AB 1588: Paving the Way for Veterans and Increasing the Pool of Qualified Applicants in California’s Water Industry

worker and military handshake

AB 1588: Paving the Way for Veterans and Increasing the Pool of Qualified Applicants in California’s Water Industry

16:32 09 July in News

A new bill, AB 1588 (Gloria/Gray), in the California Legislature, would provide a path for veterans transitioning to civilian employment to receive credit for their military experience and education toward certifications in the water industry in hopes of helping the state’s industry replace a wave of retiring Baby Boomers.

Aging infrastructure and workforce in the water industry, combined with more than 250,000 U.S. military members leaving military service each year, have led the Otay Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority to cosponsor AB 1588 to ensure that military veterans transitioning into civilian water and wastewater operator occupations receive appropriate crediting for experience and education gained during military service.

Pictured on the left is an Otay Water District employee with a Water Distribution (D1 level) Certification.
Pictured on the left is an Otay Water District employee with a Water Distribution (D1 level) Certification.

Despite the availability of military resources to assist service members and veterans to reintegrate into civilian lifestyle, there continues to be missed opportunities – particularly within the water and wastewater treatment operator field – to find, educate, certify, and employ veterans transitioning to civilian employment.

Several states help veterans navigate the civilian water system operator certification process and allow veterans to apply equivalency standards to credit military experiences toward state or industry certifications in water and wastewater treatment and distribution. However, no similar pathway exists in California.

U.S. Navy veteran and Assistant Chief of Operations for the Otay Water District Jose Martinez says, “Veterans are the right candidates to fill these jobs because of the hard work they’ve already demonstrated in their careers and their time in the military.”

Otay Water District Assistant Chief of Operations Jose Martinez also served in the U.S. Navy from May 2001 to September 2007. As a nuclear submarine officer, he was a trained and qualified naval nuclear engineer.
Otay Water District Assistant Chief of Operations Jose Martinez also served in the U.S. Navy from May 2001 to September 2007. As a nuclear submarine officer, he was a trained and qualified naval nuclear engineer.

Martinez was Nuclear Submarine Officer in the Navy. According to Martinez, submarine officers are nuclear engineer trained, qualified, and certified; they are responsible for the overall operations and maintenance of the totality of the submarine’s systems (nuclear and non-nuclear), which includes water quality and water treatment. This also includes strict compliance with regulations, documentation, training, and more. They even deal with some wastewater, as you can imagine. The nuclear submarine officer position is only one of the many Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) positions. The military has many other positions that are thoroughly trained and certified and when compared to the water industry positions, the water industry requires similar qualifications and experience.

‘SILVER TSUNAMI’
At a time with the water industry is facing a ‘silver tsunami’ – with thousands of workers expected to retire in coming years – veterans are returning to the civilian workforce with skills to benefit the industry and fill those jobs.

Water and wastewater treatment is an essential industry and with an aging infrastructure and workforce. There are approximately 6,000 active certified wastewater treatment plant operators and approximately 35,000 drinking water treatment and distribution operators in California.

CHALLENGES FOR THE WATER INDUSTRY
Replacement of critical infrastructure components, while maintaining service to customers, is one of the greatest challenges in the water-wastewater industry today. In addition, the high pace of retirements, new technologies and increased demand for safe drinking water contribute to the pressure on the industry to augment the workforce.

System Operator I of the San Diego County Water Authority collects water samples as one of his many duties in the Operations and Maintenance Department.
System Operator I of the San Diego County Water Authority collects water samples as one of his many duties in the Operations and Maintenance Department.

“If veterans could more quickly move through the civilian certification process, the California water industry would have a much larger pool of highly skilled, motivated, and talented people eager to continue their public service careers,” says Glenn Farrel, government relations manager for the San Diego County Water Authority.

Assembly Bill 1588 was introduced Feb. 22 by San Diego Assemblymember Todd Gloria and Central Valley Assemblymember Adam Gray. The bill passed the state Assembly on a 78-0 vote on May 23. It is now being considered in the state Senate and passed unanimously on consent in the Environmental Quality Committee on June 19 and on consent unanimously in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on July 9. The next stop will be the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will be held when the Legislature returns from summer break on Aug. 12.