He kept it flowing for 39 years; Water District Manager Dick Swaab retires
By Tim Robinson
For nearly 40 years Dick Swaab has been going to work each weekday and likely some weekends to make sure the pressure is up and your drinking water is clean and safe.
From reading meters in 1979 to general manager of Water District #20, just north of 128th and 1st S.,Swaab has earned his time off.
Dick's family arrived in Burien in 1959. Born the youngest of seven siblings in the Netherlands, Swaab attended Lake Burien Elementary, Seahurst Junior High and Highline High. He's married to wife Shelley and has a daughter, Amanda.
One might not think water is all that interesting until you don't have it, or you read about problems with supply from either too little of it or it is undrinkable (Flint, Michigan).
Dick said the District does not do anything to our water supply. The District is the local distributor. The water comes from Seattle Public Utilities via the Tolt River and the Cedar River watersheds.
Trunk lines flow from the Cascade Mountain estuaries into Lake Youngs, near Maple Valley, where it is treated at refinement facilities prior to delivery to the county area businesses and residences.
The water flows through copper pipes in the District. The District has been transitioning away from galvanized iron piping to avoid corrosion. "Copper is also much easier to install and repair in the field," Dick said.
Water District #20 provides water at a cost that would make a gas station owner blanch. A gallon runs about 3/100th of a penny or roughly three cents for 10 gallons. Too bad cars don't run on water.
Swaab spoke about the last 20 years of conservation initiatives regarding water use. "We use less water per person now than we did in 1990,"he explained. With approximately 567,000 residents in greater Seattle then, the average daily water consumption per day was 82.5 million gallons. Today, with those conservation measures, the total daily consumption is 57.4 million gallons and there are more than 658,000 residents.
"You remember those days when we left the water running in the driveway while we washed the car," Dick smiled."Not anymore."
Dick said most folks have a nozzle and are more aware about conserving a precious resource. A warning, you still should not drink water directly from a hose, Dick advised "it might have been in the garden dirt".
A note about how tech has improved efficiencies at the District. Field reps have analyzers that can detect PH levels and chlorine residue, transmitting it much faster to the data servers to be able to investigate and correct a possible problem in the system. Yes there is chlorine in our water. It kills bacteria if it is present.
A note about water pressure. The water is gravity fed from those jumbo tanks rising above the trees around the county. If you live at the top of a hill your pressure might have 50-65 pounds per square inch. If you live at the bottom of that hill, the pressure is closer to 75-90 PSI. This means if your kids are going to have a water fight with the neighbor kids, it's better to live at the bottom of the hill but the District would rather you didn't waste the water.
For Dick Swaab, the pressure to manage and provide quality water to your homes is in his past and that is clearly a PSI he can be proud of.
A great role model and mentor in my lifetime. Thank you for supplying the great people of this city clean water and for being someone I can look up to!
Thank you for being a dedicated and vital part of our community! All the best to you amd yours and enjoy your time off!