As published in the Lake Travis View, January 2023.
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, yet causes real concern: why, so often, do we drive by a construction site and see a bunch of workers standing around, peering down into a hole? Shouldn’t they be working?
Actually, more often than not, they are all working and each one of those workers has a specific purpose for being there. Making decisions when you’re facing the unknown, where the unexpected is likely to arise, requires a plan instead of immediate action. It requires workers to stop and think before proceeding with caution.
As a water utility, we have planned maintenance schedules to help safeguard our treatment plants and distribution system. This includes sampling the water, testing water pressure, checking pipes for breaks, replacing manhole covers and clearing away debris to keep fire hydrants visible, among other important routine tasks.
Other tasks are unplanned. Even with the best of intensions, accidents and wear-and-tear still happen. And when they do, emergency protocols are activated, propelling a whole chain of events to quickly take place. For example, when a water line is hit or breaks, causing a major leak, it’s imperative that we stop the water loss as quickly as possible.
Anytime a property is inconvenienced, most utilities will try to communicate to the residents about the project to help them be aware of the “who, what, where, when and why” of the impact. But rarely will it include precise details of “how,” since this is a constantly evolving process.
Some, but not all, of these planned and unplanned tasks are visible to residents: they can cause an interruption to service, disturbance to landscaping, or detours on roads. Anytime a property is inconvenienced, most utilities will try to communicate to the residents about the project to help them be aware of the “who, what, where, when and why” of the impact. But rarely will it include precise details of “how,” since this is a constantly evolving process.
Repair work typically starts with upper management discussing details such as what is happening, who and what equipment is needed to fix it, who will be impacted and who needs to stay updated on the progress. On the scene, minute-by-minute decisions take place that may require the expertise of a project manager, heavy equipment operator, a spotter to oversee the work of the heavy equipment, a safety officer to redirect traffic and runners to complete tasks outside of the immediate work area. And it’s all a lot of hard labor – especially in the midst of extreme weather – so taking breaks is needed and workers are rotated between strenuous or monotonous tasks.
Construction work is not an endless project; it requires completion, many times with tight deadlines to be met. Even workers at construction sites have families to get home to, so they usually don’t want to stand around staring into a hole for unproductive reasons. Assume crews are working as diligently as safely possible to bring things back to normal or improve an existing situation.
Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD). Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.