(Wendy Edelstein photo)
It's My Job
16 January 2008
In this new semi-regular feature, the Berkeleyan showcases a staff member whose work is essential to the smooth functioning of the campus (or one of its many departments and units). Do you know someone whose job would interest our readers? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Stationary Engineer, Athletics
What's your job?
I maintain the Hearst and Spieker swimming pools, and run the events for Athletics' aquatics program.
What does running events involve?
I set up lane lines and make sure the touch pads that signal the scoreboard are working properly for swim meets. For water polo, I check that the electronic device that signals the shot clocks is functioning.
What do you do on a typical day?
I wash the decks, brush the pool, and vacuum. I do pool checks throughout the day. Our pools are run electronically: Computer-based chemical sensors read the chlorine, pH, and flow levels. If the flow stops, the sensors send an alarm to my pager.
So you can receive status updates remotely?
With the computerized system at Spieker, I can shut down the pool completely from home. I can also see what the gallons per minute are or even make it backwash from home.
It just means reversing the flow of the filters to get rid of all of the contaminants. Cleaning the filters, in other words.
What kinds of challenges do you encounter?
For a number of years, coaches would complain periodically about their players losing hair. Or they'd say the water tasted funny. We'd check our chemicals, but they were always right on the money.
What was the problem?
We figured out that the fresh water coming into the Spieker pool from East Bay MUD's fill line has a high chloramine content. Chloramine is a byproduct of chlorine, and it gets carried in the air as a vapor when the weather gets colder. It's very caustic. If you're a swimmer, you can almost smell it on top of the water, and it will catch in your throat if you're sensitive to it.
Why was it hard to detect?
The water level in the pool - and thus the chemical balance - fluctuates depending on how many people are in it. When people get in the pool, water is displaced into a surge pit. When they get out, the level of water in the surge pit drops real fast, and fresh water from EBMUD, with its higher chloramine content gets added, diluting the pool's chemical balance.
How did you fix the problem?
We put a charcoal filter on our through line to the water we get from EBMUD. We've had no complaints since last August.
Your job seems to fall under the radar.
The regulars know what it takes to maintain a pool. They'll say, "Wow, the water's great today!" They're my weathervanes.