Clean and healthy water is an essential resource for most forms of life and is necessary for many industrial and commercial applications.
This is why the water and wastewater industry is so critical. As part of the public utilities career path, which is another good career path to consider, many of the jobs available affect our daily lives.
The water supply industry is responsible for providing clean and affordable water to homes, businesses, and municipalities. They also manage and care for our water infrastructure. This aging infrastructure includes pipes, pumps, treatment plants, and more.
The wastewater industry is responsible for purifying our water and removing elements that are toxic to us and our ecosystem.
The water you drink, the scientists that use it for research, and the animals that use it to survive; this is all possible because of the people that work in the water industry.
There are many different careers available in the water industry, many of which do not require a college degree.
Is Water Supply A Good Career Path?
Yes, water supply is a very good career path to consider. Many jobs in the water supply industry offer good wages and benefits. There are also a large variety of job opportunities for all skill and education levels. Another bonus is the good you are doing for your local community by providing them with clean water.
Think about COVID for a minute. I know, you are sick of hearing about it – but this is one great example of the importance of the water supply and wastewater industry. During the pandemic, it was found that by monitoring wastewater we could determine where outbreaks of COVID were happening. This allowed the community to react faster and be prepared.
The importance of these careers in our everyday life is substantial!
Below are five main reasons you should consider a career in water supply:
- Make a difference. The water supply industry is responsible for providing clean, safe water to homes, businesses, and municipalities. This is a vital service that helps to improve the quality of life for many people.
- A large variety of jobs. The water supply industry is a broad field that offers many different job prospects. There are positions available in water treatment, distribution, engineering, and management.
- Not all jobs need college. You can find a job without a college degree. Some of the jobs available in the water supply industry do not require a college degree. This makes it an accessible option for many people.
- Good Salaries. You can make a good living. Many of the positions offer competitive salaries and benefits packages and are usually higher than the national median wages of other jobs.
- Environmental Impact. The water supply industry works hard to improve our water quality even under the many environmental challenges we face. Doing this also helps to protect the environment and other animal species.
Basically, a career in water supply means you will be helping our country conserve water, keep the water clean, and reduce wasteful water use practices.
Careers In The Water Industry
There are several industries that employ water workers including:
- Waste Treatment and Disposal
- Animal Processing
- State Government Agencies
- Local Government Agencies
- Water and Sewage Systems
Many US departments also hire water workers for a variety of needs. For example:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs workers to help enforce water regulations and assist in creating new policies ensuring we have clean water.
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) careers offers the opportunity to work with natural resources like water reservoirs. These are often used for drinking and irrigation so it is important to make sure these resources offer clean and safe water for these uses.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) works with food and agriculture, but of course, fresh clean water is needed by farmers for their crops.
- United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a water division that collects and delivers information to help us understand the status of our water resources.
So, if you’re ready to get down and dirty with some of the jobs available in water supply, here are some of the most popular.
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Wastewater Collections Operator
The Collection Operators’ primary responsibility is to ensure that wastewater flows quickly and safely to the treatment facility. They are typically very skilled in the maintenance and repair of different aspects of the wastewater system, such as sewers, drains, pump stations, pipe manholes, and catch basins. Their work protects the public health by preventing sewage overflows or blockages.
Industrial Pretreatment Coordinator
Often employed in local government facilities, pretreatment coordinators are typically in charge of a municipalities pretreatment program. Ensuring all treatment processes are in place and making sure processes are in compliance are some of the main duties.
Typically an engineering or environmental science degree is required, but in some cases, relevant experience can land you the job.
In order to know for sure if the water meets public standards, a lab technician will be needed to conduct tests. Lab technicians will analyze water on a variety of levels and offer reporting to relevant personnel.
A college degree is typically required for these careers. A bachelor’s degree is rec in biological science or chemistry is recommended, but a master’s degree might be preferred by some employers and will bring higher pay.
Water Treatment Plant Operator
These water resources professionals are responsible for the operation and maintenance of water treatment facilities. A daily part of their job might include inspecting equipment, monitoring operating conditions, and collecting/testing water and sewage samples.
Water Distribution Operator
These professionals are responsible for the operation and maintenance of water distribution systems. They ensure that the water being distributed meets all safety and quality standards. They will be responsible for recording meter and gauge readings, reporting on operations data, and reporting data to regulatory agencies.
Most managers learn on the job, though some may have an associate degree in environmental science or a related field.
Drinking Water Treatment Operator
Maintains, repairs, and operates the equipment that is used in a water treatment plant. They may also work at a pumping station or other similar facility. Daily duties may include calibration, water quality tests, or repairs.
Each state has different qualifications for certification, but most are hired with a high school diploma.
Wastewater Treatment Operator
Ensuring the wastewater treatment plant is operating well is the core responsibility of this job. Daily work might include cleaning and maintaining equipment or tanks or working the equipment used to clarify water or dispose of sewage.
Learn what a day in the life of a wastewater plant operator is like!
Obtaining a wastewater operator certification is recommended for this job and in some states might be required.
Green Infrastructure Worker
Green infrastructure workers will be responsible for stormwater management services that can protect or mimic the natural water cycle. These include things like permeable pavements, rainwater harvesting, or bioretention.
Workers in this job will work with various stormwater management practices to maintain, install, or inspect various green infrastructure technologies. No college is required by most employers but GI training may be helpful.
Water Distribution Operator
Responsible for the operation and maintenance of various water distribution systems. Monitoring and controlling the water system facilities to make sure the water quality is meeting standards and all technology is working as expected.
In 2016 it was estimated that 53 percent of water workers had a high school diploma or less.
A high school diploma is all you will usually need, but additional certifications are based on the state you will work in.
So, that rounds out our list of some of the careers in this industry.
As you can see most of the jobs above require no additional education other than a high school diploma or GED. Of course, you will need to start in entry-level jobs and gain experience. But as with all jobs, getting additional specialized training can help improve your opportunities and wages.
For example, when working in wastewater you can get various levels of certifications. While not always required, it can help set you apart from other workers. You can learn more about certifications for wastewater at American Water Works Association.
Different states have different certification requirements as well. You can take a look at our resource links to find details about state requirements and job opportunities.
But these are not all the opportunities!
There are also many water supply jobs that may not be directly water related but still have a huge impact.
- HVAC Technician
- Plumber, Pipefitter, Steamfitter
- Truck Drivers
- Septic Tank Services
- Utility Manager/Supervisor
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Water Industry Career Salaries
The average salary for a water supply career is $47,880 per year ($23.02 annually) as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Plant and system operators are the highest paid in the industry with median annual wages of $61,350.
The top paying states for water and wastewater occupations are:
- District of Columbia
Metro-areas pay much higher wages than rural areas due to the complexities of the systems and the level of work required to maintain them.
Water and Wastewater Job Outlook
In 2016 it was estimated that 1.7 million workers were part of the water industry. This included those that were responsible for the construction, design, operation, and maintenance of our water infrastructure.
As far as the outlook for jobs in the water supply industry it can vary based on the specific career you are considering.
- Plant and systems operators have an expected decline of 5% in growth
- Water and wastewater plant and system operators are expecting a 7% decline.
- Other jobs within the industry are expecting a 5% increase in growth
Most openings in jobs will come from those that are looking to retire. The industry faces challenges with an aging workforce and is struggling to fill the gaps. So many of these jobs are in high demand for great workers!
Most career paths in water are typically stable and secure. They offer good benefits and job satisfaction. However, they can be stressful and dangerous. Water supply workers must always be alert and aware of potential hazards. They also work long hours, often in difficult conditions.
So, should you consider a career in the water industry?
It depends on what you’re looking for, but generally speaking, we say yes! If you’re looking for a stable and secure job with good benefits and that has no specialized skills needed, then a career in the water supply industry may be right for you.
American Water Works Association
Work For Water
Water Environment Federation