When Nancy Au-Yeung snapped a photo of Southeast Treatment Plant (SEP) Superintendent Wes Ng in action, surrounded by an underground lair of pipes, she didn’t think it would give others such an in-depth peek into the everyday challenges essential workers face at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).
Au-Yeung’s amazing photo has since been featured on the “Our SFPUC Community” page on the SFPUC’s internal Currents website. It was originally juxtaposed to cozy working-from-home photos of employees agency-wide adjusting to balancing their work and home life.
The photo (below) depicts Ng mid-air, limbs outstretched with one foot on one pipe and the other foot on another, amid an entanglement of pipes.
“I was able to capture Wes closing the roof drain valve, as part of our Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) Plan, before handing over the system to the contractor for demolition and replacement,” said Au-Yeung. “I like that even though Wes is a manager, he is willing to come in to work every day, get dirty, and do the work himself. Wes does a lot behind the scenes and helps the project run smoothly and efficiently.”
Ng has been with the PUC for 28 years and assists in getting maintenance and contractor projects working in conjunction with the operation of the treatment plant. Au-Yeung is a resident engineer who has been working at the SEP for over 15 years. In her day-to-day duties, she coordinates between the City and contractors to carry out various construction contracts to support and improve the SEP.
For both Ng and Au-Yeung, the essential work that takes place at the SEP doesn’t stop because of COVID-19. On top of regular strenuous day-to-day activities, these essential workers are also dealing with foul odors, bioaerosols, and for some contractors – being splashed with sludge.
“The SEP treats the wastewater for the east side of San Francisco and is very important to clean up the wastewater before discharging it into the Bay – for the marine life, for the environment, for us,” said Au-Yeung. “Essential workers have not had any break since the start of the pandemic, and often don’t get included in recognition by the media or public.
Au-Yeung said that it is important to not take for granted indoor and outdoor plumbing, as well as the ability to have clean, pristine water on demand, and to have waste cleanly and odorlessly “disappear” on demand.
“What would you do without access to these luxuries?” said Au-Yeung. “It takes a lot of planning, design, and physical labor in the background to make life comfortable, convenient, and carefree for the community.”
Essential workers still report to work every day to keep things flowing despite not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also drastic climate conditions and unhealthy air quality for outdoor operation, construction, and inspection due to the wildfires currently plaguing the West Coast. “In this time of COVID-19, the essential workers put themselves at risk by not sheltering in place and we are only a small fraction of essential workers that keep the City running,” said Ng.
For more information about the important work being done at the SEP that keeps our communities running, visit www.sfwater.org/sep.