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AB 1588 - ACWA - WNN

New California Law Creates Pathway to Water Industry Jobs for Military Veterans

Legislation co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District is intended to make it easier for military veterans to launch careers in the water industry.

After Lt. Jose Martinez retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007, he went from serving his country underwater to serving reliable, high quality water to a community. 

His experience aboard a nuclear submarine and on the management staff of Otay Water District shares a few commonalities. Both involve highly complex systems, which often operate away of the public eye, either underwater or underground. 

“People turn on the tap and out comes water,” said Martinez, General Manager for ACWA-member Otay Water District. “It seems rather simple, but it’s really complex. It’s fascinating to me.”

Water industry jobs for military vets

Martinez’s experience as a naval nuclear engineer focused on submarines’ nuclear and non-nuclear systems, including water treatment. This gave him an advantage to transition to a civilian career in water.

A bill and new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, sets the stage for making it much easier for military veterans to transition into the water industry. AB 1588, initiated by Martinez and Otay, intends to update the current water and wastewater certification system by giving military veterans credit for their experience and education that is applicable to the water industry. Essentially, veterans would not have to start at the bottom, but instead advance to testing that matches their level of experience. That way, veterans can enter the water workforce at a level that meets their paygrade.

‘Silver tsunami’ of retiring baby boomers creates opportunities

AB 1588 was introduced by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and Adam Gray (D-Merced), and co-authored by several state legislators, including Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Oceanside). The San Diego County Water Authority and Otay cosponsored the bill, with the goal of increasing the number of veterans entering the water industry to replace retiring baby boomers.

To address this challenge, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies created a regional workforce development task force to address the oncoming ‘Silver Tsunami’ of retirees. The San Diego region alone employs approximately 4,500 water and wastewater workers, with more than 1,400 of those workers expected to reach retirement age by 2024, according to the Water Authority. Statewide, there are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators, and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators. 

Jobs within the water industry often reflect military experience, and not necessarily ones directly related to water and wastewater treatment on a base or aboard a ship. Don Jones, with the Center for Water Studies at El Cajon’s Cuyamaca College, compared experience within a Combat Information Center on a warship to operating a SCADA system at a water facility, pointing out that experienced SCADA operators can be hard to find.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re opening a pump or firing a missile, the process is very similar, it’s the mechanical and electronic interface that matters. You’re electronically activating a piece of mechanical equipment,” Jones said. 

‘It’s all about serving people’

The water industry can also offer veterans a few other advantages. Shannon Cotulla served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer between 1987 and 1992. After leaving the service, he contemplated aviation engineering, but a desire to work outdoors in civil engineering led him to the water industry. Today, Cotulla is Assistant General Manager at the South Tahoe Public Utility District and former member of ACWA’s Board of Directors. 

“The work is really meaningful, it’s all about serving people and keeping our communities safe,” Cotulla said. “There’s also security in knowing that your organization has rules and standards that you can look up to and isn’t subject to the whims that you sometimes find in the private sector.”

Otay’s Martinez said that it could take a few years for the state to make the changes called for in AB 1588. Nevertheless, the process is underway and includes having a veteran with water industry experience serve on a regulatory advisory board along with water industry members. In the meantime, news about the bill’s potential for veterans is raising awareness among veterans about why careers in the water industry represent a great opportunity.

“We really want to open up this talent pool,” Martinez said. “Veterans are the right candidates to fill these jobs because of the skilled work they’ve already demonstrated in their careers and their time in the military.”

Workforce Diversity Focus of ‘Women in Water’ Conference

Career opportunities for women in the water and wastewater industry at every level are the focus of the third annual Women in Water Symposium January 16 at Cuyamaca College.

Vanessa Murrell, grant manager for the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, said the conference’s goal in its third year is to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

Otay Water District Reclamation Plant Operator Tyrese Powell is among the women pursuing career opportunities in the water and wastewater industry. Photo: Water Authority

Workforce Diversity Focus of ‘Women in Water’ Conference

Career opportunities for women in the water and wastewater industry at every level are the focus of the third annual Women in Water Symposium January 16 at Cuyamaca College.

Vanessa Murrell, grant manager for the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, said the conference’s goal in its third year is to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

“It’s a matter of recruiting great talent that transcends gender and ethnicity,” said Murrell. “It’s making sure the water workforce represents the community it serves.”

The Women in Water Syposium's goal in its third year is to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The Women in Water Symposium’s goal is to create a community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers. Photo: Cuyamaca College

For the first time, the Women in Water Symposium will have three tracks: sessions for those interested in starting their career in water; those seeking career advancement; and established professionals interested in forming professional alliances and promoting workforce diversity.

“We all have a vested interest in water,” said Murrell. “We cannot function without it. It’s vital for us to take part in maintaining this crucial resource.”

“It is good for anyone to attend, regardless of gender,” she said. “There is a lot you can learn from being in the room with the individuals and taking it all in. The energy has been amazing at the last conferences. This conference promotes the best of the industry.”

Passing the baton to the next generation of water workforce professionals

Water and wastewater industry employers including the Water Authority will participate in the Women in Water Symposium at Cuyamaca College on January 16. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Water and wastewater industry employers including the San Diego County Water Authority will participate in the Women in Water Symposium at Cuyamaca College on January 16. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The San Diego County Water Authority will be among the water industry employers offering career information at the conference.

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies created a regional workforce development task force to address the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of employees reaching retirement age.

“There are approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region and more than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024,” said Gretchen Spaniol, acting special projects manager with the San Diego County Water Authority. “Those retirements provide an opportunity to diversify the water industry workforce, and the Women in Water conference is a great starting place to explore careers in water.”

The series of workshops between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. wraps up with a tour of the Water Conversation Garden.

Lunch, refreshments, and parking are included in the $35 registration fee. Registration is free for students. For more information about the symposium and Cuyamaca College’s Center for Water Studies, go to centerforwaterstudies.org.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo

OMWD Recognized as One of San Diego’s Top Workplaces

Encinitas, CA — Olivenhain Municipal Water District has been named one of San Diego’s “Top Workplaces” by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The recognition is provided to those San Diego County employers best demonstrating workplace excellence based on anonymous surveys completed by employees.

tate legislators, water industry leaders, veteran advocates and business and community organizations gathered at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park Oct. 16 to celebrate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of AB 1588.

New California Law Creates Path to Water Industry Jobs for Vets

State legislation co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District has been signed into law, making it possible for veterans to receive credit for their military education and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in California.

State legislators, water industry leaders, veteran advocates and business and community organizations gathered at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park today to celebrate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Assembly Bill 1588.

The bill was introduced in the state legislature by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria (San Diego) and Adam Gray (Merced), and co-authored by several state legislators, including Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (Oceanside).

The Water Authority and the Otay Water District co-sponsored the bill to increase the number of military veterans entering the civilian water and wastewater industry at a time when many Baby Boomers are retiring.

‘Silver Tsunami’ of retirements in water industry

“The new law helps our communities two ways – by lowering employment barriers for our veterans and sustaining our vital water and wastewater services for the next generation,” said Water Authority Board Secretary Christy Guerin. “This was a victory for San Diego and the whole state – a successful, bipartisan effort that will help maintain our economy and quality of life.”

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the “Silver Tsunami” of retirees. The task force reported that there are approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region – and more than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024. Statewide, there are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators.

Several states help veterans navigate the civilian water system operator certification process and allow veterans to apply equivalency standards to credit military experiences toward state or industry certifications in water and wastewater treatment and distribution. However, no similar approach existed in California.

AB 1588 Creates Path For Water Industry Jobs For Military Veterans

State legislation introduced by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria (far right) and Merced Assemblymember Adam Gray creates a path to water and wastewater industry jobs for military veterans. AB 1588, signed into law by Gov. Newsom, was co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District. (L-to-R in photo: Mark Balmert, Executive Director, SDMAC, Jose Martinez, Assistant Chief Water Operations, Otay Water District, Christy Guerin, Board Secretary, San Diego County Water Authority, and Assemblymember Gloria). Photo: Water Authority

Creating bridges to water industry jobs

“What we are missing, and what this bill addresses, is a pathway in which we honor the experience of our veterans and allow that experience to qualify them for a career path in our civilian water systems,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “Thanks to Governor Newsom, that pathway now exists. California will now properly credit the service of our veterans and enable them to secure good-paying jobs here in our water system. In this time – when the importance of clean water and good paying jobs is undeniable – let’s create bridges not barriers.”

AB 1588 provides a pathway for military veterans to apply their advanced skills and experience toward state and industry-supplied certifications in the water and wastewater treatment and distribution operator fields. Additionally, it ensures that advanced water treatment operators and distribution system operators of potable reuse and recycled water facilities have a career advancement path as certified water and/or wastewater treatment plant operators.

“San Diego County is home to more than 240,000 veterans with skills that benefit our region in numerous ways,” said Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath of Encinitas, a co-author of the bill. “With this legislation, we are building stronger communities that can remain home to servicemembers after they take off the uniform and transition into civilian life.”

Veterans continue public service in water industry

Assistant Chief of Water Operations at the Otay Water District Jose Martinez is a veteran who initiated the idea of the bill and has thrived in the civilian water industry. “As someone who had the pleasure to serve alongside the members of the military responsible for the safe and reliable operation of water and wastewater systems, I observed firsthand their education, experience and dedication,” he said.

“Now, as a water manager responsible for providing safe and reliable water and wastewater services to the public, I championed this bill to provide a path for veterans to receive the certification credit they have earned after years of service. This will ensure that the water sector continues to recruit from the biggest and best talent pools to provide the highest level of service to everyone.”

Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes (sixth from left) leads the official groundbreaking for the college's Ornamental Horticulture renovation project on August 22. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Ornamental Horticulture Groundbreaking Cultivates Career Opportunities

With the turn of 11 gleaming shovels, groundbreaking took place on August 22 for a $16.7 million project to renovate and improve indoor and outdoor classrooms and facilities for Cuyamaca College’s Ornamental Horticulture program.

Thousands of students have graduated from the program since its launch in 1980. Many have gone on to careers in landscape design and sustainable landscaping, irrigation technology and turf management.

The renovation will allow the program to provide a hands-on training experience reflecting current industry standards.

“We are a career technical education discipline and we strive to help students get jobs, so it is very important that we are able to replicate what’s currently used in industry,” said Leah Rottke, program coordinator for the horticulture program.

Rottke said she hopes the new facilities will increase program enrollment, one of her long-term goals.

“What I let students know is that it’s an interesting time to study horticulture. There are more opportunities available than qualified graduates,” said Rottke.

Green industry faces shortage of qualified employees

A banner depicts a rendering of the new Ornamental Horticulture complex when completed in 2022. Photo: Cuyamaca College

A banner depicts a rendering of the new Ornamental Horticulture complex when completed in 2022. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The green industry continues to grow, but is battling a serious labor shortage. Statistics from the IBIS World November 2018 Landscaping Services Industry Report show employment of more than one million people with annual revenue of $93 billion.

Along with its Center for Water Studies, Cuyamaca College hopes to expand opportunities for its students in these flourishing career fields.

Many of the program’s faculty are also employed in the industry, another benefit for the students, and their prospective employers.

“This gives students the opportunity to learn really practical information and experience about what the industry is like,” said Rottke. “It is also often their first networking opportunity.”

Rottke said her greatest challenge is reaching people who aren’t aware of the excellent career opportunities in the green industry.

The two-year program at Cuyamaca College offers eight degrees and nine certificates in arboriculture, floral design, golf course and sports turf management; irrigation technology; landscape design; landscape technology; nursery technology; sustainable urban landscapes; and basic ornamental horticulture.

Students can earn either a degree or a professional certificate in all eight programs. 

Cuyamaca’s programs also offer paid internships where students can start working in their chosen career field while pursuing their education.

Popular retail nursery remains open during renovation

A rendering of the Ornamental Horticulture program's new Building M, where classrooms and new lab faculties will be housed. Courtesy Cuyamaca College

A rendering of the Ornamental Horticulture program’s new Building M, where classrooms and new lab faculties will be housed. Photo courtesy Cuyamaca College

The renovation will include updated classroom and lab facilities, well-equipped greenhouses, an outdoor instructional area, expanded retail space and much-needed storage space.

Rottke said the new greenhouses and retail space will be a boost to the program’s popular retail nursery. Proceeds from nursery sales fund scholarships and class trips outside of the region. About 30,000 plants are sold annually, including nearly 25 percent of annual sales at the popular Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival.

Larry McLemore, Cuyamaca College dean of career and technical education, views project renderings at the groundbreaking event with GCCCD Chancellor Cindy L. Miles. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Larry McLemore, Cuyamaca College dean of career and technical education, views project renderings at the groundbreaking event with GCCCD Chancellor Cindy L. Miles. Photo: Cuyamaca College

“Ornamental Horticulture has a storied past at our college and it is long overdue for a renovation,” said Cuyamaca College President Dr. Julianna Barnes. “With the modernizing of facilities and the new greenhouses in particular, students have a lot to be excited about.”

Chula Vista fifth graders enjoy their first visit to the new Hydro Station educational facility. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New Educational Hydro Station Project Opens in Chula Vista

The first Hydro Station in California opened August 15 in Chula Vista.

The interactive educational space is a joint partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The Hydro Station, at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, features learning exhibits and hands-on activities to introduce fifth grade students to the ecological cycle of water, water conservation, water quality, and careers in the water industry.

More than 4,000 students are expected to visit the Hydro Station annually.

Making the world ‘a better place’

“The Hydro Station introduces our students to the world of work in the water industry and inspires them at an early age to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics,” said CVESD Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo. “With this station, we expose students to careers that can change the trajectory of entire families, opening the door to high-wage careers that our students might not have thought were possible.

“The students also explore ways to make the world a better place through clean water, and water conservation,” added Escobedo.

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New generation encouraged to consider careers as water industry professionals

More than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. One-third of these industry professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years.

“It’s an opportunity for a new generation to join us in our mission to deliver safe and reliable water to hundreds and thousands of people in communities that rely on us as water professionals,” said Tish Berge, Sweetwater Authority general manager.

As part of the Hydro Station experience, students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. They will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options. Hands-on activities will also help them make connections to specific careers.

Hydro Station mission is about education and conservation

“I have served many years in the water industry, which has allowed me to experience the evolving industry climate firsthand,” said Mark Watton, Otay Water District general manager. “The high level of retirements, new technologies, and increased demand for safe drinking water all contribute to the availability of good, stable careers and employment.”

“We want to make sure that a rewarding career in the water and wastewater industry is within reach for as many local students as possible who are vocational or college bound, and the Hydro Station helps us do that,” he added.

Visitors to the new Hydro Station's grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Visitors to the new Hydro Station’s grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Hydro Station’s location is ideal to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.

Mary Maciel learns good safety practices as part of her summer internship with the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Photo: FPUD Water industry career opportunities

Fallbrook High School Summer Intern Learns About Water Industry Career Opportunities

The Fallbrook Public Utility District’s intern program is designed to prepare potential future employees to fill jobs that open up due to the ‘silver tsunami’ or wave of retirements in the water industry.

Mary Maciel, a junior at Fallbrook High, is Fallbrook Public Utility District’s second paid summer intern. She spends four hours a day each Wednesday working with each department including public affairs, customer service, engineering, construction and maintenance, engineering, water and wastewater operations, and meter reading.

The goal of the internship is to increase interest in FPUD and potentially draw local talent to the district. It is designed to identify career opportunities in the water industry and provide a hands-on learning experience leading to a career with the Fallbrook agency.

Aaron Cook, the district’s senior engineer, was born in De Luz and lived in the area until he went to college. He started his career after college in other cities, but wanted to come back home. He applied for his current  job as soon as he saw the opening. He has been at FPUD for nearly a year.

“It’s definitely an attractive place to work for raising a family,” Cook said.

In the next five to 10 years, FPUD expects a substantial number of employees to retire. And with retirements come job openings.

Growth trend in water industry career opportunities

Student intern Mary Maciel job shadows FPUD Utility Technician II Toby Stoneburner during her summer internship with the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Photo: FPUD Water industry career opportunities

Student intern Mary Maciel job shadows FPUD Utility Technician II Toby Stoneburner during her summer internship. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Maciel says she could see herself working in the water industry in the future.

There are currently 12 FPUD employees eligible for retirement, which is about 18 percent of the district’s workforce. As previously reported on Water News Network, it is an ongoing concern for the agency.

“These are good-paying jobs with good benefits, but you just don’t find a lot of people coming out of school who are interested, and we are struggling to attract skilled employees from the private sector,” said Jack Bebee, Fallbrook PUD general manager.

‘Silver Tsunami’ in water industry

Water News Network reports career opportunities are ample due to an imminent glut of retirements by an aging workforce. Forecasts call for between 1,200 and 1,500 open positions in the next three to four years in San Diego County alone, said Sandy Kerl, the San Diego County Water Authority’s acting general manager.

Forty percent of employees at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District will retire within the next three to five years, said Lisa Sorce, human resources director. Representatives from other utilities presented similar numbers.

READ MORE: Aging Water Workfore Spurs Industry Recruiting Efforts

 

A bill in the California state Legislature aims to boost jobs for vets to help meet the needs of the aging water industry workforce. Photo; Water Authority

Water Authority Bill Aims to Boost Water Industry Jobs for Veterans

July 10, 2019 update: Assembly Bill 1588 passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on a 6-0 vote July 9 and will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12.

May 29, 2019 update: Assembly Bill 1588 passed the state Assembly on a 78-0 vote on May 23 and is now under consideration by the state Senate.

A new bill in the California Legislature would provide a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.

Assembly Bill 1588 was introduced February 22 by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Central Valley Assemblymember Adam Gray. The bill, which may be heard in committee this month, is co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District in hopes of helping the state’s industry replace a wave of retiring Baby Boomers.

Several states help veterans navigate the civilian water system operator certification process and allow veterans to apply equivalency standards to credit military experiences toward state or industry certifications in water and wastewater treatment and distribution. However, no similar pathway exists in California.

‘Silver tsunami’

“The goal is to help veterans transitioning into civilian occupations, especially in the water and wastewater industry,” said Glenn Farrel, government relations manager for the Water Authority. “At a time with the water industry is facing a ‘silver tsunami’ – with thousands of workers expected to retire in coming years – veterans are returning to the civilian workforce with skills to benefit the industry and fill those jobs.”

Water and wastewater treatment is an essential industry and with an aging infrastructure and workforce. There are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators in California.

Challenges for water industry

Replacement of critical infrastructure components, while maintaining service to customers, is one of the greatest challenges in the water-wastewater industry today. In addition, the high pace of retirements, new technologies and increased demand for safe drinking water contribute to the pressure on the industry to augment the workforce.

“If veterans could more quickly move through the civilian certification process, the California water industry would have a much larger pool of highly skilled, motivated, and talented people eager to continue their public service careers,” Farrel said.