California officials say the state cannot retain enough trained workers
to efficiently run and maintain its complex water delivery system, a problem
that has consequences for cities and farms statewide.
State pay for some key jobs, they say, has fallen so far behind the industry's standard that the Department of Water Resources serves as a farm system for private utilities and other government entities.
The problem costs taxpayers extra tens of millions of dollars each year to move water around the state, officials say, because facilities aren't managed efficiently.
"There has been a talent drain in some critical areas," said Daniel Curtin, who sits on the California Water Commission, a panel appointed by the governor. "There are key facilities that are unmanned. That tells you that we could use a few more players, but the salaries are lagging behind industry standards."
The department manages California's main water delivery system, including the State Water Project, and works with local water districts to manage the state's resources. It has about 3,400 budgeted positions this year, and expects to fill about 96 percent of them, according to state budget documents.
But the vacancy rate among the department's 670 hydroelectric plant trades and crafts positions -- workers who run and maintain the vast State Water Project -- has run between 10 percent and 15 percent for the last two years. Currently, according to department figures, 90 of those key positions aren't filled.
Sean Rossi, a senior hydroelectric plant operator whose job for the state includes monitoring water and power in the San Joaquin Valley region, said utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and government entities such as the federal Bureau of Reclamation routinely go after newly trained state Water Resources employees.
"As soon as they finish their apprenticeship, they're offered jobs. Some utilities will call and recruit us at work," Rossi said. "I don't blame people for leaving."
One small but crucial work group, senior water and power dispatchers, exemplify the water department's recruiting and retention problem.
The state needs seven senior water dispatchers to oversee the 700-mile-long State Water Project. The complex system of reservoirs, aqueducts, pumping plants and power stations delivers water to 25 million Californians and to 1,200 acres of farmlands, a total area roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Water Resources has just five senior dispatchers, who earn $72,000 to $86,600 annually -- 65 percent below the industry's median for the job, according to a recent letter by California Water Commission Chairman Joseph Byrne.
Officials at Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Water Resources declined to be interviewed for this story, but Byrne's April 23 letter to Natural Resources Secretary John Laird called the water project's staffing shortage a "crisis" that threatens to interrupt the system's reliability and is creating "numerous negative impacts" to the statewide water system. Among those he cited:
--High turnover. Apprentice dispatchers, for example, train three or four years to learn how to control system water flows, maintain pumping and power facilities and monitor water quality. The state spends a total $300,000 to $400,000 per apprentice.
"Currently, many, if not most of these individuals, leave (the department)
Most Popular Stories
- Boehner Lashes Out Against Ted Cruz, Far Right
- TFA Recruiting DACA Recipients
- Cheap Gas Drives Down U.S. Wholesale Prices Again
- Bitcoin or Bad Coin? Warnings Mount Against Virtual Currency
- Expanding Medicaid Creates Jobs: Study
- Producer Price Index Dropped in November
- Robert Levinson Was on CIA Mission
- Beyonce Releases New Album With No Marketing
- Hawaii Official Who Release Obama Certificate Only Victim of Plane Crash
- 'Dreamers' Hope for Permanent Immigration Status