Jobs in the water sector

Think about water — think about jobs. The variety of work in what’s generally called the water sector is fascinating. There are the obvious job categories, of course — the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16 percent increase in the number of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters between 2016 and 2026 to well more than half-a-million jobs. Then the less obvious: in most states there are workers today who track how much water is being lost to leaks, thefts, inaccurate billing and the like – understandable, given the relatively recent rises in reported shortages and the sheer costs of providing water to the public.

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Soon enough I found myself talking with people in government offices that didn’t exist a generation ago. I mean staffers whose fields include, among others, regulating storm water, watching out for wetlands, monitoring groundwater withdrawals, overseeing lake water quality, helping finance watershed protection, and enforcing new laws that govern the repair of streams after floods sweep through.

The findings were consistent with a youtube report on Vermont’s Clean Water Initiative that highlighted a wide range of government action around water.

The takeaway message: water’s an expanding sector.

The growth is likely to pick up pace as the nation begins to grapple with the prospect of replacing old pipes and other infrastructure. That means new jobs.

Meanwhile, there’s an aging water workforce to take into account. A recent report from the Brookings Institution – “Renewing the Water Workforce” –scoped out a current workforce of 1.7 million Americans in more than 200 different job categories who at some point will need to be replaced.

In support of that finding, the Water Environment Federation, an industry group, recently predicted that in the next 10 years 37 percent of water utility workers and 31 percent of wastewater utility workers will retire.

So, whether its work in fields that have long been part of the economy such as plumbing and pipefitting or in emerging fields such as water recycling, work in the water workforce stands to grow.