Anthony Phelan’s day starts early. First thing each morning he logs into the online system that keeps track of how Tipperary’s water and wastewater networks are performing.
This identifies any issues in the network that need to be dealt with, such as water outages, burst pipes, leaks, wastewater overflows.
As Senior General Services Supervisor with Tipperary County Council, Anthony oversees a team of 35 and is responsible for all the water and wastewater services for the entire southern part of the county – a large area covering the old Tipperary South Riding district.
Within this area Anthony and his team work in partnership with Irish Water to produce 45 million litres of water every day, maintain 3,100 km of water pipe and oversee about 150 water and wastewater sites.
He lives in Coalbrook and is based in Clonmel but given the scale of his task, it’s hardly a surprise that Anthony spends a large portion of his time on the road, traveling the highways and byways of South Tipperary.
“My day normally starts around 7 in the morning. I would be dialling into the online system and getting flows and levels and that would indicate if there was any problem. That would give me a very quick overview on what’s happening.
“That sets the tone for the day regarding bursts and outages in a particular area. Crews would be organised to go out and deal with any issues that come up,” he explains.
“The team is highly skilled at what they do and are very capable. They are really committed and dedicated to the job.
“Essentially we are a 24 hour service. If there is an issue in a plant, guys will come out because they do take pride in their own areas.
“And they’re generally living in the area too so if they haven’t got water it’s in their interest to get it up and running.
“That’s part of living in a community - that everyone looks out for each other and sticks together.”
He recalls a recent incident where a rapid response was required when a burst pipe in the Galtee Scheme threatened water supply to almost 6,000 customers. “There was 600 cubic metres (600,000 litres) per hour coming out of the burst pipe which it turned out was located on a riverbed about half a mile from the water treatment plant. The reservoir level had already dropped by three feet,” he explains.
Within 25 minutes, the water to the burst pipe had been cut off and the burst – in a 600mm section of pipe – found and isolated. Crews were dispatched to site, along with the heavy machinery and all the equipment needed to carry out the repair.
The team worked throughout the day, under Anthony’s supervision, and within about eight hours, the fix had been completed and water supply had been fully restored.
Ensuring a safe, secure supply of water to all the homes and businesses in South Tipperary is something that Anthony takes great pride in.
He is particularly aware of the critical importance of keeping water flowing for the many large food producers and other large industrial users in the area.
“In my area we have very substantial industries like Clonmel Healthcare, Abbot, Boston Scientific. We also have massive food production as well within the county. We have substantial dairy and beef farmers and poultry as well which need big quantities of water,” he says.
Anthony has been with Tipperary County Council for 23 years. Prior to joining the water services section ten years ago he worked with the roads section. His team includes engineers, caretakers, plumbers, general operatives, drivers and external contractors.
“Of all the jobs I have had, it’s the most interesting. It is the most satisfying because you are dealing with so many different elements and trades. One day you could be dealing with contractors organising a pump. The next day you could be plugging your laptop into a circuit board getting readings out of it. It’s very varied,” he says.
Like everybody else Anthony and his team have been getting to grips with the Covid-19 era “new normal” when it comes to social distancing and safe working.
Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of both staff and the public while ensuring that healthcare facilities for example have secure and sustainable water supplies and that wastewater systems are operating effectively is the priority. But the essential day-to-day works also need to be maintained – fixing burst pipes, repairing leaks and clearing blockages in public sewers for example.
“The priority at the moment is getting essential work done, while complying with social distancing. And in fairness to people in Tipperary, they are very supportive. They are our neighbours. They are our families. We are living within the community and generally the guys that are carrying the work are living in the area. So there is goodwill towards us and people do understand that in the times we’re living in we just have to take additional precautions,” Anthony says.
The priority for now is safeguarding water and wastewater services so that critical businesses can continue to operate and that people at home can continue to follow the healthcare advice around hand washing and hygiene.
Residents and business owners are being encouraged to conserve water where possible and to check any buildings which may be temporarily closed for leaks and to turn off unnecessary water such as automatic flushers.
And with a roadmap for restarting the economy now outlined by the Government, Anthony is preparing for a gradual return to normal service.
“At the minute the economy is in shutdown but we will continue to work away and we will be ready to provide water and wastewater services when everyone starts coming back to work,” he says.