Sustainable Water Jobs on the Rise

The Pacific Institute released a comprehensive study, “Sustainable Water Jobs: A National Assessment of Water-Related Green Job Opportunities.” The report finds that proactive investments increasing efficient water use and reuse will address growing problems associated with drought, flooding, and contamination and create jobs in a wide range of professions. The study identifies 136 different kinds of jobs involved in implementing sustainable water strategies, from plumbers to landscapers, engineers to irrigation specialists. Thirty-seven of these job types are also projected to have high growth in the overall economy with each projected to have more than 100,000 job openings across industries by 2020.

The Pacific Institute identifies numerous sustainable water occupations that are accessible to workers without advanced degrees. Twenty-eight of the 37 occupations with 100,000 job openings by 2020 generally require on-the-job training with some requiring previous experience and associate’s degrees or technical training, but not bachelor’s or graduate degrees. This translates to a more feasible pathway to employment for adults without formal education beyond high school.

“This research indicates that water policy can expand demand for workers without bachelors or advanced degrees if occupational training programs and pathways to jobs are created,” says Eli Moore of the Pacific Institute. “However, the occupations with median wages below the national median demonstrate that measures to improve job quality must also be a priority.”

In addition, the study finds an investment of $1 million in alternative water supply projects yields 10-15 jobs; in storm-water management, five to 20 jobs; in urban conservation and efficiency, 12 to 22 jobs; in agricultural efficiency and quality, 14.6 jobs; in restoration and remediation, 10 to 72 jobs.

“It’s key to include local hiring and minority hiring requirements and incentives that increase contracting and hiring with individuals from local and disadvantaged communities,” Moore adds. “Water utilities, state water agencies and planning departments should consider job quality, training, and targeted hiring as an integral component of sustainable water project design and implementation.”

Federal mandates that require water improvements and promote green strategies, such as the recent storm-water guidelines and green reserve programs in State Revolving Funds, work to meet anticipated water resource needs in ways that improve, rather than ignore, social equity, ecological conditions, and long-term sustainability of human-ecological systems. They also make labor demand more predictable and allow for more effective planning of green jobs programs.

The study also developed six individual case studies of organizations that provide training and employment in sustainable water jobs: Amigos de los Rios in Altadena, Calif.; Groundwork Portland in Portland, Ore.; Limitless Vistas in New Orleans; Sustainable South Bronx in Bronx, N.Y.; Verde in Portland; and ¡YouthWorks! in Santa Fe, N.M.

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