Water Resources Director Steve Drew is retiring at the end of the month after over 40 years working for the water department of the City of Greensboro.
He started working for the city in June 1979 when T.Z. Osborne was the city manager and not the name of the wastewater treatment plant.
When asked about his many years working for Greensboro, Drew said, “I love my job.” Something he repeated several times during the interview.
Drew started off as a plant mechanic and electronics technician, worked his way up through the department and has been water resources director since 2012. This year the budget for the water resources department was nearly $140 million and, as Drew was quick to point out, none of that is taxpayer money. The department is funded through the water and sewer rates.
During the droughts in the early part of this millennium, Drew was the water supply division manager and at that time the job included making decisions like to drain Lake Higgins completely into Lake Brandt, and to figure out how to clean the water left in the lakes, which was much different than the water that normally runs through the plants, to Greensboro’s high standards.
One of the reasons Drew loves his job is because he obviously loves being given a difficult problem and figuring out a workable solution.
He said, “I’m a hands on person. A plant person at heart. Water treatment plants and equipment and operations, I just love it.”
Of course, a large part of the job is keeping up with the ever more stringent regulations on water quality. One example Drew gave was “turbidity,” which is the amount of suspended solids in the water. He said in the 1960s, the regulation was 5 NTU and now it is 0.1 NTU. (An NTU is a Nephelometric Turbidity Unit.)
A large part of the job of water resources director is dealing with infrastructure. The expected life of a pipe in the ground, what Drew refers to as “buried assets,” is 80 to 100 years. When Drew took over the department, the replacement rate was 600 years, but that was down from 1,000 years. Drew said by continuing the program of replacement, they had it down to about a 125 year rate and at the current level of replacement it will be down to 100 years, or where it should be, in a couple more years.
Infrastructure and water treatment aside, Drew said that he considered one of his accomplishments as director was the “culture of the organization.”
He said, “We make a lot of investment in employee engagement and most of it is team led.”
He said, “We want our employees to be happy in our jobs and our work.”
The good news for the city is that Drew won’t actually be gone long. He’s coming back as a part-time employee in March as the sustainability officer, and he said the idea was that within a year he would have worked himself out of job and would really retire.