New York's Leaky Pipes: A Full-Time Job

DAVID GOMEZ'S plumbing career began through a friendship he had as a high school student in his native Peru. A friend who worked as a plumber in a shipyard needed extra help because he had missed a day at work. Mr. Gomez volunteered and soon began working regularly there in the afternoons. In time, he left the classroom altogether for the job.

"I had to work," he says. His mother was a single parent and there were seven children in the family.

The shipyard built anchovy-fishing boats and ships for other countries. "You have to know how to read blueprints, and you have to be exact," recalls Gomez, who says he and his colleagues built everything from water pipes to fuel systems "from scratch." Within a year, he started his own plumbing business.

In 1970, after studying English for one month, he visited the United States and worked briefly for a plastics factory in New York City. Eventually, he was hired by a plumbing contractor in the Harlem section of New York. One of his early assignments was to repair a return line that carried water back into the boiler from the radiator for heating. His boss considered it a two-day job. Gomez did it in five hours. "I was used to working as a contractor, where you have to do the job fast or you don't make mo ney," he explains.

Gomez returned for a few years to Peru, where his family remained. Eventually he brought them to New York. He now is president of his own contracting corporation.

Most of his time, says Gomez, is spent repairing leaky water pipes.

Gomez likes the taste of New York City water, which the US magazine Consumer Reports ranked first among 50 municipal systems in a taste test a few years ago. This city's water flows down from the Catskill Mountains and largely comes to New Yorkers as it falls from the sky. Only a little chlorine and fluoride are added. Gomez says he doesn't think the water in Lima tastes as good. He notes that most drinking water there must be boiled first.

New York City residents use some 1.5 billion gallons [5.7 billion liters] of water a day. Sometimes on the hot days of summer the figure moves as high as 1.8 billion gallons [6.8 billion liters]. Gomez says he notices that much water is wasted. "Everybody has to cooperate - and it takes education," he says. He regards washing a car with a hose as one of the most egregious examples of waste. Yet, he notes, even the small loss from a dripping faucet quickly adds up. He says water-reducing devices attached to faucets and shower heads, and float devices used in toilet tanks, all help to save water.

None of his seven children aspires to a plumbing career, he says. His oldest son and daughter, both in college, want to be an aeronautical engineer and medical doctor, respectively. He says he likes to spend as much time as he can with his children. And when he can spare the time: "I like to go to the beach."

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