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E-Splash November 2012 - Past Chair
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash -  November  2012


Past Chair Report
Dennis Ross
While sitting at the barber shop getting a haircut, I once again noticed in that pile of hair the prominence of more gray than black hair. Now this is not a new revelation on my part; I have seen it many times over the years. But it did give me cause to think about my life past, present and future. Wondering what I would write about in my Splash article, as looked at this mostly gray pile of hair on the floor, I began reminiscing about just how much things have changed.

I started in the water industry at the age of 17 while still in high school in a part time position as a draftsman. The year was 1976, draftsmen used a parallel straight edge, a couple of triangles, ink, and drew on mylar. It was not unusual to see an ash tray heaping with ashes and cigarette butts on the desk of my superiors. There were no computers, email, GIS, GPS or plotters. A few years later I transferred to meter reading, drove a Chevy Luv truck, read the meter by lifting the lid, wrote the reading down in a meter book and did the math to determine the usage. An average day was about 300 meters. I would never have dreamt that job could be done from a central location in a matter in minutes. A few years later I began running the service truck, new customer turn-ons and turn-offs, disconnects and the like. Those orders came to me in a stack of hand-written tickets, which I would sit down and route out before starting my day. I would never have dreamt of those orders coming to a PC in my truck. Or that there would one day be meters that could be turned on or off remotely. Locating valves was done with a dip needle; locating water mains was done with a probe rod; repairing a water line didn't require calling one number for locates, it required calling several numbers. Often digging was done with no locates at all, instead you were instructed to just take it easy and be careful. Drawing valve cards became a part of my duties, which meant finding a valve assigning a number and measuring how far away from an oak tree and sidewalk it was located. Never would have imaged that someday you could just stand next to the valve and acquire a longitude and latitude for that spot; and, if the oak tree died, you could still find that valve.

Communications were much different as well. A pager was the best way to get in touch with the on call operator. The first cell phone I ever used had to be mounted in the service truck, a huge box behind the seat. It was a party line so you had to pick up the receiver and check if the line was in use before you made a call. The real kicker - it was a rotary dial phone. We never would have believed that someday we would carry that same phone ability, minus the rotary dial, in our shirt pocket.

The list of advancements number more than the gray hairs I looked at on the floor of the barber shop. No doubt these things have made our life easier, creating new and improved ways of doing old jobs. Some days when the new technology doesn't perform as the salesman said it would, or I simply don't understand how to make it work for me, I wonder: "Is this really better?” The answer always is: Yes, this is much better.

As I think about the years to come, retirement and passing the industry off to the next generation, I can't help but think about what things are ahead, what new tools will be there to help them perform their jobs even better. This is an exciting and rewarding industry and the future holds much promise for all of us. There is no doubt AWWA has been on the forefront of all of the changes I have seen in the past 36 years of my career, and my ability to keep pace with these changes was through my membership and involvement at the Section level. I hope your career has been, and will continue to be, as enlightened as mine though your membership in AWWA.



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