green house gas

Career Beat: Drinking Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators

by Patti Schwenke

Job opportunities exist in the water and wastewater sector

Job opportunities exist in the water and wastewater sector

Ever consider a career as a drinking water or wastewater treatment plant operator?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects are expected to be excellent in the coming decade with a projected growth of 8% through 2022.  Many current treatment plant workers are nearing retirement age, and there are not enough new workers entering the industry to meet demand.  Recent high school graduates looking for steady work or anyone thinking about a new career with good pay, benefits, and economic stability can find career opportunities in the water treatment and distribution fields. As of May 2014, more than 78% of water and wastewater treatment plant operators were employed by local governments and earned an annual salary of $45,880.  Those employed by the federal government reported the highest annual salary at $55,050.  Employees of state governments averaged $51,800 a year.

It’s an exciting time to be working in these industries: plant operators are now on the cutting edge of innovative treatment technologies, energy efficiency, and nutrient recovery.  The processes to get drinking water from streams, reservoirs and aquifers and to make wastewater safe to release into the environment are complex.  Drinking water treatment plant operators run the equipment and monitor the processes that treat the water which starts in aquifers, streams, and reservoirs, ultimately flowing to your tap. At wastewater treatment plants, operators use biological and chemical treatment to treat and disinfect wastewater before it’s released to a local waterway.

Energy efficiency has also become an important part of treatment plant operations in helping communities become more sustainable, protect against climate change, and save money.  Drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3 to 4 percent of energy use in the U.S., resulting in emissions of more than 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.  Wastewater plants are being recognized as resource recovery facilities, harnessing energy and even mining nutrients for marketing as a fertilizer.

What does it take to be a water treatment plant operator?  Check out this video from an EPA partner, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership or take a virtual tour of a water treatment plant. If you think this might be a career for you, these links to operator certification programs in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia will get you started.

Water is vital for all living things to survive. Professional treatment plant operators have the challenging and rewarding job of keeping water safe for us all.

About the Author:  Patti Schwenke has been with EPA’s Philadelphia office for more than 20 years.  In 2014, she joined the Water Protection Division as a Project Officer, where she manages grants that fund drinking water projects.  Patti and her husband, Glen, enjoy the outdoors and travelling in their motorhome.



Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sustainable Materials Management: A Life-cycle Perspective

As companies and decision-makers seek sustainable ways to manage resources and meet consumer needs, they are confronted with an array of choices, labels and practices that claim to be better for the environment. Terms such as “recyclable,” “recycled-content,” “biodegradable,” or “organic,” all suggest a more sustainable use of resources, but all focus on a limited set of environmental impacts. At EPA, we found that asking which of these practices is better for the environment may not be the right question. We’ve found benefit by taking a broader perspective that considers the full “life cycle” of a product.

Governments and businesses can make better-informed choices with “life-cycle thinking,” or considering the environmental impacts caused at all of the stages of a product’s life cycle. These impacts may include releases of pollutants to air or water; raw material depletion; loss of trees, vegetation and wildlife through disturbance of land and water ecosystems; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The stages of a product’s life cycle include extraction of resources, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management. Focusing on just one stage (such as waste management) or one effect (such as organically-raised or grown) can be misleading in total environmental impact. A broader look at life-cycle considerations can show unsuspected or surprising effects – such as high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from washing clothes with hot as opposed to cold water (since fossil fuels were likely burned for the energy used to heat the water). More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Fueling our Future

By Bob Perciasepe, Acting Administrator

This month EPA took an important next step to ensure that the cars of the future are not only the most fuel efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective cars to hit America’s roads – but they’re also the healthiest.

The new tailpipe standards we proposed, which are currently out for public comment, will protect millions of Americans from breathing polluted, potentially harmful air. These standards for tailpipe emissions are called “Tier 3” and include a combination of lowering sulfur content in gasoline and enhancing emission controls in automobiles – a systematic approach that has proven successful in the past as an efficient and cost effective program. That, in turn, will lead to significant public health benefits: Our research indicates that, by 2030, Tier 3 standards would annually prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 23,000 cases of respiratory symptoms in children, and 1.8 million sick days home from work or school.

Tier 3 tailpipe emission standards are designed to work in concert with vehicle fuel economy and green house gas standards the Obama Administration finalized last summer. When fully implemented, this comprehensive approach will save thousands of lives and protect the health of millions – all while strengthening our energy security, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and saving drivers money at the pump.  Reducing our dependence on oil, and foreign oil in particular, is an important part of the all-of-the-above approach to energy President Obama has long championed. So, even as we are increasing the amount of oil produced on our shores annually, we are also working to ensure the cars Americans will be driving are far more fuel efficient.  The fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards finalized last summer will phase in each year and ultimately double the fuel economy of motor vehicles by 2025, cutting oil consumption by 12 billion barrels in the process. Less oil consumed means substantially less greenhouse gas pollution, a leading driver of climate change. It also means fewer dollars spent filling up gas tanks – an estimated 1.7 trillion fewer dollars in total. Much has been made of the small – less than a penny – estimated increase in the cost of gasoline from Tier 3, but when you look at the full program and improved fuel economy and the tremendous savings of using half the gasoline for the same drive, consumers win – big time.

Much like the standards from last summer, the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe emission standards are already seeing widespread support from the auto industry. Clear, national standards allow manufacturers to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states. They also give automakers the market confidence they need to invest in the cleaner, more efficient technologies of the future. That’s why Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, this month called Tier 3 “a positive step forward,” explaining that the industry has wanted a “road map” to simplify regulations nationwide. When coupled with the fuel economy standards, these comprehensive approach fuel and tailpipe standards will provide the clear signal for increased investment and jobs in the automobile industry.

State and local officials support Tier 3 tailpipe standards, too. Stronger emissions standards make it easier for local governments to meet their Clean Air Act responsibilities and ensure residents are able to enjoy the clean, healthier air they expect and deserve.

Cleaner air rarely comes for free, but we often find that costs are dwarfed by the benefits clean air provides. This case is no exception. By 2030, EPA estimates that the monetized health benefits of the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe standards would be somewhere between $8 and $23 billion each year. That’s up to $7 in health benefits for every $1 invested in meeting the new standards. When combined with the thousands of dollars every driver will save at the pump thanks to last summer’s updated fuel economy standards, American drivers will be paying a lot less for gasoline over the next decade.

That is the beauty of the comprehensive approach now made possible by the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe standards: significant air pollution reductions with up to $23 billion in health benefits and modern fuels for modern automobile technology that is creating investment and jobs, doubling fuel economy, cutting gasoline bills in half on average and reducing green house gases.

For more than four years, this administration has worked to ensure the next generation of vehicles will offer all of the choices drivers have today. But those vehicles will also be more technologically advanced than ever before. They will be more efficient and much cheaper to power. And they will leave our communities cleaner and healthier than they have been in decades.

About the author: Bob Perciasepe is acting administrator of the U.S. EPA.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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