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Celebrating Veterans with a Career Day in Water

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies recognize military veterans for their service and actively recruit vets to fill new career opportunities in the water and wastewater industry. The San Diego County region employs about 4,500 water and wastewater workers, many of whom have successfully transitioned from the military to a new career.

Water and wastewater career day

The Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College and San Diego County water agencies are hosting a free career day on January 19, 2022 from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. for veterans looking to transition their careers into the water and wastewater industry. Many water agencies are hiring, and veterans have key skills needed to provide safe, reliable drinking water for San Diego communities.

Veterans will have the opportunity to meet water agency recruiters, learn about pay and benefits, and receive advice on different career pathways and fast-tracked educational opportunities. Registration is online at CenterforWaterStudies.org. The Water Authority is co-sponsoring the in-person event.

A transition to the water world

During a webinar hosted by the Water Authority, Leaders2020, and San Diego Green Drinks in October, Otay Water District General Manager Jose Martinez, a U.S. Navy veteran, spoke about his experience transitioning from the military to the water industry. One challenge Martinez faced was the difference in terminology used between the military and water industries.

As the Vice Chairperson of the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Veteran Engagement and Transition Committee, Martinez discussed the work being carried out to provide direct pipelines and pathways to the water industry. One such pipeline was Assembly Bill 1588, legislation championed by Otay Water District and the Water Authority that passed in 2019. The bill, sponsored by Todd Gloria and Adam Gray, provides experience and education credits toward State water and wastewater certifications.

Water Workforce Webinar

‘Silver tsunami’ of retirements in water industry

The opportunities for both transitioning servicemembers and local water agencies are significant. More than 30,000 service members separate from the military each year in California, and more than half are transitioning out of active duty in the San Diego region. Roughly half of the current water industry workforce in the San Diego region will be eligible to retire in the next 15 years – and approximately 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open in the region in the next five years.

In October 2020, The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies launched a new website – SanDiegoWaterWorks.org – that provides the first comprehensive posting of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location. The San Diego Water Works website includes:

  • Current water and wastewater job postings in the San Diego region
  • Training and education resources, career advice and internship programs
  • Featured jobs that highlight rewarding careers in the water industry
  • Information about special training programs and internships for military veterans
  • Tips and resources for transitioning military

San Diego Water Works Website

(Editor’s note: For a story about the successful transition of military veterans to the water and wastewater industry, including a video of a USMC veteran working for the Vallecitos Water District, one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region, go to: waternewsnetwork.com/veterans-serving-public-in-water-industry-careers/)

Lance Cpl. Daniel Bordenave, a water support technician with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command, sets up a lightweight water purification system during a command post exercise at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Water support technician Marines used lightweight water purification systems to purify water before providing it to the combat engineer Marines working at another site. Photo: Marines.mil Lance Cpl. Daniel Bordenave, a water support technician with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command, sets up a lightweight water purification system during a command post exercise at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Water support technician Marines used lightweight water purification systems to purify water before providing it to the combat engineer Marines working at another site. Photo: Marines.mil

Veterans Serving Public in Water Industry Careers

Water industry professionals and members of the U.S. armed forces have a shared commitment to serving the public. When they leave active-duty roles, military veterans tap their experience and skills to work in water sector jobs. The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies, recognizes the contributions of veterans to the San Diego region’s water industry on Veterans Day and throughout the year.

The San Diego County region employs approximately 4,500 water and wastewater workers, many of whom have successfully transitioned from the military to a new career. Vallecitos Water District Senior Water Systems Operator Richie Arballo said his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps planted the seed.

“Water, potable water, is always a great mission”

“My job in the military was a water support technician,” said Arballo. “I didn’t really know much about water. I just knew I loved working with water.”

At Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Arballo worked with water distribution, water purification, and water installation.

“As a veteran, you’re trained to always complete your job,” he said. “You never leave anything undone. In the military, you never leave anyone behind. We know the mission comes first. Water, potable water, is always a great mission.”

Water and wastewater careers are a good fit

Lance Cpl. Anthony Bryan, a water support technician with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command, reviews recently purified water’s chlorine level during an exercise at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Water support technician Marines used lightweight water purification systems to purify water before providing it to the combat engineer Marines working at another site. Photo: Marines.mil

Lance Cpl. Anthony Bryan, a water support technician with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command, reviews recently purified water’s chlorine level during an exercise at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Water support technician Marines used lightweight water purification systems to purify water before providing it to the combat engineer Marines working at another site. Photo: Marines.mil

Dr. Stuart Karasik, former training manager for the City of San Diego, listed these reasons why water industry careers are so well suited to veterans:

  • They develop leadership responsibilities early in their careers. Military squad leaders are frequently in their early 20s.
  • They respond calmly in stressful situations and maintain focus on their mission. Stressful situations can be the norm in the military and standard in the water sector.
  • They possess a personal sense of responsibility and duty.
  • There is consistent reinforcement of the importance of teamwork and individual responsibility to complete any mission.
  • They have good organization skills. Scheduling, planning, and workflow are critical activities in the water sector.
Richie Arballo credits his own Marine Corps training for his successful transitionn to a civilian water industry career. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Richie Arballo credits his own Marine Corps training for his successful transition to a civilian water industry career. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Arballo encouraged veterans to seek training at one of the many San Diego regional programs at community colleges, including Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies, Palomar College, CSU San Marcos, and National University. Options range from certificate programs to public administration and engineering degrees.

“If you are making the decision to get out of the military, don’t be scared,” said Arballo. “The military has prepared you to be very reliable and responsible. Employers out here, that’s what they’re looking for.”

For current jobs in the San Diego County region’s water and wastewater industry, go to: www.sandiegowaterworks.org/

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Water Authority Taps SkillBridge Program for Talented Veterans

The San Diego County Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. The regional initiative is off to a fast start with two SkillBridge interns starting their civilian careers at the Water Authority this summer.

Gerald Moore-SkillBridge Program-Water Jobs

Water Authority Taps SkillBridge Program for Talented Veterans

The San Diego County Water Authority is the first public agency in California to participate in the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, which connects transitioning military service members to career-track job training opportunities. The regional initiative is off to a fast start with two SkillBridge interns starting their civilian careers at the Water Authority this summer.

The Water Authority joined the federal program in June 2020, as part of an effort by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to meet the growing need for skilled water industry workers.

‘Silver tsunami’ of retirements in water industry

The opportunities for both transitioning servicemembers and local water agencies are significant. More than 30,000 service members separate from the military each year in California, and more than half are transitioning out of active duty in the San Diego region. Roughly half of the current water industry workforce in the San Diego region will be eligible to retire in the next 15 years – and approximately 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open in the region in the next five years.

SkillBridge Program interns served in Navy

The Water Authority’s Operations & Maintenance Department recently welcomed two SkillBridge interns, Gerald Moore and Jamaal Benjamin, who each bring more than 15 years of experience in the Navy.

“We have seen the skills and aptitudes they learned in the military directly transfer to their work at the Water Authority,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “At a time when a wave of retirements is impacting the water industry, the SkillBridge Program is an important way to meet our need for skilled workers.”

The Water Authority is benefitting from Moore’s background in operating and maintaining computer systems.

“The Water Authority is all about teamwork and service, and they’ve welcomed me to their team with open arms,” said Moore. “This is a new phase of my career and life. I’m excited to find out where this journey will take me.”

SkillBridge Program-Jamaal Benjamin-Military Veterans-Water Industry Jobs

“Having an opportunity to tap my military training and background in a civilian context is an ideal way to increase my career options in the water and wastewater industry,” said Jamaal Benjamin. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Benjamin is using his knowledge and experience working with complex electrical, electromechanical, and electrohydraulic systems to help maintain and repair critical water facilities.

“Having an opportunity to tap my military training and background in a civilian context is an ideal way to increase my career options in the water and wastewater industry,” said Benjamin.

Helping military veterans find jobs

A regional work group is implementing strategies to increase skilled workers for the water industry, with a focus on helping military veterans find jobs. Many of the Water Authority’s member agencies have also expressed interest in the SkillBridge Program.

“This is a unique opportunity to access a huge talent pool that can help us ensure the San Diego region will have the workforce to fill mission critical positions in the water industry,” said Christopher McKinney, chair of the regional work group and the director of utilities/assistant city manager for the City of Escondido.

Other regional efforts to help military veterans include state legislation co-sponsored by the Water Authority and Otay Water District that, when implemented, would provide a future avenue for veterans to receive credit for their military education and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in California.

Water industry job website

In addition, the San Diego County Water Authority maintains SanDiegoWaterWorks.org to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date list of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location, along with other information for veterans about career paths and internships.

SkillBridge Program

The Department of Defense created the SkillBridge Program in 2011 to give service members an opportunity to gain real-world training and work experience during their last 180 days of active service by interning at a civilian employer. The cost to partnering employers is minimal; employers pay no wages or benefits as service members continue to receive active duty pay and benefits during their internship.

For more information about regional job opportunities and training programs in the region’s water and wastewater industry go to: www.sandiegowaterworks.org/

Vallecitos Water District waterwater technicians Matt Wiess and Chris Deering at the Meadowlark Water Reclamation Facility. Photo: Vallecitos Water District employees

Water and Wastewater Scholarship Opportunities Available at National University

The new Waterworks Management Concentration in the Bachelor of Public Administration, offered by National University in partnership with Cuyamaca College, begins its second cohort of courses in August. Two new scholarship opportunities are now available to help prospective students overcome financial barriers and reach new career goals.

Developed in collaboration with regional employers, and driven by the rapidly growing demands for skilled career professionals in the water and wastewater industry, the Bachelor of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Waterworks Management, or BPA degree, allows graduates of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies to transfer directly into National University bachelor’s program after earning their associate’s degree. Transfer scholarships are also available to graduates of other California community colleges.

Scholarship opportunities include:

  • The Opportunity Scholarship, which extends financial assistance to adult learned who are Pell Grant recipients
  • The Fast Track Scholarship, a merit-based award designed to help students complete their degree program by offering a free class for every three classes completed within six months, up to a 25% savings in tuition fees
  • The ADT Scholarship for CA CC Transfer Students

Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of Community College Pathways at National University, holds free live information webinars for prospective students every other Thursday. The next one is scheduled at 5 p.m. on May 20. Registration is free and open to anyone interested in the program. All courses in the program are taught online.

“While you are working from home, you now have digital access to a waterworks management education that can transform your career trajectory,” said Dr. Allen.

Demand for skilled professionals

Water and wastewater professionals like the Olivenhain Municipal Water District 4S Ranch Wastewater Treatment plant employees are moving toward retirement with not enough replacements available. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Water and wastewater professionals like the Olivenhain Municipal Water District 4S Ranch Wastewater Treatment plant employees are moving toward retirement with not enough replacements available. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

The water and wastewater industry’s rapidly growing demand for highly skilled professionals shows no signs of slowing in the coming years. Impending retirements will create a need to fill 12,000 to 20,000 water and wastewater jobs throughout California in the near future. Many of the positions require a bachelor’s degree such as the National University BPA degree.

The degree collaboration allows students to complete both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree while reducing the time and cost. Student support services at both institutions help foster a seamless process for students to transfer from Cuyamaca College to National University.

The insight and recommendations of regional employers coordinated by the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College and the San Diego County Water Authority, make the academic pathway possible.

Positive student reviews

The National University Bachelor of Public Administration degree program is taught in a convenient online format. Photo: Vanessa Garcia

The National University Bachelor of Public Administration degree program is taught in a convenient online format. Photo: Vanessa Garcia

Students from the first group completing the four-course concentration give the program positive feedback.

“I had a great experience in Waterworks Management in California,” said Clinton Swanger. “The class enlightened me to fact that there are different ways to view this subject. I feel as if I have a better understanding of how water management works and what to expect in the future.”

Graduates will be able to address the issues and challenges facing water and wastewater agencies at the state, regional, and local levels, including governing requirements and regulatory compliance while employing water management best practices.

Degree program well suited for military veterans  

Administrators plan to eventually offer onsite and hybrid courses involving the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies field operations skills yard for hands-on experience. Photo: Courtesy GCCCD

Administrators plan to eventually offer onsite and hybrid courses involving the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies field operations skills yard for hands-on experience. Photo: Courtesy GCCCD

National University offers all BPA courses online. Administrators plan to eventually offer onsite and hybrid courses involving the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies field operations skills yard for hands-on experience.

Students earning the Bachelor of Public Administration degree will complete National University’s four-course concentration of upper-division courses studying:

  • Water and waterworks management in CA
  • California Waterworks Law & Compliance,
  • Human Resources & Labor Relations
  • Leadership in Water Management

Students can begin the BPA program at any time.

As a veteran-founded, private nonprofit institution, National University is dedicated to serving service members, veterans, and their families. This new BPA waterworks concentration is particularly well suited for veterans using their GI benefits to further their education. Veterans are eligible to apply their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry.

Women in Water Symposium

The fourth annual Women in Water Symposium in March will be online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously hosted at Cuyamaca College, symposium sessions will be each Thursday starting March 2. This year’s conference theme is “Flow With The Change.”

City of Escondido Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Carrie Selby is among a growing number of women working in water and wastewater industry careers. Photo: City of Escondido

Women in Water Symposium

The fourth annual Women in Water Symposium in March will be online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously hosted at Cuyamaca College, symposium sessions will be each Thursday starting March 2. This year’s conference theme is “Flow With The Change.”

Three specific career level tracks are offered to address needs at each level: entry-level for those new to water careers; mid-career for those transitioning and advancing within the industry; and upper level, for senior professionals looking to leave a legacy.

Session topics include negotiation skills; diversity, equity, and inclusion; dealing with change; the impact of COVID-19; and building a sustainable career. Program elements for all tracks are designed to create a larger community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

The symposium is an opportunity for students, water industry professionals, and people exploring careers in the water and wastewater industry, to make connections.

“The Women in Water Symposium made it possible for me, as a young graduate student, to meet experienced, female engineers at any moment, from breakfast to sessions and everything in between,” said Alma Rocha, a San Diego State University graduate student studying environmental engineering.

“I got to meet so many amazing people and help them out with referrals to jobs and events that might help their career, ” said Alec Mackie with the California Water Environmental Association. “A very rewarding event.”

Vanessa Murrell, Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges grant manager, said the conference is open to anyone, and this year is not limited by location by being held in a virtual environment.

Nurturing the next generation of water professionals

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series at Cuyamaca College. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series sponsored by Cuyamaca College. This year’s symposium will take place online. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the “Silver Tsunami” of experienced employees reaching retirement age. The task force reports approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region. More than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024. Water and wastewater treatment plant operators in California earn an annual average wage of more than $72,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registration is $25 and free to students. Attendees only need to register once for all symposium sessions. Participants can attend any session from all three tracks. Register here.

Opinion: The Greatest Water Transfer in History

Our country is currently in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind – not in 10 or 20 years – but today. Much has been written about the Silver Tsunami, roughly defined as the wave of water and wastewater operator retirements across the country. And yet, while every industry conference (virtual or not) reminds us about the latest operator to hang up his or her hat, relatively little attention has been paid to the challenges we face as similar retirement trends plague private businesses servicing the industry across the country.

Primary-Tyrese Powell-Slotterbeck-San Diego Water Works-Water Jobs

San Diego Water Works Website Offers One-Stop Shop for Water Industry Jobs 

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have launched a new website – SanDiegoWaterWorks.org – that provides the first comprehensive posting of regional water and wastewater industry job openings in one location.

As the San Diego economy begins recovering from recession, the site features expanded job opportunities and regularly updated information about internships and training opportunities – a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in a new career or a new role in the water industry.

San Diego Water Works was created to help meet the growing need for skilled water industry workers at a time when retirements are reducing the workforce. The site is the result of a regional water industry task force convened to address the “silver tsunami” of Baby Boomers.

“We want to fill the pipeline with new generations of talent,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “This is an industry that can really benefit from people with a diversity of backgrounds and educational experiences.”

Website created to fill openings created by wave of water industry retirements

While some water agencies have reduced hiring during the pandemic, roughly half of the current water industry workforce in the San Diego region will be eligible to retire in the next 15 years and many of those workers are in essential positions. In just the next five years, about 1,400 water and wastewater industry jobs are expected to open across the region. In addition to engineers and plant operators, the industry relies on technicians, accountants, electricians, mechanics, information technology specialists and many other occupations.

“The water industry offers careers that are not only personally and professional rewarding but also are vital for our region,” said Christopher McKinney, the City of Escondido’s Director of Utilities, and chair of the regional task force. “This is a chance to really make a difference in our community.”

San Diego Water Works website-water jobs-water industry

The San Diego Water Works website was created to help meet the growing need for skilled water industry workers at a time when retirements are reducing the workforce.

The San Diego Water Works website includes:

  • Current water and wastewater job postings in the San Diego region
  • Training and education resources, career advice and internship programs
  • Featured jobs that highlight rewarding careers in the water industry
  • Information about special training programs and internships for military veterans

The new website aligns with the priorities of water agencies in San Diego County to help military veterans find jobs in the water and wastewater industry. State legislation co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Otay Water District was signed into law in 2019, 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.

“More than 15,000 military personnel transition from active duty each year in San Diego County, and many have the skills and experience that match the needs of regional water industry employers,” said Jose Martinez, Otay Water District general manager, U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the regional workforce development task force. “As a veteran, I understand the importance of a website like this; it is a great starting point for veterans to find jobs and training programs as well as to discover what resources are available in the industry.”

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.”