EPA, USDA to Improve Rural Water & Create Jobs

Written by Becky Villaneda

To address poor water quality in rural communities, including ones along the United States and Mexico border, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this month announced a partnership to improve drinking water and wastewater systems.

The agreement will also create jobs in these communities because of the anticipated workforce shortage in the water industry. The partnership calls for providing job training to help the unemployed become qualified to fill those positions.

Funds, which are yet to be announced, will come from state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). The EPA annually provides grants to each state DWSRF program to “promote safe and affordable drinking water”—authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The SDWA, passed by Congress in 1974, is the main federal law that protects American’s drinking water. It was later amended to include the protection of drinking water sources, which includes lakes, rivers, reservoirs, springs and ground water wells.

Nationwide, small water and sewage treatment facilities, with limited funding and resources, face challenges due to rising costs and aging equipment and pipes. These challenges are what has sparked this partnership between the EPA and USDA.

“EPA and USDA have joined forces to leverage our expertise and resources to improve drinking water and wastewater systems in small towns across the country,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, in a statement. “A critical part of this agreement is to ensure that we have a well trained, professional workforce available to replace workers when they leave or retire.”

According to a 2005 published report by the American Water Workers Association (AWWA) titled, “Succession Planning for a Vital Workforce in the Information Age,” the water utility workforce will decline in the next 10 years. Specifically, the AWWA projects 37 percent of water utility workers and 32 percent of wastewater utility workers will be eligible for retirement within the next decade. Additionally, the U.S Department of Labor estimates that the demand for water and wastewater operators will increase by 20 percent through 2018.

With about 13.9 million people unemployed and a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, this sings opportunity.

Under the agreement, EPA and USDA will “work together to promote jobs by targeting specific audiences, providing training for new water careers and coordinating outreach efforts that will bring greater public visibility to the workforce needs of the industry, and develop a new generation of trained water professionals,” according to a press release.


“08/08/2011: EPA and USDA Create a Partnership to Improve Drinking Water Systems and Develop Workforce in Rural Communities.” Environmental Protection Agency. 8 Aug. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2011.

“Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States Environment Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture–Rural Development Utilities Service.” EPA.gov. 8 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2011.

“Employment Situation Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 5 Aug. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2011.

About the author

Becky Villaneda

Becky is a Los Angeles-born writer educated in southern and northern California. She became a writer to raise awareness of social and environmental issues and because her mother’s passion for the written word was contagious. In early 2011, Becky and three other journalists teamed to write their first book “Stories4Women,” which is a collection of true short stories. This project has given her the courage to explore other book ideas … stay tuned. She recently moved to Santa Barbara and works at Hispanic Business Magazine and is happily exploring the city’s sights and sounds.


  • I applaud the agreement to provide resources to rural and small communities. However a broad brush approach to imply that rural systems have poor water quality is an erronous assumption. Small systems comprise 92% of the systems in this nation and serve up to 50% of the population in some states and on average from 20-25% of the population in all states.

    EPA compliance data on health related maximum contaminate levels (MCL) documents there is no stastical difference between large and small systems. The Rural Utilities Service has over $11 Billion dollars loaned out to rural and small systems with a deliquency rate of less than 1/2 of 1 percent. A rate any financial institution would give a right arm to have. Quality on tap is a committment and a profession that is embraced by the professionals in rural and small communities across the nation. They and their families drink the water they produce and are the fist line of defense in protecting our nation’s lakes, streams, and water sources through wastewater treatment.