Appreciating water workers

Sometimes it may be hard to figure out where one’s taxes go – and then at other times, it’s obvious. Saranac Lakers got a good reminder of that seeing a crew of village workers slaving away for almost 19 hours Wednesday and Thursday morning to find and repair a broken water main.

For many of us, any kind of plumbing problem is scary, and it’s absolutely terrifying to think that it took these workers 12 hours just to dig up all the valves – more than a dozen – and shut off the water.

These workers are valiant, their patience and persistence amazing. That’s exactly what’s needed to fix this kind of mess. We’re deeply grateful for their efforts.

And not just for this effort. Remember how they managed to repair a broken water main under Park Avenue on Feb. 2 after 26 hours of labor? Remember their five-day ordeal to fix broken mains under Broadway in February 2013? And those are just a couple of examples.

The Broadway break led to a project there that’s currently in its second of 10 weeks: ripping up the road surface, replacing the sewer and water lines, and putting in new road and sidewalks. It’s a big, expensive operation, but it’s necessary because as these pipes get older, they just break and break and break.

Many of the pipes in Saranac Lake and other local communities are 100 years old or more. The water main that broke Wednesday had been installed in 1934. Right next to it was one from the early 1900s. It didn’t break this week, but it probably will at some point soon. That’s one reason – aside from the potholes – that Saranac Lakers get frustrated with the state Department of Transportation for constantly putting off a replacement of Lake Flower Avenue. Whenever the DOT gets around to doing so, that will let the village replace all those pipes.

It’s tempting to get frustrated that all this work doesn’t happen sooner, but really, it’s amazing that we modern Americans have water and sewer infrastructure that works so well. We tend to forget about it, assuming we can turn on a tap anywhere and get clean, drinkable water and that our sewage simply goes away. This isn’t magic, and it isn’t natural. It’s the result of a lot of engineering, hard work and money. Non-village residents who have to deal with wells and septic tanks have a better sense of what’s behind it, and many people around the world enjoy none of it at all. In rural areas of many countries, people’s sewage goes untreated into their backyards. Some have to walk miles to tote back potable water.

We may not feel rich, but in a global context, this modern amenity of indoor plumbing is a luxury, and an expensive one. The cost keeps going up, too, as old plumbing has to be repaired and replaced. We pay for it in our local water and sewer bills, as we should.

For the most part, grumbling about these bills is pointless. We’re actually getting something wonderful for our money. Water and sewer systems are indispensable in modern society, and villagers hire great people to take care of them for us. When the system breaks, most of us don’t even have to call them; they just show up and work on it until it’s fixed.

Let’s not take that for granted. Let’s all think about it and thank them for their hard work.