Making sure everyone in Tarboro has clean, safe drinking water will no longer be part of Phillip “Phil” Harris’ daily routine starting Friday.
Tomorrow marks 50-year-old Harris’ last day as supervisor of the Town of Tarboro Water Treatment Plant. He is retiring from the plant with 29 years of service.
“He’s been an asset to the town,” said Troy Lewis, director of the town’s public works department. “He’s been an outstanding employee and we hate to see him go.”
Harris has been the supervisor of the water treatment plant at 600 Albemarle Ave. since 2005. He began as a trainee at the plant under then-plant supervisor Harry Penwell in February 1984 and worked his way up the ranks, obtaining a “C,” “B,” and eventually an “A” (top level) water operator certification license.
“It’s kind of a tough job, a lot of regulations to deal with,” Lewis said. “He’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders, to make sure people have a safe drinking water supply.”
“You’re regulated by the state and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency,)” Harris said. “We have to run tests to make sure the water meets EPA rules.”
Harris’ other responsibilities include overseeing the maintenance and improvement of the 1934 plant, ensuring there is plenty of water in the tanks for fire protection, and overseeing the overall operation of the 6 million gallon water plant.
“We average 2.5 to 3 million gallons a day of treated water,” Harris said. The water that arrives at the plant is pumped straight from the Tar River and goes through a four-hour treatment process at the plant, Harris explained. The treated water is then sent to one of six different water towers in town and goes straight into homes and businesses.
“We sell water to Edgecombe County and Princeville, too,” Harris said. At the plant, he supervises a team of five men, and most of them have more than 15 years of experience.
“I think we work very well together to make quality water,” Harris said.
One of Harris’ coworkers is James Farmer, III, lab manager/ service operator with 24 years of experience at the plant.
“It’s going to be different without having him (Harris) here,” Farmer said. He also said after nearly 30 years of working at the same place, Harris “deserves” his retirement.
As in any career, Harris has faced challenges during his time at the water plant. The “biggest headache” that the supervisor recalls in his career is a rainstorm in 2011 that caused runoff from swamps on Fishing Creek and sent high levels of manganese (a type of mineral) down the Tar River.
“By adjusting our chemicals, we eventually worked it out. We came out good,” he said.
In his retirement, Harris will spend more time with his family – his wife of 21 years, Susan, daughters Nikki Taylor and Paige Harris, and 1-year-old grandson Cayden. He also will enjoy pursuing his hobbies.
“I hunt and fish and I like to watch basketball. I pull for Duke,” Harris said.