Welcome to the Island, Man!
Iwas stoked to get the job. In my old
position, I’d been stuck on a desert island
off the coast of Africa with a half-baked
prototype desalination plant run by an
artificial intelligence software package
that was only half-written. A year of little
progress and, boy, was I ready for a change!
The company had landed a contract for
a full-sized desalination plant in the
Caribbean, and I was given the nod to be
the site engineer. The company always did
a great job with a reconnaissance manager
who arranged work permits, visas, housing,
cars and local staff, and so not only had I the
correct visas in my passport, but I even had
a script to use and government letters and
phone numbers for the immigration officer
when I got off the plane.
I don’t think I kept a very good poker face
when the immigration officer pulled me
14 SOURCE spring 2011
out of the line to expedite me out front to
a car from the Ministry of Water, where my
bags already waited. This was a great step up
from spending half a day flipping through a
Spanish-English dictionary trying to get to
the site! At the time I thought it was just part
of the treatment, as the airport official had
commented that I was needed right away.
Little did I know.
After 30 hours of travel, I was tired, but
the car took me directly to the office of the
Minister of Water, who greeted me warmly
and asked if I was a diver. “Oh, but I am!”
I replied, and we set a date to go scuba
diving at 7:00 the next morning. “Why don’t
we meet at the desalination plant?” he said.
“How cool is this!” I thought, as I struggled
to drag my personal gear, work gear (call it
an international home office with computer,
modems, fax, and five-mile cordless phone)
and scuba gear, which my driver had piled
on the sidewalk, to a cab stand and rode out
to my apartment outside of town.
Seven a.m. came awfully early, but I got
myself to the plant, where the light bulb
came on—finally. It seems the island had
three aboveground water reservoirs, and
one was leaking, leaking quite badly, in
fact. The tanks were actually black hypalon
rubber bladders of about a half a million
gallons, held up by dirt berms. Quick, cheap,
simple but very hot! Since the water was
made using diesel powered desalination,
water loss was pretty critical. Now I was
starting to understand why the immigration
officer wanted me on the job. It transpired
that nobody wanted to go into the bladder
due to the heat, blackness, scuba diving, etc.
So, let’s ask the new guy! Did I mention the
light was starting to go on?
Six overly cheerful plant operators helped
me get into my scuba gear and reminded me
to “pee now, not later.” The hatch was in the
middle of the tank and used a neat double
seal. Two guys supported me as we staggered
across the top—kind of like walking
on a waterbed in scuba gear. At the hatch,
I was handed a clamshell two-part repair
clamp, which I was to bolt through the hole.
They assured me that the hole would be in
the bottom, most likely on a seam, and they
promised that one of them would always
be stationed at the hatch while I was inside.
At this last comment, my tummy suddenly
turned funny. They then opened the hatch,
the water came rolling out, and we started to
sink. Both guys picked me up and dropped
me in, and after a hyperfast “You okay?” the
hatch was bolted shut.
The instant blackness took my breath away.
My two flashlights had nothing to reflect off
By Glenn Reynolds, Chair, Smaller Utilities Committee, CA-NV AWWA, Water Solutions