Thursday, October 31, 2013

Green Job Series: Careers in Water Conservation [Fourth Installment]

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles key construction occupations in water conservation.

Construction Occupations

Construction workers build and install the infrastructure for conserving water. They build new water delivery and storage systems. They also build new dams and reservoirs, dig wells, lay new pipes, and install water-efficient appliances and irrigation systems.

Construction workers typically are employed by construction or utilities companies and spend much of their time outdoors. Their work can be physically demanding.

Job Duties

Construction managers oversee building projects. These may include constructing reservoirs and water treatment plants or installing new pipes and water delivery systems. The primary duties of a construction manager include administering permits, contracts, and the budget, as well as monitoring project quality and safety.

On large assignments, a project manager typically oversees several construction managers who supervise individual aspects of the assignment.

Construction laborers do many of the basic physical tasks onsite. They may clean and prepare construction sites, load or unload building materials, dig trenches, backfill holes, or compact earth to prepare for construction. They do a variety of tasks, from easy to difficult and even hazardous, on almost all construction sites.

Equipment operators use heavy machinery to move construction materials, earth, and other heavy materials at a construction site. They may dig trenches for pipes or clear a large area for a planned reservoir. Equipment operators also control cranes to lift and place heavy objects, such as collectors and storage tanks for rainwater or greywater. They set up, inspect, and adjust equipment and do some maintenance and minor repair.

Pipelayers place pipes outdoors. They install large-diameter pipes, such as water mains, or smaller pipes that carry water from the main to houses or buildings. Pipelayers may also install sewage systems that carry waste to treatment plants.

Plumbers follow detailed construction drawings to install pipes and appliances in buildings and connect them to the water supply. They may remove older fixtures and replace them with water-efficient ones, such as dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets. Plumbers may also replace leaky pipes or install plumbing systems that accommodate both drinkable and non-drinkable water and thereby allow a building to use rainwater and greywater.

Septic tank servicers and sewer pipe cleaners ensure that septic tanks—tanks that store human waste when sewers are not available—and sewer pipes are clean and that waste material is able to flow through them properly. If septic tanks or sewers become blocked, the waste material backs up and may flow up through drains or seep into the ground nearby, which can contaminate the water supply.

Education, Training, and Licensing

Construction managers typically need a degree in construction management, business management, or engineering and have experience working in construction. Experience is important for construction managers, so it may substitute for some educational requirements. Workers who have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in construction management or engineering but do not have significant construction experience may be hired as assistants to construction managers. Construction laborers are not required to have a formal education.

Equipment operators often learn on the job, complete an apprenticeship, or do a combination of both to become certified. Becoming certified involves training and testing to ensure competence and safety. Because of safety concerns and the potential danger of operating this equipment, most construction workers are required to pass regular drug screenings.

Pipelayers typically need a high school diploma and are trained on the job in 1 month or less. Plumbers also typically have a high school diploma and receive training through an apprenticeship, which usually lasts 4 to 5 years and involves about 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and at least 246 hours of related technical instruction.

Septic tank servicers and sewer pipe cleaners need less than a high school diploma. They are normally trained on the job and are competent in performing their jobs with 1 to 12 months of training.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently does not have wage data specific to the water conservation industry. The table that follows shows wages for selected construction occupations in May 2012. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Construction managers $82,790
Construction laborers $29,990
Construction equipment operators $40,980
Pipelayers $36,180
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters $49,140
Septic tank servicers and sewer pipe cleaners $34,020

For more detailed information on construction occupations in the water conservation industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's water conservation industry series installment: Agriculture and Grounds Maintenance Occupations.

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