Writing Contest Winners 2014-2015

Second Place, Grades 6-8

John T. Flynn
Grade 6, McCall Middle School, Winchester
Mrs. DiMare, Teacher

A Day in the Life:
Jack Flynn, Head Civil Engineer of the MWRA

As head of the MWRA's Civil Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (or MWRA), we do some very special and important work for the great city of Boston, and I put my school studies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to work every day. My love of STEM started in middle school and is the reason I have a college degree in Marine Biology, and now a 28-year career with the MWRA.

I love my work here at the MWRA and I'm proud of the progress we've made cleaning up Boston Harbor and the Charles River. I remember the sad days in the 1980s when our waters were dirty and polluted, and I'm proud to say that STEM helped me play a role in their clean up. I was even there that day in 1996 when then-Governor Bill Weld dove in the Charles River to prove how clean it had become!

But I always have to remember that my real boss is Mother Nature. We battle natural elements like stormy weather and destructive high tides pretty regularly here in New England. For example, I remember 2012's Hurricane Sandy, and all the damage it did up and down the East Coast - and I'm proud of the good work done by this city in keeping its people safe and its water resources clean during that awful storm.

And now, I am writing this to let you know that we all face a new threat to our city's waterways. After receiving over 90 inches of snow this winter along with the long stretch of freezing temperatures, we are faced with record amounts of snow that may bring us a major flooding problem. Spring's rising temperatures will change all that snow's state of matter, and melt it all into more water than our systems have ever had to deal with. This means there is a very real potential for major flooding in the Greater Boston area.

The people of Boston are counting on me and my team of STEM experts to figure out a solution, before this flooding potentially creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions this spring. Well, I've got some ideas, and I've got some good friends around the city who I know I can count on to help us solve this potential crisis. With that in mind, I thought you might enjoy reading a recent activity log of a typical day in my life at the MWRA.

You'll see how important STEM is to my department's success, and to preserving the ecological health of our community!

Tuesday February 24, 2015

6:15 AM. Driving to first appointment, thinking about how much snow we've had this year. We can't wait until the spring thaw is upon us to start thinking about a potential flooding and possibly polluting problems. We need to act now!

7:00 AM. Meet with Deer Island shuttle ship captain to hear his firsthand view of the Harbor's challenges, given this brutally cold winter. The iced-over harbor has interfered with commuter boats to Boston and the Islands and has damaged many fishing vessels. We discuss the condition of our dated ice-breaking equipment and review technology needs going forward.

8:15 AM. Back at my office to meet with Wastewater Treatment and Sewage experts to get their view of how this 100-year-old system will hold up to the type of flooding we're anticipating. We discuss the possible contamination of our waterways (should the system have difficulties) and assign a crew to monitor and test the pH levels of the waterways to ensure no seepage is occurring.

9:00 AM. Meet with the Boston Sanitation Department about snow removal in big trucks. This will help reduce any flooding in the spring by reducing the amount of snow on the streets, but can we dispose of the snow without polluting our waterways? We decide to meet with local fishing unions to see if depositing snow into the harbor would negatively alter their fishing areas - breakout our geometry again to establish safe fishing parameters.

10:00 AM. Conference call with Boston's meteorologists. Are more snow and icy temperatures on the way? Can we expect a very warm spring? What I really want to know is: will the snow and ice problem get worse before it gets better, and is there a possibility that unusually warm temperatures in early spring will mean the snow will melt very quickly, making the flooding worse?

12:30 PM. Have lunch with MWRA finance team to discuss a larger budget. We need to hire more STEM experts to help us with these problems!

2:00 PM. Take the Water Shuttle over to the Aquarium stop on the Blue Line to meet with MBTA officials. This is the lowest T station in downtown Boston and could possibly flood, which could disrupt people's ability to get around our city safely.

3:30 PM. Back at the office. Meet with team of senior chemists to ask for a feasibility study on eliminating snow through sublimation. Can snow possibly change its state of matter directly from solid to gas and save some of our pricey water problems? Does the equipment exist?

4:30 PM. Analyze reports from MWRA Building and Groundskeeping Supervisors on how we can increase tourism to Deer Island. We want to encourage young people with a love of STEM to see what we do and potentially help in our efforts one day. As you can see, there's always plenty to do at the MWRA, but there's no place I'd rather work!

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