Turning on the tap and pouring a cold glass of water is something we all take for granted. It’s an essential part of life, but have you ever thought about the work that goes on behind the scenes?
From technicians who look after our pipes and water treatment works, customer service agents and skilled scientists – our dedicated teams are working day and night during the COVID-19 crisis.
Here, Catchment Scientists Matt, Tom and Mitchell share how they’ve adapted their roles in our Environment Team during the pandemic.
“When you think of key workers, utilities don’t really come to mind. You don’t think about the amount of people and processes it takes to make sure we all have a clean, safe supply of water.”
How long have you been at South East Water?
Matt: “I’ve been with the company for seven years. I started as a compliance sampler, which involved visiting customers’ properties to take samples of water from their kitchen taps. Before I joined South East Water I worked for the RSPCA at the rehoming centre in Snodland.”
Tom: “My career at South East Water started In June 2014. I joined as maternity cover and never looked back. Before I joined I had a few different water related roles, including working for the Environment Agency coordinating its flood maps.”
Mitchell: “I’ve been with South East Water for just over six years now. I started off working in the Water Quality Team at our microbiology lab. Prior to joining the company I studied a degree in Environmental Management and spent around ten years working in different laboratories.”
Can you tell us a bit about your role as a Catchment Scientist?
Matt: “Day to day my role includes visiting locations across our region, mainly covering the Pembury Bewl and Tonbridge areas of Kent. I take samples from rivers, streams and boreholes which helps us test the quality of the water in those sources. I also take readings from ‘loggers’. These are monitoring devices which help us measure things such as barometric pressure (the pressure in our atmosphere), the temperature and water levels.”
Tom: “In a nutshell, I would say our job is to go and take samples from natural water sources to analyse them. I mainly cover areas in Sussex such as Arlington and the Cuckmere River. We then feed this data back into the Water Industry National Environment Programme, which sets out the actions that companies need to complete to meet environmental obligations.”
Mitchell: “My role is the same as Matt and Tom’s, however I cover our western region. This can be anywhere from Buckinghamshire to all the way down near Portsmouth. My time is split between field work and data processing. The data we collect is measured over a long period of time. For example, some of the projects we work on have been going since 2006.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, what changes have been made to your job to make sure you’re working safely?
Matt: “We’re quite lucky in our role, as we mainly working out in the middle of nowhere. Some of the boreholes we need to sample are on private property however, so we went through our programme of work to prioritise our jobs to make sure we don’t need to visit these.”
Tom: “I’d say one of the biggest changes is that we’ve been doing work to support our laboratory and other teams within the company. We also have a PHD student studying with us who’s had to fly back home to Israel, so we’ve had to find ways to still work with him and support him remotely.”
Mitchell: “The most major change that’s happened is the review of our programmes. We’ve changed our field work to make sure we only visit locations that are safe and remote. This means we’re unlikely to meet members of the public and we don’t need to interact with land owners. We’ve also been helping out with some of the drought monitoring work for other departments. ”
How does it feel to know you are a ‘key worker’ and have an important part to play in keeping the country going during these difficult times?
Matt: “When you think of key workers, utilities don’t really come to mind. You don’t think about the amount of people and processes it takes to make sure we all have a clean, safe supply of water. But that’s why it feels good to be a recognised as an essential worker, it means we can still go out and do a really important job.”
Tom: “I had a lovely experience lately when talking to a mortgage advisor. She thanked me for still going out and doing my Job and was really kind. I think it’s great to be recognised as a key worker, however I think people like health workers and the NHS are the real stars.”
Mitchell: “What really puts it in perspective for me is that everyone is struggling with the outbreak at the moment, there have been so many changes to all our lives, but imagine how much harder it would be if the taps were dry? It would be an impossible situation for millions of people, which makes the work we’re doing across the industry vital.”
Have you seen any interesting sights out in the community during the outbreak?
Matt: “Not really an interesting sight as such, but I’ve been taking photos of some of our beautiful countryside. I start work at 6am so I like to try and capture the sunrise if I can. My family like to hear about what I get up to day to day, so they’ve been enjoying the images.”
Tom: “I can’t think of anything specific. We work in remote areas, but we do get to see interesting sights every day, not just during the pandemic. It’s great to see more wildlife about though.”
Mitchell: “I’ve definitely noticed a lot more wildlife out and about, which is really lovely to see. I have also unfortunately noticed an increase in fly-tipping to, both in the environment and at operational sites. We put this down to a combination of Council run tips being closed and people spending more time at home doing DIY/clearing out. It’s a really horrible to see, especially in such a beautiful environment.”