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EPA has launched a Water Workforce Initiative to help communities facing critical staffing shortages for the operation and maintenance of essential drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The goal of the new initiative, announced in September, is to provide federal leadership, collaborate with partners, and increase public awareness to bolster interest in water sector careers.

In making the announcement, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross noted that approximately one-third of drinking water and wastewater operators in the U.S. will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Due to the scale of the challenge and the implications for environmental and public health protections, collaboration across federal, state, tribal, and local governments as well as public utilities, the private sector, water sector associations, community groups, and educational institutions is essential to developing an actionable Water Workforce Initiative, according to EPA.

The Water Workforce Initiative builds on recent efforts to promote water careers. For example, EPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help connect veterans with disabilities with career opportunities in the water sector. EPA also worked with the Department of Labor to support water operator apprenticeship programs. “EPA looks forward to capturing innovative ideas and collaborative actions through our Water Workforce Initiative so that we can take meaningful steps to ensure we have a strong water sector workforce for generations to come,” Ross said. Following further engagement with AMWA and other water sector partners, the agency intends to release a draft Water Workforce Initiative for public comment by the end of the year and to finalize the plan by April 2020.