Government Job Opportunities In The Water Industry

There are public sector jobs for water engineers, technicians, conservationists, PR people, trainers and more. All need to know how the water supply system works.
There are public sector jobs for water engineers, technicians, conservationists, PR people, trainers and more. All need to know how the water supply system works. | Source

For job seekers, especially those with engineering and water management degrees, these are exciting times. Public sector jobs, private contracts, and manufacturing jobs are all increasing everywhere, as people become more aware of how essential it is to have healthy, clean water.

With increasing droughts in many regions of the world, lack of water is starting to generate conflict again. In order to prevent it and keep water systems operating smoothly, water suppliers are revamping their distribution systems, improving procedures, and looking for new technologies to preserve what they have. As a result, the water industry is upgrading worldwide.

For college students, choosing a major related to water is a great idea. Water-related technologies are one of the next big upcoming industries that will need well educated workers to invent, install, produce, repair, and maintain new products and practices.

This article focuses on the expansion of jobs in the public and private utilities sectors, i.e. agencies that clean up and distribute water. A separate article focuses on the expansion of the private sector (water-related technologies, services, and products). To really understand the scope of possibility for water jobs with the public sector, it helps to first understand how water gets from source to consumer.

Water being pumped from the San Francisco Delta to California's farmers in the Central Valley.
Water being pumped from the San Francisco Delta to California's farmers in the Central Valley. | Source

The Need for Water

An efficient water distribution system is finally becoming more important than oil as, of course, it should be. People need water to drink, to bathe, to create landscapes, to run businesses, manufacture products, and carry out numerous other tasks essential to a well functioning, healthy society. In many places, water generates electricity as well, which is one of the infrastructure requirements for modern societies to work.

In regions where water is scarce, like Southern California, its distribution system must be extra efficient. There is plenty of water up north, not so much down south. Trying to move it from one region to the other has created some serious problems with the environment and the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing and farming, etc.

Now California is looking more closely at its water distribution and use to find more efficient ways of operating overall . . . which will also provide job opportunities.

Shallow floodplain in Southern California with rainwater sinking into the aquifer to become groundwater.
Shallow floodplain in Southern California with rainwater sinking into the aquifer to become groundwater. | Source

Major California Water Sources

California has historically had three major water sources: Groundwater, surface water, and reclaimed water. As of summer, 2015, its groundwater resources were close to empty, its mountain snow storage completely depleted, the surface rivers and streams were almost gone (especially in the south), and the manmade reservoirs (dams) were more than half gone.

Reclaimed water, distributed through purple colored pipes, is a fairly newly proven resource. Potentially new sources of water being tested now are seawater (desalination), water freed up from using less (conservation), and reclaimed storm water and waste water that we normally schlep out to the ocean. Some of these sources cost a lot of money, some don't, some need new technology not yet developed, but all are where the new jobs will be, as shown by the following chart.

Potential for New Jobs

Water Source
Water Availability
Action Required
Job Potential
Groundwater
Nearly gone
Stop pumping
Low
Rivers & streams
Very low
Use less
Low
Manmade reservoirs
Low
Damming and piping, replacing old infrastructure
Medium, ongoing
Conservation
Medium
Plugging leaks, educating public to use less, redoing landscaping
High potential
Desalination
Medium to high
Approvals, building huge ocean-friendly plants
High, temporary
Reclamation
High
Building new plants, installing greywater & blackwater systems
High, ongoing
Storm water capture
High
Rerouting city storm drains, installing rain catchment systems
High, ongoing

The types of jobs becoming available include direct hires, contracts, and entrepreneurship (covered in the private sector article). Water and reclamation agencies will need technicians, engineers, meter readers, plumbers, landscapers, contractors, and more. Here is a general idea of how these agencies fit in with each other in California, in other words, how California's current water system works.

California's Water Distribution System

The water distribution system in California is handled by state government, cities, public agencies, and private companies. Within each of these entities there are opportunities for work. With water becoming the top priority in the state and with greater efficiency now mandated by law, each of these entities is seriously reorganizing. Some are expanding, some are teaming up with other agencies, some are developing new technologies. Briefly, here is what they do.

State Government

The state passes laws related to water regulation. It also operates the extensive distribution system that ships water from Northern California to the Central Valley (for agriculture) and Southern California (for homes, schools, businesses, and manufacturing). There's an agency that maintains the system and others (e.g. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California) that collect and distribute water to city utilities and other suppliers.

City & Private Utilities

Most cities provide both water and electricity through the same city department. They pump their own water from local groundwater (wells) and mix it with supplementary water from state water projects. Private water companies and some universities also have their own piping systems, storage facilities, and purchase agreements for water. All of them purify the water to federal health standards before piping it out to users. All are responsible for maintaining their own systems - testing and repairing leaks, etc.

Reclamation Plants

Wastewater is being considered seriously for water supply by many agencies. They are building reclamation plants to take wastewater formerly dumped into the ocean and run it through several levels of cleansing to make it usable again.

The few reclamation plants in existence today are depositing their treated water into the aquifer, or sending it out via purple colored pipes to be used for irrigating parks and golf courses. However, water supply companies are starting to negotiate with reclamation plants to see how they can work together to increase California's potable (drinking) water supply.

Orange County Water District was the first U.S. supplier to build their own reclamation plant for water reuse. They invented the purple pipe distribution system in the 1960's. That system, which now treats and pipes more than 20 million gallons per day, has become a role model for countries like Australia.

California's water distribution network is supported by a huge private manufacturing and service sector that designs and manufactures water-related products (pipes, meters, tankers, greywater systems, rain barrels, cisterns, hoses, tools, and much more) and provides installation, evaluation, and repair services. This sector will be the greatest source of new jobs.

However, new jobs are usually created by solutions to ongoing problems, like the severe drought in California. Since public agency employees are primarily hired to maintain an existing system, new practices developed to combat a drought generate either new hires or new private sector contracts.

Trainers showing the public how the delta's water distribution system works.
Trainers showing the public how the delta's water distribution system works. | Source
Water auditor taking a uniformity distribution measure - checking to make sure that the irrigation sprinklers are distributing water properly.
Water auditor taking a uniformity distribution measure - checking to make sure that the irrigation sprinklers are distributing water properly. | Source

Water Distribution Changes

In 2009 California's state government mandated that water suppliers develop local water supplies and conservation methods before taking water from another region. Here are some of the actions suppliers have taken so far to carry out that mandate.

  • Plugging system leaks - Water agencies can't very well require customers to conserve, if they're not conserving themselves. So city and private water suppliers are scrambling to plug up the leaks in their own underground piping systems.

  • Water metering - Water suppliers are installing new types of electronic meters to measure the water their customers are using. The City of Sacramento and other northern cities will soon be metering their customers for the first time. And with the state working on legislation to control groundwater use, wells will soon be metered as well.

  • Water use surveying - Water suppliers are offering water use surveys to high-use customers (e.g. schools, government building, hotels). In some states, like Georgia, water agencies increasingly offer water use audits as one of their normal customer services, much like telephone companies send their technicians to check your phone line.

  • Educating the public - Public education is still increasing, as agencies promote conservation to the general public. In 2014 Californians reduced their water use by almost 30% in the month of May. Public education makes a huge difference in whether or not people make an effort to use less water.

  • Developing New Supplies - Water suppliers are developing new technologies that help them produce more water. This includes reusing it (greywater), reclaiming it from the storm drains, or refining sewage water (blackwater) to make it usable.

    Californians are recognizing what people from other parts of the world have long known - that water from any source can be made drinkable. They're also acknowledging that drinking water has to be good quality for health reasons, but water not used for drinking doesn't have to be. UC Davis saved 61 million gallons in 2014 by rerouting reclaimed water they'd been throwing away to use in their campus cooling system.

  • Installing Solar and Wind Power Generation Systems - Private companies and homeowners are not the only ones benefiting from renewable energy production. Most of California's electricity requires water to produce it (hydropower), and electricity moves water from place to place. So there's a synergy. Many agencies, like MWD, are installing their own solar systems to produce the electricity to transport water across the state.

According to Cape Cod's One Stop Career Center in Massachusetts, "Water management is one of the fastest growing job fields. Many opportunities in drinking water, stormwater, groundwater, wastewater, hydrology, water quality."
According to Cape Cod's One Stop Career Center in Massachusetts, "Water management is one of the fastest growing job fields. Many opportunities in drinking water, stormwater, groundwater, wastewater, hydrology, water quality." | Source
Water engineer collecting a sample to measure quality. In order to make an accurate assessment, he will take many samples from different locations and depths, carefully labeling them all before testing.
Water engineer collecting a sample to measure quality. In order to make an accurate assessment, he will take many samples from different locations and depths, carefully labeling them all before testing. | Source
Wastewater treatment plants (Oregon) are complex facilities that need constant monitoring and repairs, even more so when set up to produce drinking water in the final process.
Wastewater treatment plants (Oregon) are complex facilities that need constant monitoring and repairs, even more so when set up to produce drinking water in the final process. | Source

Replacing Retiring Professionals

During the next ten years water agencies expect to lose nearly 50% of their professional staff due to retirement alone. They will be looking for newly educated professionals to help fill the gap. This carries the potential for all kinds of engineering and office jobs. The best approaches are to look for internship opportunities and/or get to know people on staff, especially with agencies that have a lot of older employees.

Where are the Jobs?

Although the greater number of new jobs will be in the private sector, the public sector has its own work to do and some of that will require lots of hiring. Here are some examples:

  1. According to the New York Times, the US Bureau of Land Reclamation (BLM) has built and operates 476 dams, 348 reservoirs, and 8,116 miles of pipelines. The long term drought throughout the West, combined with its concurrent increase in population, is requiring the BLM to completely redesign and rebuild this system. That "giant replumbing project" is going to provide a lot of work for a lot of plumbers and other technicians during the next several decades.

  2. The federal EPA has also committed to improving water delivery systems. In 2009 they issued $257 million in Recovery Act funds for the state of Illinois to revamp its water supply infrastructure and clean up water pollution. They also approved $279 million for Ohio, $236 million for Michigan, over $200 million for New Jersey, more than $121 million for Maryland, and $107 million for Minnesota to do the same thing. Many other states were granted smaller amounts that year. Once federal funding is approved, it usually takes a few years for the states to organize projects the funding will pay for. All of these states should be hiring now.

  3. Then there's hydropower. The United States is gearing up to increase hydropower generation, especially from the ocean, and is predicting 1.4 million new jobs by 2025 (some of those will come sooner), according to consultants hired by the US Department of Energy. Their Marine Hydro Kinetic (MHK) program is offering fellowships to graduate students who want to prepare themselves for work with wave energy. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/water/pdfs/wp_accomplishments_brochure.pdf

  4. Furthermore, water and sewage systems services are projected to grow 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, so engineering students won’t be wanting for opportunities either.

Here are several links where you can go for more information about potential job opportunities. Remember that the water sector is just now starting to really grow, so new jobs are going to be created every year. If you prepare now, you'll be ready to apply when they are advertised.

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Comments 2 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

Good information. I have a customer who runs a backflow company...I had never heard of backflow preventers until I got this customer. There is so much I don't know...it's scary. :)


watergeek profile image

watergeek 13 months ago Author

I totally understand that, billybuc. I've learned a lot more about water issues and its benefits just writing all these articles. And there's so much more to write about, I often feel swamped. Not enough people are interested, yet how we deal with water is such a critical issue - life and death, really.

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