Apply Now: New Water Workforce Grant Funding Available

Source: National League of Cities

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $20 million in grant funding through the Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Grant Program to address the need for building a pipeline of skilled, diverse water and wastewater utilities workers. Cities, via their public works departments, are eligible recipients of these grants and are encouraged to apply by the November 17th deadline

30-50 percent of the nation’s water workforce is expected to retire by 2027, and there is already a national need to grow the water workforce.1 30-50 percent of the nation’s water workforce is expected to retire by 2027, and there is already a national need to grow the water workforce.2 Cities, towns and villages are keenly aware of the need to invest in the workforce pipeline to ensure that residents are recruited and trained to fill these critical positions that support the basic fabric of the community. 

Water and wastewater treatment utility workers are also central to community public health, environmental, and economic well-being. A recent example of this is the use of wastewater monitoring to provide community-level views of RSV, flu, COVID-19, monkeypox and other emerging infectious diseases by testing samples collected from a community’s wastewater (or sewage) and watching for changes in the levels of the virus to help inform actions to prevent virus spread. 

NLC has long been an advocate for the creation and support of this federal program to support local water workforce development needs. The inaugural grant recipients of this program spanned a range of communities across the country, including: 

  • In Toledo, OH,  the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments is working with Owens Community College, the City of Toledo, and partners in education, public utilities, labor unions, trade organizations and community partners to create a water and wastewater sector workforce development collaborative that will recruit, train and place workers in public and private sector utilities to address regional workforce needs in northwest Ohio.  
  • In Grand Rapids, MI, Grand Rapids Community College is developing and implementing a community-wide program to address the emerging employment needs of water sector utilities in the city of Grand Rapids and surrounding metropolitan area. The community college is working with the city of Grand Rapids, the local school system and a local community college, the regional workforce development agency and community organizations. 

Jobs in the water and wastewater sector are good jobs with strong career pathways that lead to long-term, middle-class careers with generous benefits. Cities like Milwaukee, WI have developed a roadmap for building equity into their water workforce by removing barriers to entry and building awareness of water careers within underserved communities.  

Through this new grant program, cities can access additional funds to support collaboration across federal, state and local governments and institutions of higher education, apprentice programs, labor organizations, high schools and other community-based organizations to provide access to workforce opportunities and build career pipelines in the water sector. 

Recognizing that approaches to workforce development are tailored to local employer demand and community needs, this grant opportunity allows for flexibility in terms of the project that can be funded, including: 

  • Project Area 1: Targeted internships apprenticeships for skilled water utility trades. 
  • Project Area 2: Education programs designed for elementary, secondary and higher education students. 
  • Project Area 3: Regional industry and workforce development collaborations to hiring qualified candidates. 
  • Project Area 4: Leadership development, occupational training, mentoring or cross-training programs that support career advancement. 
  • Project Area 5: Education and training programs designed for decentralized (septic) water workers to support public health for communities that rely on private wells for drinking water or septic systems. 
  • Project Area 6: Training and development for workforce development programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants to benefit disadvantaged communities. 

More information on the grant and the requirements to apply can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency.