David Vik: 25 years on the water
October 4, 2012
David Vik, Cathlamet's supervisor of public works and the sewer and water systems, retired last Friday after almost 26 years on the job.
"The stats have made me the town's longest serving public works/sewer/water guy," he said in an interview on Monday.
A 1968 Wahkiakum High School graduate, Vik did a stint in the Navy, took some college courses, and went to work for the town in 1974, That tour lasted into 1985; he left to work for an analytical laboratory and came back in 1999 and had been there since.
Of course, things have changed in that amount of time.
"When I started, it was one person and a high school kid who mixed chemicals in the water plant on weekends," he said.
"When I started, the city's backhoe was my back and their hoe."
If there was a major problem, he called on one or another of the local contractors with a backhoe. For the town to have its own backhoe would have meant hiring another person for the town crew.
The town had undertaken utility development in the 1960s, first with the still existing sewer plant and later with the water plant on the Elochoman River, which replaced water collected in reservoirs on small streams east of town.
In the early 1980s, the town undertook a major project to replace aging sewer mains. Vik was the town's project supervisor, and they ended up hiring another person to manage the sewer and water plants, and it has been at least two persons on the crew since then.
The water system struggled with having adequate supply in the late 1990s, and in 1998 and 1999, there was a major project to expand the treatment plant and add reservoirs so there would be adequate water in the dry season.
And now as Vik retires, the town is in the midst of constructing a new sewer treatment plant.
Through the years, there has been exponential growth in technology and regulation, Vik said.
"It has made the job easier, but at the same time, you need someone who can understand the technology," Vik said.
And the water plant still faces challenges.
"The plant can make more than enough water, if we can get it into the plant," Vik said.
The water intake is a series of perforated pipes buried in the bed of the Elochoman River. In freshets, silt can plug the system, and in late summer, low stream flows slow the intake. Town officials have begun considering what they can do to make sure there is adequate supply.
"There are two options," Vik said. "You can see what you can do for the intake, or you look at the feasibility of finding a groundwater source to supplement."
It would be good to have redundancy in the sources, and it would be good to look into finding an economical, treatable groundwater source, Vik said.
The job has had different rewards, Vik said.
He took pride in the system and felt a sense of accomplishment in realizing he managed a system that provided water for people using the two water systems in the Cathlamet area.
And to him service matters. He said that one of the most rewarding moments of his career came from a phone call from the sheriff's department emergency dispatcher about 2 a.m. one night. An elderly woman had called to request help with a leak spraying water in her house.
Vik responded. On the scene, he shut off the water at the meter to cut the flow to the leak. In the house, he found that the leak was coming from the hot water line at the bathroom sink. He isolated the leak and helped the woman mop up. The woman was so thankful.
"She was so happy that some young person would come out in the middle of the night and help an old lady," he said. "I could have logged in, and they would have billed her, but I didn't. It was reward enough to see how happy she was."
Vik said he has no definite plans for his retirement; there's no new job waiting in the wings.
He'll work on projects around the house and do some traveling with his wife, Ruby.
He has long had an interest in photography; he will explore that and see what develops.
And this week, he'll enjoy not having the keys to the water and sewer plants and the phone that rings when there's a problem to handle.