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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: The unsung heroes of water quality
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TANCEY CULLUM BELKEN: The unsung heroes of water quality

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When you think of someone working to protect water quality, who do you picture?

Many people may imagine someone wearing sandals and cargo shorts, hair in a bun, and a clipboard and test tubes. While biologists, researchers and scientists may come to mind, several other unsung heroes of water quality and water conservation deserve recognition.

Who are these mysterious protectors of our water quality?

Litter, sewage, sediment and pollution from day-to-day living have significant effects on water quality. Professionals who work in those fields work tirelessly to prevent litter and sewage contamination, reduce sedimentation and educate about the effects of pollution.

Sometimes the protectors of water quality wear hardhats and carry wrenches. Others drive huge trucks, and some still carry clipboards; most have a thankless job, which should change.

Waste collectors pick up our trash that would otherwise end up in our streets, ditches and waters. When it rains, trash on the roads gets caught in stormwater, flowing into our drinking and swimming water.

Even in areas with high rates of intentional litter, the problem is reduced thanks to those who pick up what we all throw away. From the ones riding on or in the collection trucks to those working in drop-off and recycling centers, without them, we would be swimming in trash – literally.

Septic and sewage professionals often go where no one else will; that is, into our sewage pipes and septic tanks. When these systems clog or fail, they can overflow, sending raw sewage into our soil and water. Instead of avoiding the area, like most people, these women and men run into the situation, doing what it takes to solve the problem and prevent future overflows.

Street sweepers clean the roads of sediment that can fill drainage ditches and stormwater ponds. Without them, it flows into our rivers and wetlands, altering the natural habitat and contaminating drinking water. They also clean off storm drains, doing what they can to prevent flooding from clogged storm drains.

Maintenance workers and mechanics are also critical in improving and protecting water quality in our city. Keeping necessary machinery running, like sewage pumps and collection vehicles, is vital to keeping our systems running that protect water. Reducing the amount of oil and other fluid leaks also promotes better water quality.

If you want to take part in a nontraditional profession ensuring good water quality for drinking and playing, check your local county or city websites for job postings. Be a different type of “essential worker.”

Without these professions, life as we know it would not be possible. Next time you are stuck behind a garbage truck or must move your car for a street sweeper, don’t get mad. Just say, “Thank you!”

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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