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Water is life: TRWD employees show their support to underdeveloped countries in need

By December 22, 2023

Drop by drop, the work of good folks like Jason Gehrig and other Tarrant Regional Water District employee volunteers is helping to improve quality of life in countries across the globe.

Jason, who serves as infrastructure engineering director, marks 15 years with TRWD in January 2024. His department includes teams that manage design and construction services for new infrastructure as well as updating aging infrastructure in accordance with TRWD’s asset management program.  His teams also include staff running operating systems and providing automation programming services to enable remote pump station and pipeline operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jason grew up in Muenster, Texas, where he worked for his hometown municipal water department during the summers in high school.

It was interesting work, he says, learning the water business through a variety of jobs that included laying sewer pipes, cleaning water treatment plants and working on trash trucks.

Those experiences inspired Jason to complete a civil engineering degree at Texas A&M University and launch his professional career working on municipal water infrastructure design for a local engineering firm.

A mission with a purpose

For a while, Jason, his wife and their three children lived in Bolivia. They spent seven years there through a church mission program called Maryknoll. Volunteers brought various skills to connect with and help the families and communities in this underdeveloped country.

“Our commitment was 3.5 years but we fell in love with the people and the place and ended up staying a little bit longer,” Jason says.

Jason made some meaningful connections while there. He was introduced to a group of water experts with Suma Jayma, a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to serving Bolivians in need. Suma Jayma’s vision is a Bolivia in which all people have access to reliable and safe water and sanitation services.”

Jason accompanied these workers as they helped rural Andean villages develop water systems. The communities provided manual labor and local materials like sand and gravel with construction materials subsidized by global nonprofit organizations and Bolivian municipal government funding.

From there, Jason met individuals from Water Engineers for the Americas and Africa (WEFTA), which was founded in 2002 by a group of engineers and professionals in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Based on their prior experience working with Habitat for Humanity, the U.S. Public Health Service and Waterlines, a similar non-profit, the WEFTA founders envisioned an organization that could connect donors and volunteers directly with Latin American and other countries in need. Since 2003, WEFTA has helped provide technical support and funding for many water and sanitation projects in Bolivia and thirteen other countries.

Jason has served on WEFTA’s board of directors for more than a decade. His interest is in keeping in-country WEFTA partners like the Suma Jayma team sustainable so they can continue supporting rural communities.

Strengthening volunteer support

As Jason has built new connections to help these underserved communities, he’s also recruited different TRWD employees as fellow volunteers for the cause.

Today, Jason and TRWD creative media manager Mark Olson develop operator training videos for WEFTA that are shared on the organization’s website.

Another TRWD coworker, engineering project coordinator Veronica Enriquez, helps with translation and narrates the Spanish version videos, reaching thousands of people online.

Friends from the Trinity River Authority of Texas have also come on board to assist. TRA’s John Bennett has shared his years of treatment plant operator experience, serving as narrator on the training videos. Matthew Jalbert has helped organize visits to local treatment plants and shared footage for the video productions.

To date, this TRWD and TRA volunteer team has produced 18 videos in both English and Spanish.

TRWD engineering tech Dale White has also helped with projects, traveling to Bolivia with Jason to advise and assist the two brothers, Braulio Rojas and Jaime Rosa, who lead Suma Jayma, in drilling water wells and performing major maintenance like rebuilding mud pumps. Dale and Jason even organized fundraisers in Jason’s hometown to help purchase and ship a truck-mounted drilling rig to Bolivia. The support has truly been a team effort.

“There are people here with certain skillsets and a lot of knowledge who can help the folks on the ground in countries like Bolivia. The work can be strengthened if these communities have opportunities to tap the resources and expertise available to us here,” Jason says.

“The rivers are often in a sorry state in developing countries. Wastewater is too often not treated before being returned back into the rivers. This creates health issues, is detrimental to aquatic life and limits the ability to reuse the water. Many groups are working to help, but it will take time,” he notes.

The return home, finding his TRWD family

After his seven years in Bolivia, Jason and his family moved to New York, where he completed his master’s degree in international political economy and development at Fordham University. They then decided to move home to Texas, so his kids could get to know their grandparents and extended family better – and this is when Jason started his TRWD career.

“What we do at the water district is very meaningful work. The diversity of the projects we’re involved in is so interesting. And, of course, we are providing a much-needed service to the community. There is such a positive culture and great sense of family here at TRWD,” he says.

Balancing his TRWD responsibilities and volunteer service to communities far away takes time, but it is so important to Jason to continue helping countries like Bolivia.

“Support efforts are very much appreciated in these countries. The people there who often struggle under limited resources are willing to sacrifice and put in the effort alongside volunteers. They’re not looking for a handout – goodwill efforts can open up opportunities, assist with the well-being of their families and neighbors and help restore their sense of dignity as a community. They embrace and welcome the friendships and assistance. In return the local people enrich us with lived values and perspectives that we sometimes lose sight of here,” he says.

Caring for others in need

In Bolivia, there is a saying, “agua es vida,” that means “water is life,” and there is so much truth in that message for all of us around the world.

“I only wish I had more time to help,” Jason says.

If you’re interested in assisting underdeveloped communities with water and sanitation support, Jason can be contacted at Jason.gehrig@trwd.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Current Level Conservation Level* Level Difference**
Arlington 548.24 550.00 -1.76
Benbrook 694.03 694.00 0.03
Bridgeport 826.25 836.00 -9.75
Cedar Creek 321.75 322.00 -0.25
Eagle Mountain 647.78 649.10 -1.32
Lake Worth 592.04 594.00 -1.96
Richland-Chambers 315.49 315.00 0.49
*Conservation Level: The permitted level of water an entity is allowed to hold in a lake. Any amount above the conservation level is used for the temporary storage of flood waters and must be released downstream.
**Difference: Amount above or below conservation level.
For more information read our daily reports or the TRWD Lake Level Blog.

Check out the TRWD OneRain portal for a visualization of this information and more.

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