College Program Providing Qualified Candidates for City Water Projects

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Having clean and purified water will be more critical in the years ahead, especially as cities grapple with aging water infrastructure systems. Students at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio are taught how to deal with this need.

A 2016 NRDC report found that 18 million Americans got their water from sources that had lead violations the previous year.

As many cities grapple with aging water infrastructure systems to repair potentially unsafe drinking water, Northwest Vista College in San Antonio can make sure cities hire qualified water technicians. Some even say that in the future war will be fought over water and not oil. Northwest Vista College has a jewel of a program that trains students to protect this vital resource.

It's estimated that about 80 cities are currently seeking $9.5 billion for water management projects, according to new research from nonprofit CDP - which released the data for World Water Week, which recently ended. Where will the workforce come from to back many of these projects?

NVC’s Water Resource Science program offers an associate degree, certificate or marketable skills award, to train students to join companies large and small to monitor, troubleshoot, and chemically clean equipment that is essential for the treatment of water/ wastewater. Occupational projections indicate a 19 percent growth for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and Systems Operators by 2022 in the San Antonio area.

Dr. Howard Marquise, NVC coordinator of Water Resource Science, said it’s not unheard of for students to enter a job after leaving the program with a starting salary of $63,000. Though most students will start in the low- to mid- $40,000 range, the career opportunities and potential to make more in this field are great.

He added many of the jobs will be at industrial treatment facilities, such as San Antonio Water System, San Antonio River Authority and CPS Energy. Additionally, all his students who complete the program get jobs or transfer to a higher degree.

Miranda Vigil, a recent graduate of the program, will start as a water technician with SAWS in September. She is one of the few female students in the program and plans to continue her education in Water Resource Science at Texas A&M San Antonio to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Her initial interest in the field came from her father, who also works in the water purification business.

“A lot of people don’t know what this program is all about and think its about swimming pools,” said Miranda, 22. “I tell people this field is incredibly lucrative and there’s always job opportunities.”

Dr. Marquise said in the U.S., Americans often take water for granted since many in non-industrialized nations have to search for purified water.

He said a trend across the U.S. is called “toilet to tap,” which means treating wastewater for drinking purposes since natural drinking water supplies are not as abundant as they used to be.

The American Waterworks Association says it costs $4.8 trillion to maintain water and wastewater systems, and that the average age of U.S. water infrastructure is 60-130 years old.

In fact, it was due to aging infrastructure that contributed to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, which was highly publicized. According to a Mother Jones article, “A 2016 NRDC report found that 18 million Americans got their water from sources that had lead violations the previous year. The violations ranged from failure to treat water to reduce lead levels to failure to report lead results to the government or public.

Dr. Marquise said the value of hiring his students will be even greater in the future as cities and counties try to upgrade their infrastructures to prevent a possible crisis.

To learn more about NVC’s Water Resource Science program, visit alamo.edu/nvc/academics/departments/water-resource-science/

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Melissa Monroe

Renata Serafin
Northwest Vista College
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