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Minarets Offers Vocational Training at Water-School

O’NEALS – In his book, “The Great Thirst: Californians and Water,” historian Norris Hundley Jr. said the Golden State has the “largest, most productive and most controversial water system” in the world, mostly referring to its scarcity and practices of distribution.

The California water industry provides drinking water and wastewater to residential, commercial and industrial sectors amounting to about 30 million people, and is growing fast, making the water business a viable opportunity for job futures around the state.Local water expert Steve Christianson has teamed up with Chawanakee Unified School District (CUSD) to establish a public/private partnership with Minarets High School. The resulting enterprise is Water-School, an industry training program available to vocational students including adults.

“What we’re doing is a very cutting edge program with the school district,” says Christianson, Executive Director of Water-School. “Our program is developed as an 80% online/offline hybrid program to get trained and get state certified to work in the water industry. The first and last Saturday of an 8-week module, the students come to Minarets High School. The six weeks in between we’re online with them, so it’s a unique program that allows us to do a lot from a distance, and really zero in on their learning.”

Water Treatment PlantWith about 8,300 public and private water districts in California, and more privatization happening fast, the water industry here is expected to grow exponentially, with jobs to follow.

“All the water districts are registered with the state Department of Health Services and by law they have to have certified operators,” Christianson reports.

“Water comes from many sources, whether it’s ground water or surface water, and all that water needs to be treated. It needs to be filtered and have some kind of disinfection as well as cleaned and ‘polished,’ so when it comes out of the tap it’s nice looking, has no odor, it tastes and smells good.”

Depending on the size of the water system (a college versus an entire city, for instance), Christianson says specific criteria always exist for maintenance and repair of oft-times aging infrastructures, work required to be done only by certified operators.

“It gets into doing water samples, repairs, onsite maintenance, future planning as far as what needs to happen to take care of that system, as well as making sure that they’re staying within the levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

Christianson began his career 30 years ago as an apprentice plumber, and was involved in developing the water system at the North Fork Mill Site, where he was Project Manager and Site Manager for the environmental remediation work. Now, he’s concentrating on the future of Water-School.

Water School Training and Coaching image“Every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. we do a free informational session in room 310 at Minarets,” explains Christianson. “It’s a 90-minute meeting and we educate people on the industry, what’s going on, employment prospects, career paths, and how our school operates and how it works.”

According to the Water-School founder, not only is the industry growing, many employees in the state are set to retire soon.

“This is the exciting thing about why we decided to work in this specific field,” says Christianson. “In the industry there’s about a 38 – 40% retirement rate coming in about the next 4 years. Operators are becoming very scarce.”

At the same time, the EPA continues to raise drinking water standards.

“As they continue to strengthen up those standards, it involves more technology, so it’s really becoming a specialized industry with about 60 career paths that can be launched out of our program. Industry wages start anywhere from $18-26 dollars an hour with certification, plus benefits.”

The Water-School certification program costs about $7,000 and can be completed in 12-18 months, depending on the student. A limited number of scholarships are available, along with significant discounts for Minarets students or anyone residing in the CUSD, as part of the partnership.

Christianson contends that private/public partnerships will become more popular as time goes on.

“Minarets has a state-of-the-art, self-contained water and waste water system, but the bottom line is, school districts and government don’t have expendable dollars to launch programs like this. We’re very socially conscious about the environment and wanting to do the right thing. We’re supplying their staff with training as the first phase of our involvement and waiving training fees. In exchange they help us by letting us use the facility. No dollars out from them, no dollars out from us, it really works well.”

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