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Career-Otay Water District-Faces of the Water Industry

Learn About Water Industry Career Opportunities From the Pros

Looking for a challenging and satisfying career? Current and aspiring professionals can learn about water industry career opportunities through the San Diego County Water Authority’s “Faces of the Water Industry” social media outreach campaign in October. 

The campaign, inspired by ACWA’s California Water Professionals Appreciation Week, highlights the San Diego region’s water and wastewater professionals and the essential work that they do to provide safe and reliable water supplies for 3.3 million people and a $253 billion economy. 

Water Industry Pros Share Their Stories

The Faces of the Water Industry campaign features the stories of 21 water industry professionals through a series of social media posts and videos. Beginning October 1, follow the Water Authority on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to read inspiring stories from the region’s water and wastewater pros.

Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician 

Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician, City of Escondido

“Growing up near the ocean, water always played an influential part in my life,” said Eric Amavisca, Water Distribution Technician at the City of Escondido. “I always knew I wanted to work with water but wasn’t sure how until I was surfing with a close friend one day. He mentioned a nearby community college offered classes focused on water distribution. I decided to take a leap and try it out. The classes were appealing to me. Therefore I began a career in water distribution. Water is one of our most valuable resources, and I’m happy to protect it for the future. I find gratification in protecting the City’s water infrastructure.”

Laura York, Laboratory Analyst 

Laura York, Laboratory Analyst, Otay Water District

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is that it contributes to society. Water is a vital resource that all life depends on for survival,” said Laura York, Laboratory Analyst at Otay Water District. “As a lab analyst, I monitor water quality and protect public health by ensuring the water meets regulatory requirements and is safe for drinking. Working in the industry also provides lifelong learning opportunities as there are continuous challenges and the accompanying need for innovation and improvement.”

Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field) 

Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field), Sweetwater Authority

“I was inspired to work for a water agency because I knew that the work I would be performing on a daily basis would have an immediate impact on our customers and that the service that we provide is vital to everyday life,” said Jorge Pena Veloz, Customer Service Representative I (Field) at Sweetwater Authority. “In addition, I knew that working for the Authority would not only bring me satisfaction but also help me and my family have a bright future.”

Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II 

Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II, San Diego County Water Authority

“Working in the water industry is very rewarding,” said Karla Sanchez, Engineering Technician II at the San Diego County Water Authority. “In the water industry I have had the opportunity to see and grow so much of San Diego. The people and the innovation that goes into providing water is fulfilling. Building infrastructure to ensure that the people around me can live, work and play is a passion of mine. I take pride knowing that I help provide water to the country. I look forward to continuingly growing in my career in the water industry.”

Upcoming Water Industry Career Webinars

The water and wastewater industry offers vast opportunities for essential careers in engineering, operations, finance, public affairs, human resources, administration and information technology. 

The Water Authority and California Water Environmental Association (CWEA) is hosting free career webinars for new and current water professionals. 

For job openings, internships and education opportunities across the San Diego region’s water and wastewater industry, go to sandiegowaterworks.org.

(Editor’s note: The Otay Water District, Sweetwater Authority, and the City of Escondido, are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

National University's new four-year degree program will help water and wastewater employees advance in their careers. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources,

New Regional Degree Program Responds to Water and Wastewater Workforce Needs

Driven by the rapidly growing demands for skilled career professionals in the water and wastewater industry, National University and Cuyamaca College will launch a new degree pathway program starting in February 2021.

Developed in collaboration with regional employers, the new Bachelor of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Waterworks Management provides a seamless pathway for graduates of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies to transfer into the bachelor’s program after earning their associate’s degree. Transfers are also available to graduates of other community colleges.

“Responding to regional workforce needs, National University and Cuyamaca College are excited to roll out the Waterworks Management academic pathway, informed by industry leaders,” said Dr. Sara Kelly, academic program director at National University. Transfer scholarships are available for qualifying students.

Transfer program reduces completion time, cost

The new degree program will build capacity to train the waste and wastewater workforce of the future. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources

The new degree program will build capacity to train the waste and wastewater workforce of the future. Photo: John Chacon, California Department of Water Resources

The new 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.

“Working collaboratively with National University, we can help our region and state respond to the need for skilled and educated water and wastewater professionals,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes. “We know that with impending retirements in the industry, there will be a need for 12,000 to 20,000 water and wastewater professionals throughout the state in coming years.”

As current seasoned leaders retire, water and wastewater agencies struggle to fill job vacancies requiring a focused bachelor’s degree. Students earning the new degree will complete National University’s four-course concentration of upper-division courses studying water and waterworks management and leadership, water law and compliance, and human resources and labor law.

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.

Courses taught by water industry professionals

The new collaboration between National University and Cuyamaca College also welcomes Cuyamaca alumni into the program. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

The new collaboration between National University and Cuyamaca College also welcomes Cuyamaca alumni into the program. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of Community College Pathways at National University, said the curriculum was constructed based on the insight and recommendation of regional employers, coordinated by Cuyamaca College and the San Diego County Water Authority.

“There was a need for highly trained leadership in this industry,” said Allen. “This program provides a bachelor’s solution to train the management and leadership in the specific leadership areas needed in addition to the Associate’s degree in this field. Cuyamaca College has a solid program for the technical side and the frontline workers. Our new program is the next step in preparing the leaders of tomorrow for waterworks management.”

The program took more than a year to develop. Qualified water industry professionals from the Water Authority, regional member agencies, and consulting experts will teach courses.

“There is phenomenal talent in connection with this program, from around the world and not just San Diego,” said Kelly.

Cuyamaca College’s innovative Center for Water Studies program is the oldest and most comprehensive of its kind in the California community college system. It prepares students for careers at water agencies as technicians, mechanics, electricians, engineers, plant operators, information technology specialists, and more. Program alumni are eligible for the National University program.

Degree program launches in February 2021

National University offers all courses online, starting with the first cohort of students in the program in February 2021. 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.

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.

“There are so many different pathways in life,” said Allen. “Whether you’re 18, whether you’re older. You’ve got family, children, and deployments. We’re going to put you on the right pathway to help you reach your final destination in your career.”

BPA program information is available on the National University website.

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.”

Chris Walter, Helix Water District Inspector II, works while wearing a mask as an essential employee. Photo: Helix Water District

National Public Works Week Recognizes Essential Employees

Every time you fill up a water bottle or give the kids a bath, it’s due to the people working as essential employees behind the operation of water and wastewater systems within the San Diego County region’s public works infrastructure.

National Public Works Week takes place the third week of May annually in recognition of the public works professionals who provide and maintain vital public works infrastructure for the key contribution they make every day.

Water industry professionals are committed to serving San Diego County year-round by ensuring the seamless delivery of a safe and reliable water supply. During the coronavirus pandemic, dedicated essential employees have demonstrated exceptional dedication and creativity, making 2020 National Public Works Week especially significant.

Essential workers keep the water flowing

Helix Water District crews remain on the job during the coronavirus pandemic as essential employees being honored during National Public Works Week. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix Water District crews remain on the job during the coronavirus pandemic as essential employees being honored during National Public Works Week. Photo: Helix Water District

“Our employees are essential workers and they don’t take that lightly,” said Eric Heidemann, City of Poway director of public works. “From our water treatment plant operators to our technicians out in the field, they care for our Poway community and are committed to keeping our water supply safe during this crisis.”

Most of the infrastructure responsible for delivering the water the public depends on every day is hidden. This can make it easy to take a safe and reliable water supply for granted.

Bernardo Separa represents thousands of essential employees in public works being recognized during National Public Works Week. Photo: Otay Water District

Bernardo Separa of the Otay Water District represents thousands of essential employees in public works being recognized during National Public Works Week. Photo: Otay Water District

“It is very rewarding to complete projects as a team,” said Bernardo Separa, engineering design technician with the Otay Water District. “Knowing that you contributed and made a difference as a team member is a tremendous feeling.”

Safe, reliable water supply

“Our dedicated Helix employees help keep East County communities running by providing a safe and reliable water supply, 24/7,” said Carlos Lugo, General Manager, Helix Water District. “During National Public Works Week, we want to say thank you to our Helix employees for keeping the water flowing.”

Career opportunities available in water and wastewater industry

(L to R): Terry Zaragoza, Chad Weigel and Vernon Fitzpatrick from the City of Poway perform routine maintenance on a wastewater pipeline as essential employees. Photo: City of Poway

(L to R): Terry Zaragoza, Chad Weigel and Vernon Fitzpatrick from the City of Poway perform routine maintenance on a wastewater pipeline as essential employees. Photo: City of Poway

Public agencies like the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies play an important role in the region, both in terms of employment and providing critical services to support 3.3 million residents.

With approximately 1,400 water and wastewater jobs expected to open up across San Diego County in the next five years due to the “silver tsunami” wave of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, career opportunities have never been more promising.

The Water Authority and its 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.

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.”

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

 

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar's innovative new tool won recognition from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority Sweetwater Authority employee

Award-Winning, Time-Saving Tool Created by Sweetwater Authority Employee

For his initiative in designing and creating a new tool designed to improve safety and efficiency on the job, Sweetwater Authority employee Julio Salazar won the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority  H.R. LaBounty Safety Award.

The award recognized Salazar for creating a ‘Large AMS Stabilizing Tool.’ Salazar’s design resulted in making the process of replacing 1.5 inch and two inch angle meter stops, or AMS, easier, more ergonomic, and safer.

“Our water professionals are industry leaders, finding new ways to work smarter and safer,” said Tish Berge, general manager. “Sweetwater Authority could not be more proud of Julio’s tool and much deserved recognition.”

The H.R. LaBounty Safety Award recognizes water industry employees who implement significant safety improvements to prevent occupational injuries/illness. Winners are recognized twice a year.

See a demonstration of the new award-winning tool.

Salazar, a Utility Worker II with Sweetwater, came up with the idea after talking with co-workers about ways to improve the process. In the past, replacing an AMS often required employees to break out the meter box in order to make enough space to fit large wrenches and tools.

The process was often awkward and difficult, adding strain on the employee who had to remove the AMS at an odd angle. The concrete panel would also need to be replaced, adding to the time, cost, and safety risk associated with the replacement.

The new tool is designed to secure the AMS using meter bolts, and can be placed in-line with the service lateral. Once secured, an employee can simply use an adjustable wrench to loosen or tighten the bottom nut on the AMS. It eliminates the need to break the meter box, and gives the employee a more comfortable, ergonomic grip while working. It also makes the process safer.

Salazar says the design is similar to existing stabilizing tools, but there was nothing quite the right size for the 1.5 inch and 2 inch AMS – until now.

Water industry professionals recognized for safety improvements

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar displays his H.R. LaBounty Safety Award Sweetwater Authority employeerecognition certificate from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Sweetwater Authority Utility Worker II Julio Salazar displays his H.R. LaBounty Safety Award recognition certificate from the Association of California Water Agencies. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority – ACWA JPIA for short – is a partnership of water agencies dedicated to avoiding the high cost of commercial insurance. JPIA is a risk-sharing pool for property, liability, workers’ compensation and employee benefits, which allows for more rate stability for customers, broader coverage and expanded benefits and services than private insurance.

READ MORE: Proactive Partnerships Keep Pipelines In Top Shape

 

Water Authority Bill Aims To Boost Water Industry Jobs For Veterans

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.

Prospective students tour the Cuyamaca College Water and Wastewater Technology lab facilities during a recent open house. Photo: Water Authority

Aging Water Workforce Spurs Industry Recruiting Efforts

A flood of water industry professionals nearing retirement has prompted local agencies to form a task force charged with assessing ways to develop the water workforce of the future. Education leaders are stepping up outreach to fill their career training programs, and water agencies are looking for new ways to attract employees.

“For many years now, we’ve been talking about the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of aging baby boomers who are going to be leaving the workforce, but it really is coming to fruition now,” said Don Jones, who helped spearhead Cuyamaca College’s new Center for Water Studies housing the college’s Water & Wastewater Technology program. “Almost one-third of water industry professionals will be at or nearing retirement age in the next few years. When you combine that with the fact that the unemployment rate is already at record or near-record lows and other industries are facing the same challenges and going after the same people we are, we have some serious work to do.”

Those concerns have spurred the San Diego County Water Authority and other agencies to convene a regional task force comprising utility directors and general managers, which has been meeting for months to assess workforce-related challenges, collect and analyze employment data, and craft a plan for moving forward.

Water industry offers competitive salaries

At the Fallbrook Public Utility District approximately 40 percent of the agency’s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Approximately 40 percent of the Fallbrook Public Utility District ‘s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

The regional water and wastewater industry expects to need to fill approximately 400 positions annually to keep pace with retirements and vacancies caused by employees leaving the area.

The challenges face both large and small agencies. In the City of San Diego, 640 of approximately 1,600 water industry professionals will be eligible to retire within the next three to four years. At the Fallbrook Public Utility District approximately 40 percent of the agency’s 68 employees will be eligible to retire within five years. Seventeen percent are currently eligible for retirement.

“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 general manager.

Bebee pointed to the recent posting of a senior engineering position at the utility that pays an annual salary of close to $150,000. The district thought the salary would be competitive enough to draw people from the private sector, but only one of four applicants was from the private sector. When Bebee was hired for a similar position nine years ago, he competed against 40 other applicants.

A 2018 Brookings Institution report notes the employment void exists even though water workforce occupations not only pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally, but also pay up to 50 percent more to workers at the lower ends of the income scale. In San Diego County, water and wastewater plant and systems operators are earning an average salary of $70,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Skilled workers needed to operate increasingly complex systems

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that fewer people may be needed in coming years as water and wastewater plants become more automated, a skilled workforce is required to operate increasingly complex controls and systems. Some of the most advanced facilities in the world are in Southern California, including the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the naton’s largest desalination plant.

Local educational efforts in the industry are addressing the potential worker shortage:

  • Palomar College’s Water and Wastewater Technology programs, provides pre-employment training and advanced courses for people who want to become certified as a water or wastewater operator.
  • The Water Authority’s student internship program pays $12 an hour and has interns working at four different water agencies throughout the year.
  • California State University, San Marcos Certificate in Water Management & Leadership program is geared toward workers already employed as intermediate-level supervisors in the water industry and offers training and skills needed for higher management positions.
  • The Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College.

The Brookings report noted the glut of retirements offers an opportunity to diversify the industry. In January, the Center for Water Studies held the first in an annual series of Women in Water symposiums, attracting several hundred women and high school girls from throughout Southern California interested in a new career.

“Challenges can prompt people to get together and look at new ways of doing things,” said Greg Thomas, general manager at the Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District in Escondido. “This is a great industry, it pays well, and you’re doing something good for people and society.”