A sewer department by any other name still smells the same

June 26, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

My first question when I saw that Washington County had changed the name of its "Sewer Department" to the "Department of Water Quality" was: Oh great, I wonder how much we paid a consultant to come up with that one?

But no, apparently it was all done in-house, which I believe represents a positive step forward for local governments. This proves my long-standing point that local governments have within their own ranks the genius and creative thinking to enact major policy shifts without resorting to those in the consulting business who routinely are paid unconscionable sums to come up with unused fire/rescue studies or Herman Bartlett.

Indeed, I wish I could have sat in on the high-level meetings to watch the wheels at work that produced the Department of Water Quality.

They probably had to weed out a number of other fine suggestions, such as the Department of Brown Gold, or the Department of Debt That is Slightly Lower than it Used to Be.


Names are changed all the time and there's no harm in it. Probably the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta was once known as the Department of Crud. And perhaps the stigma of the homeless could be shattered if we call them Feral Humans.

So sewer/water quality is all the same to me.

I suppose this is sort of a testing of the time-honored chestnut that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Will sewage by any other name smell as foul?

Now if you get a backup in your house you can phone in and tell them, "Yes, I have 6 inches of raw 'water quality' in my basement - but it's not so bad, really."

So for the record, is a septic tank now to be called a daisy hydroponic?

Sewer chief Gre - whoops, I mean Water Quality chief Greg Murray said the change was done to 1.) boost morale of department employees and 2.) better reflect the department's mission.

He said there was this nagging feeling within the agency that the word "sewer" could potentially be construed as "something negative."

Well, yes. In the sense that, if one stretches the imagination, the terms "rancid fish guts" and "ax murderer" can be taken to mean something lacking in romance.

While we're on the subject, maybe Greg can do something about "fecal matter." I've never liked the sound of that; it sort of oogs me out.

There is precedent. After all, in state government parlance, cattle leavins are no longer known as manure, they are known as "nutrients."

I don't know what nutrient-for-brains bureaucrat thought of that one, but it causes some confusion in my mind, because you can have thousands of fish in the Antietam Creek killed off by "nutrients." For years, when I heard the term, "nutrient management," I thought it was some new diet from Lynn Little. It's almost like the cartoon world where cattle aren't slaughtered, they "graduate from Bovine University."

As for the employee-morale part, I don't know. I'd like to think that, as they pull on their hip-waders in the morning for slogging through the goo, employees will turn to their wives and say, "Today is the dawn of a bright new era, for this morning I go to work not in the sewer department, but in the big rock-candy mountain that is the Department of Water Quality." We'll see, I guess. But for morale purposes, I think I probably would have settled for a raise.

On another note, do you think other county departments are jealous? Like somebody's waking up this morning and saying, "I've got to go to work for the stinkin' roads department while Chauncy gets to live it up at Water Quality." Look for Ted Wolford to change the Roads Department to the Department of Fun, Fun, Fun 'Til Her Daddy Took the T-Bird Away.

But really, Greg Murray has turned the department of sewer quality around from its King Herod days of the early '90s, so as far as I'm concerned he can call it whatever he wants. You won't catch me saying that this whole thing is just one big load of water quality.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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