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Turning Seattle On to Great Water

When an SPU customer calls about an issue with their drinking water – say the water is a brownish color instead of the normal crystal clear – they will usually end up speaking with Sheppard (Shep) Gray, Enos Mowatt, Jennifer (Jen) Coffin, or Kenneth (Ken) Volpone. These four water inspectors oversee a massive territory that includes Burien to the south and Shoreline to the north.

Kenneth (Ken) Volpone

The work this team performs is all frontline field work—meeting with customers to perform inspections of waterlines. “We inspect water lines on new construction projects, turn off and turn on water for other projects, investigate water outages and help customers figure out why they may have a high water bill,” says Shep. The team also assists Drainage and Wastewater crews when sewage backups occur.

All four inspectors are working out of the Water Quality Lab during the pandemic. The team takes this work in stride. “We all step in for each other as needed,” says Jen, matter-of-factly. “That’s what a team does – we take care of each other and watch out for one another.”.

Jennifer (Jen) Coffin

For SPU staff who work remotely from home or are safely ensconced in the office, the thought of being out in the field every day—meeting face-to-face with customers during a pandemic—may seem adventurous, to say the least. But for the water inspectors, it’s just business as usual. “We always wear masks and practice social distancing,” says Enos. “It’s not that big of a deal for us. We are careful to keep ourselves and each other safe.”

The team usually starts their day by checking emails from customers and closing work orders from the day before. Then they are on the phone with customers—homeowners, contractors, and other city agencies— discussing inspections of water lines and water mains, dealing with high consumption issues, and notifying customers about upcoming water shutdowns.  Once this office work is done, usually around 9:30-10 am, they head into the field for a full day of inspections.

Sheppard (Shep) Gray with his children

Like most of us, these team members miss doing all the fun, social things that make life interesting – going to a restaurant, catching a movie, or casually getting together with family and friends.

But the pandemic has some silver linings. Shep, for example, has gotten to spend extra time with his college age daughter and son. “I know they miss being at college and doing all the fun social things you get to do on campus,” he says. “But for me, as their dad, to have this extra time with them, it has really been an incredible gift.”

Enos Mowatt

Enos, who loves to cook, has been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. “The pandemic has helped me to perfect my craft,” he says with a smile.

Jen has found the extra time at home beneficial not just for herself, but for her two dogs as well. “It allows me to take them for long walks which they love and really look forward to each day,” she says. ”The exercise is good for all three of us.”

Despite these trying times, the water inspection team is managing to balance work and life in resilient and creative ways. The way they are supporting each other as needed and without question, staying safe when working in the field, and using the time at home to the benefit of their family, personal interests, and themselves, can be an inspiration for all of us.