U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, this week spoke on the importance of developing trained operators to manage water and wastewater treatment plants during a committee hearing to examine recent challenges facing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Recent employment data indicates that up to 50 percent of the rural water workforce will leave the industry within the next 10 years. A lack of qualified operators can worsen the effects of extreme events like the winter weather that swept across the Southeast last month.

In a question directed to the panel of witnesses at the hearing, Wicker asked how a shortage of trained water operators affects communities.

“This is a big problem…Especially our smaller communities are having a harder time attracting operators,” said Mr. Michael McNulty, General Manager of the Morgantown, West Virginia Utility Board.

“The workforce issues that are confronting small and rural communities is really important…[not only] ensuring we both build a pipeline of new operators, but also ensuring we have good, sustainable jobs for those folks…and ensuring we attract young people into the industry is another key component in this,” said Mr. Nathan Ohle, Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership.

Wicker also mentioned that the U.S. Department of Labor last year formally recognized the apprenticeship program developed by the Mississippi Rural Water Association to address the shortage.

The Mississippi Rural Water Association is currently training five apprentices who will be qualified to operate and maintain water utilities.

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Release from Senator Roger Wicker.