your front yard) and then through an exposed pipe. Water has plenty of time to warm up before it gets to your kitchen or bathroom sink. You may want to keep a pitcher of cold water in your refrigerator for those summer days.

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2. Why does my water smell? There are times when you turn on a faucet and get a whiff of a sewer or rotten egg smell. Look under your sink and you’ll see a pipe shaped like a U. This is called the P-trap (because from a plumber’s angle, when it’s attached to another pipe, it looks like the letter P). It serves two purposes. First, if hair or food creates a clog, this is where it will happen – a place accessible to plumbers, instead of deep within your plumbing system where it would be tougher and more expensive to reach. Second, about a cup of water always sits in that P-Trap and serves as a barrier that keeps sewer smells from entering your home. The barrier can fail and develop gaps when the water in this pipe develops a thick layer of scum from hair or food. Sometimes the barrier fails because the water in the P-trap dries up, such as when you go on vacation or fail to use the guest bathroom for weeks. It’s likely to happen more often when the air conditioner is running and drawing the moisture out of the air in your home. When you run the water, it agitates whatever is in – or not in – the P-Trap, creating that whiff of sewer smell. Run the water occasionally in all of your sinks and, when on vacation, ask the person who is watching your house to run the water in your sinks. If the smell persists, clean your drains or call a plumber.

3. Why is my water cloudy? Air bubbles in the line can make your water cloudy. Sometimes it happens when your water department is flushing out fire hydrants in your neighborhood or when a plumber has been to your home. Run the water for a little while or let the water in your drinking glass settle. It will clear up.

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4. Why is water bubbling up from under my yard? It is your responsibility to identify and correct plumbing issues on your side of the water meter, which is most often located in your front yard near the street. Your responsibility includes the water line buried in the yard that leads to your plumbing and irrigation systems. If water is bubbling up anywhere in your yard, it’s most likely an irrigation line that has been leaking for a while. It’s time to call an irrigation systems professional or to make time for a little do-it-yourself project. It can be costly to ignore your irrigation system. Know where the main irrigation lines are buried in your yard and run the system occasionally when you have time to walk your yard and look for leaks. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix irrigation leaks.

5. Why is my water pressure low? The State requires cities to provide water at a minimum of 20 pounds per square inch (psi).  (Some individual cities have set their minimum pressure higher than 20 psi.) Getting higher water pressure can sometimes be physically hard to achieve. A water department employee can gauge the water pressure for you as it is coming into your home from the city service line to your meter. If the city employee finds that the water entering your meter is at an acceptable pressure then the problem is within your own plumbing system. A broken pipe or a clogged filter in your water softener can reduce your water pressure. It’s time to call a plumber.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

On The Job: Skill, Hard Work Ensures Water Gets To Your Home

By Warren Tenney

When someone asks Sal Correa what he does for a living, he answers this way: “You know the water you drink? I make sure it gets to your house.” That’s a pretty good description. Sal co-leads a 7-member City of Chandler team that replaces aging water distribution pipes, repairs breaks, and installs fire hydrants and new water meters. Sometimes his crew lays water lines to new subdivisions.

Sal is a Lead Utility Systems Technician who organizes his crew’s workload and talks to Chandler residents about the work being done on their streets. He drives backhoes, digs holes and wields pipe-cutting saws. “I get muddy,” Sal said. “I like what I do.”

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Each day, Sal walks into work at 5:30 a.m. ready to coordinate each job with Chandler’s traffic and police departments. There is always something that must be done to secure the 1,230 miles of pipes in the city’s water distribution system. He orders equipment that may be needed from vendors and calls Arizona Blue Stake, which maps underground utility lines and helps prevent workers from disturbing other underground lines, such as electric or gas. If a job means Chandler residents will lose their water for a while, Sal makes sure they are notified within 24 to 78 hours in advance.

Sal’s first priorities are emergency breaks. Some can be underground breaks that fracture a length of pipe and send water seeping up through crevices in the street and sidewalks. Neighbors lose water pressure and dirty water comes out of their faucets and they call the department. Sometimes these breaks are more spectacular and blow out a hole in a main pipe sending water gushing 30-feet in the air. These types of emergency breaks are the hardest. Traffic must be redirected, the leak brought under control, and the break tracked down – even before unhappy customers are notified about why they suddenly have no water and how long they will be without it.

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Sal said most breaks – even large ones – can be fixed within three to six hours. Neighbors are always given a window of time that accounts for unforeseen problems, such as a fix that may not hold or trouble tracking an entire break. Most of the time Sal and his crew can finish well within the window, making customers happy again.

Replacing aging water lines and fixing breaks and repairs can mean working in a hole 3 feet deep or 7 feet deep. Anything below 5 feet requires the crew to shore the walls with an aluminum brace to prevent the hole from collapsing. Sal and his team members enter and exit the hole using a ladder attached to the shoring. Everyone shares the hardest parts of the job, the digging and pipe cutting, so one member of the crew is always resting while another is working. (That’s why residents often see one or two workers watching, while one is working.) During the hottest summer days, Sal makes sure members of his team use a canopy for shade and that each member works in short spurts. When Sal suspects a member of his crew is getting overheated, he’ll send him into a city vehicle to cool down in the air conditioning.

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Nine years ago Sal was cutting a pipe with a 12-inch-blade motorized saw, a job he had done hundreds of times. This time the pipe dropped and pinched the end of the blade, which suddenly kicked back and pinned Sal to the wall of the hole. The blade cut deeply into Sal’s mouth, causing damage that required two surgeries and numerous root canals. The accident left him with a thin scar from his lip to his chin that is just visible through his short-cropped beard. He went back to cutting pipe in those street holes as soon as possible. “After I got back in there, my coworkers said, ‘You’re not allowed to touch saws anymore, get out of there’,” Sal remembers.  He admits the first cutting job after the accident was a little terrifying. “I tried not to show it, but yes, it was.” Since that accident Sal said he has cut thousands of pipes. 

In 2001, Sal sold everything he had and followed his wife’s parents from Chicago to Arizona. Sal wanted more opportunity for himself and his wife, Gladys, and a good place to raise their 5-year-old son. Sal started working for Chandler as a meter reader. He took courses to be certified as a Utility Service Operator I and II in the water distribution department and was then promoted to crew leader. Sal’s son, Damien, attended Northern Arizona University on an academic scholarship, just graduated with a pre-med degree, and is waiting to hear from the medical schools where he applied for acceptance.

Damien’s academic pursuits left Sal and Gladys at home with Bella the Boxer and two toy Yorkshire Terriers, Blu and Jax. Sal gets home by 4 p.m. every night and has dinner made by the time his wife, a health care administrator, arrives home. Late last year, the couple joined a neighborhood co-ed kickball team.

Sal is tough when it comes to his job, but gets a little teary-eyed when he talks about the parents and the seven siblings – including a twin – he left behind in Chicago. He is the youngest, visits the city twice a year and still misses them. One sibling has just moved to California. He hopes more family will move west, because Sal said he’s staying in Arizona’s sunshine.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org