There’s a lot more to replacing water pipes than you’d think. It turns out, pipes are really about people. People who enjoy safe, reliable water. People in the community who share an interest in the project and the people on the City of Richmond Public Works crew who put people first.
“Putting water pipes in the ground and hooking them up to homes is just part of what goes on when the City upgrades its watermain infrastructure,” says Jason Butler, a water crew supervisor on a recent project in Springfield. “It’s an opportunity to raise awareness about the City’s investment and why it’s important.”
As crews work to install new pipes in the community, they focus on more than just the task at hand. They recognize (and emphasize) the importance of safe, reliable water and the critical need to support a sustainable water supply to protect this limited and highly valuable resource. They take pride in their work, and they keep the bigger picture in mind: the people who connect to the system.
Communication is key. In addition to sending a letter to affected residents, the crew takes it a step further to connect in person with people in the area. On the Springfield project, Butler looked for opportunities to engage with residents and raise awareness about water infrastructure and why it is important. He chats with people walking by the work site, and he spoke to the principal at a nearby school to invite classes to drop by to see the work underway. About five classes took him up on his offer, and Butler not only talked to them about the work underway, he used it as an opportunity to teach them about water conservation.
“I explain the water cycle, how much water there is on earth, and how little of it is water that we can drink,” says Butler. “It’s a lot of work to get the water we enjoy daily, and I ask them to do their part to conserve water, like turning the water off while brushing their teeth.”
Butler’s crew also puts people first by assessing how their work will affect residents. One example was when he noticed that the place the surveyors had marked for a hydrant would displace a recently planted apple tree, Butler approached the property owner and asked if it would be okay to shift it over a bit to save the tree.
“The resident’s son was there and was very worried about the apple tree being hurt by the hydrant, so they were happy to see it moved,” says Butler. “We want to make the area better than when we got there, so we look for ways to do that beyond the project itself, like fixing sidewalks and helping residents.”
Ultimately, what they do is truly public works. They don’t just connect pipes, they connect with people. And the end result is about more than just safe, reliable drinking water. It’s about building community.