Today is Labor Day, the national holiday that celebrates the accomplishments of the American worker and traditionally marks the end of summer. While most Americans will enjoy a day off – schools, banks and government offices will be closed – the men and women dedicated to providing their communities with clean drinking water and environmentally-responsible wastewater treatment will still be on-call to serve the needs of their friends and neighbors.
The infrastructure that supplies clean, affordable drinking water to our communities operates 24 hours a day, including nights, weekends and holidays. In small utilities, workers are on-call at any time. Medium sized utilities may have plants that operate continuously and require shift workers to supervise them around-the-clock. At any utility, line breaks, storm damage, equipment failures or other emergencies will mean that workers from affected utilities, neighboring communities and State Rural Water Associations will be called from their barbecues and family outings to help restore drinking water.
It takes more than 380,000 highly skilled water and wastewater personnel to ensure the public supply of safe drinking water and to protect our lakes, streams and groundwater. More than 80% of the U.S. population receives potable water from public drinking water systems, and about 75% of the U.S. population has sewage treated by centralized wastewater systems. More than 97% of the nation’s 156,000 public water systems are small systems, meaning they serve 10,000 or fewer people.
This dedicated workforce requires increasingly-skilled professionals to deal with advancing technology in supply and treatment. This need is complicated by the fact that the water sector is expected to lose between 30 – 50% of employees due to retirement over the next decade. To meet this need, the National Rural Water Association and it state affiliates are leading the development of the NRWA Apprenticeship Program to train new water and wastewater professionals. This program will help train the next generation of water professionals, skilled in the latest technology and committed to providing safe, clean water to their communities.
When you are celebrating this Labor Day, please just us in celebrating the men and women that help provide clean drinking water and environmentally-responsible wastewater treatment to communities across the nation.