On Aug. 27, Hurricane Harvey’s rains flooded a critical backwash pond at Houston’s smallest water plant. The water was so deep, no one could make it to the plant to help. It looked as if Houston’s Northeast Water Purification Plant would have to shut down—and, with it, the promise of clean drinking water for a city already besieged by so many other hardships.
But the plant’s quick-thinking manager, Drew Molly, mapped out a rescue plan based on reducing the plant’s water output. The plant maintained enough production to keep water pressure stable throughout the city, while the reduced output bought enough time for the waters to recede. With hours to spare, the scheme worked, and by Aug. 29, high-water vehicles arrived with a temporary dam and pumps.
ENR 12/25/17 p. 8
Public-works engineer and plant manager gives the city of Houston a much-needed win during Hurricane Harvey’s torrential downpour.
Carol Haddock, director of the city’s public-works department, likened Molly’s effort to the Apollo 13 astronauts’ heroic improvisation. She says plant operators ”were deluged with rain, and they had to figure out how to make sure the plant didn’t fail with what they had on hand.” Haddock adds that Molly’s “clear and level head” allowed him to come up with a solution, even as his wife and three children were in West Houston, where floodwaters from Barker’s dam stopped just one block away.
A 12-year veteran of the department, Molly, 44, remained calm by focusing on one day at a time. He says he didn’t see any other option but to stay at the plant and keep it operating. “I try to be the best steward of our infrastructure as I can, appreciating the fact that I have been entrusted to take care of it as if it were my own.” Molly refused to leave the plant until Aug. 31, when the department’s chief operating officer finally convinced him to go home, saying he could “leave the hard way or the easy way.” Since the storm, Molly has been promoted to oversee all of the city’s drinking-water operations.