Internship Experience: A Well-Rounded Perspective Of A Drinking Water Utility
Michael Szmurlo - ISAWWA Student Member
Beginning in November of 2012, I participated in a fifteen week unpaid internship with the Moline Water Division. I was fortunate enough to experience water treatment through the eyes of many different employees in the plant. The first position I shadowed was that of an operator, where I learned a great deal about the daily routine and importance of the position. The weight of responsibility that is put on operators is immense, and I can only really describe this through the use of a simple analogy. If I compare the community to that of the human body, I would argue that the water treatment plant is the "heart” of the community. Operators are one of the most important figures in keeping the heart pumping 24/7.
The next position I shadowed would most likely resemble that of the liver or kidneys, which clean up the substance that is essential to our well-being. I shadowed the lab chemist and technician, who introduced me to the daily, weekly and monthly testing involved in the plant. I also experienced distribution system testing and field sampling, and the relationships they build with members of the community.
The platelets in the capillaries, veins and arteries would closely resemble the distribution crew. I had many great experiences with them, which included fixing leaks in the distribution system, turning on and off boxes, reminding residents about payments, and doing routine testing at points along the system. I found that the position demands quick thinking and constant problem solving, since every day seems to bring something new. I was even able to explore the inside of a water tower as well!
The mechanics take care of the valves and inner workings of the heart. I experienced what it was like to turn on a massive back-up diesel engine, to undergo many preventative maintenance tasks, as well as to attend to unexpected problems that come up on the fly. Their role behind the scenes is essential to keeping the heart in working order.
Nutrients are necessary for the upkeep of all of the components of the body. The billing specialist described the different types of water and sewer charges necessary to keep the plant operational, and how important customer service is to the public service of water treatment. I also had an experience with the GIS specialist, who showed me the daunting task of keeping track of miles and miles of piping. She also described her tight-knit relationship with the distribution crew and how they both rely on each other to fix problems in the distribution system.
The last position I shadowed was that of the manager, the head of operations, who directs the actions of all of the components of the body. This role attempts to bring into harmony all the components in order for them to act as one. I learned about the constant planning for the future that is involved and the relationships a manager needs to have with employees, city officials and with the public.
I would like to thank Greg Swanson and the Moline Water Division team for this internship opportunity, which ultimately led me to decide that I would like have a career in the public service of water treatment.