‘It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it’

Posted on Mar 04 2020


Working to ensure a supply of water on Saipan that is potable and clean is a tough job but Commonwealth Utilities Corp. Laboratory manager Heidi Yelin believes that someone has to do it and she has been doing it for 15 years now.

It takes attention to details, a strong sense of ethics, plus tons of patience. According to her, these are the things that make this job work.

“So much of the laboratory work requires small details and advance preparations that can impact results. We have to follow methods, not just because it’s required but it’s the right and ethical way to work. The small incremental improvements build over time into major accomplishments,” she said.

“Before working at CUC, I had no idea how much work is required by many people in the field, in offices, or the laboratory to get chlorinated water into a house. I knew even less about wastewater so I spent several months learning how to collect samples, perform all the methods, and began to understand how a water distribution system works,” she added.

Coordinating all CUC water and wastewater compliance monitoring activities as well as administrative and budgeting functions for laboratory operations keeps Yelin on her toes. “Part of the responsibility is reporting all monitoring results of Safe Drinking Water Act samples for CUC’s Public Water Systems on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, as well as from the two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permitted wastewater treatment plants,” she said.

Part of the challenge is that there are so many moving parts to keep track of. CUC has more than 120 wells and multiple water storage tanks on Saipan, one well on Tinian, and one on Rota, with all samples collected and tested for various compounds at different frequencies.

That means Yelin has to schedule the collection of samples to ensure they are analyzed by CUC Laboratory staff or shipped off-island for analysis within the required time. She then compiles the test results and prepare the annual Water Quality Reports for CUC customers, with a separate report for each island.

Trusting the process has been effective for Yelin and explains how the community is assured that there is safe and clean drinking water every second of every day. “I ensure that all the staff follow all the CUC Laboratory standard operating procedures for collecting, receiving, and testing samples. …This helps maintain the CUC Laboratory and CNMI Bureau of Environment and Coastal Quality certification for analysis of drinking water samples for total coliform and E. coli,” she said.

In her 15 years of working at the CUC Laboratory, Yelin said the Saipan water system has made huge improvements. “There was much to learn and I continue to learn every day which keeps life and the job interesting. It’s gratifying to share what I’ve learned about water and wastewater with others, customers, friends and especially students,” she added.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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