Jackson Jenkins: When you flush, say a little thank-you for our water projects

2014-02-28T00:00:00Z Jackson Jenkins: When you flush, say a little thank-you for our water projectsBy Jackson Jenkins Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Government often accomplishes herculean tasks with little recognition.

In part because these functions are so pedestrian and everyday, it’s easy to forget how flat amazing it is that students are educated, water comes out of the tap, the sewer system works, municipal trash is carted away and Social Security checks show up on time.

A case in point: Earlier this year, Pima County effectively wrapped up the largest and most complex public-works project it has ever undertaken, making sure our wastewater meets strict new federal and state environmental regulations.

The program came in roughly $114 million below budget, from a combination of effective management and a competitive environment for labor and materials.

And it came in on time, to the point that the brand new Agua Nueva Water Reclamation Facility became fully operational an entire year ahead of its January 2015 target. The other linchpin of the project, the Tres Rios Water Reclamation Facility, also was completed comfortably on schedule.

This was no small feat. With meticulous planning and 3 million labor hours, thousands of mechanical and electronic components were installed, 85,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured and 10,000 tons of steel were used.

Each step had to be carefully choreographed to make sure existing operations weren’t interrupted, even as construction occurred in and around our plants. In fact, regulatory compliance was maintained throughout the entire construction period.

Here are some ways the program spelled big improvements for the community:

  • Sophisticated odor-control equipment means that west-side neighborhoods and interstate travelers will no longer have to be reminded of the now-decommissioned Roger Road facility.
  • Both new facilities are capable of discharging water that meets A-plus classification standards — the highest possible.
  • We are well-positioned for future growth, and will comfortably be able to serve the projected population for years to come.
  • The ambitious construction project provided 500 private-sector jobs at a time when the economy, then flagging, really needed that infusion of capital.

With the aging Roger Road plant more than 60 years old, Pima County had little option in upgrading our facilities to meet standards. Failure to act would have led to steep fines, additional oversight and, potentially, even a growth moratorium.

Even with the expenses of this program, our rates remain within the mid range for sewer utilities nationally. And we’ve been implementing efficiencies as well, with the department operating with 120 fewer jobs over the past five years, largely through attrition.

In its simplest terms, our job is to protect the health and safety of this community and to do that in a fiscally responsible manner. While we do that, we’re also effectively recapturing a critical natural resource and making sure it can be put to reuse.

The work isn’t glamorous. But as they taught us in school, the role of government often lies in working steadily to build the invisible infrastructure that makes our community livable. And sometimes, that kind of everyday little thing, like flushing a toilet and not giving it a second thought, simply is amazing.

Jackson Jenkins is the director of the Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department. Email him at Jackson.jenkins@pima.gov

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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