Writing Contest Winners 2016-2017

Honorable Mention, Grades 6-8

Kobe Khuong
Grade 7, Atlantic Middle School, Quincy
Holly Rendle, Teacher

Whatever the Weather

Cell phones: almost everybody wants one. We rely on them so much we almost take them for granted, but when you stop to think about it, phones are a tremendous convenience. Your home's water supply is another convenience which is often underappreciated. Think of how difficult daily life would be without the water you use to shower, cook, drink, use the bathroom, and wash your hands, to name a few. We are therefore very lucky to have the MWRA and its workers—come rain, sleet, snow, or sunshine.

For an organization based in New England, weather is a significant hurdle. For example, extreme precipitation can overwhelm sewage systems and cause Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO's). You would think this would happen every time we have a colossal storm, but because of the MWRA's improvements to our water and sewer systems, there have been only two SSO's within our service area in the past 12 months*! When extreme weather does cause stormwater to enter our water bodies, however, there are dedicated workers who are ready and willing to put in extra time and effort. MWRA employees test water quality often, especially after heavy precipitation, checking for high Enterococcus (a type of bacteria) counts*. I was ecstatic and impressed to find "report cards" on the MWRA website for many swimming beaches around Boston, including the beach in my neighborhood. These reports chart the pattern of water quality for the past year, explain the water testing process, and therefore inspire confidence in the dedicated workers who are caretakers of our precious water bodies.

Winter weather extremes can also cause challenges for our water and sewer systems. Of course there is the problem of freezing pipes during cold spells, but this usually happens within people's homes rather than at the main water and sewer level. Fortunately, the MWRA website contains many helpful suggestions for homeowners to prevent and rectify the problem of frozen pipes*. As for snow, as it melts, it can have the same effect as heavy rain, with flooding of dams and other facilities. Fortunately, however, MWRA employees have fought to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature. For example, they have recently improved the Alewife Brook Pump Station by upgrading its sluice gates, generators, etc. I was proud and impressed to find out that this project is preparing our water and sewer system for the effects of climate change, such as increased severity and frequency of major storms, and rising sea levels. Thanks to dedicated engineers and technicians, we are one step closer to Climate Change Resilience*.

Not only does the weather affect the MWRA's systems, but it also affects its workers. Heavy rain can make the workplace unpleasant and even hazardous by drenching hardworking employees. The workers may have a hard time focusing with soggy shirts and pants, but that does not stop them. Snow can also work against them by causing traffic jams, and covering workplaces with blankets of snow. Because MWRA employees often work outdoors, extreme cold can make them vulnerable to illnesses and colds, not to mention to making them extremely uncomfortable. In the summer, workers have the opposite problem; working outside on a humid, 100 degree day is no picnic!

So whenever you are enjoying your central air conditioning on a scorching day or making hot chocolate in your warm house on a cold and stormy day, remember the MWRA workers who are enduring the elements to protect both you and the environment. And after heavy rain or snow, make sure you appreciate the fact that you don't have to worry about your water quality. Whatever the weather, the MWRA and its workers are the real unsung heroes.

*All research/facts for this essay came from the following website: www.mwra.com.

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