Utilities management includes all of the utilities serving a specific municipality, such as energy, telecommunications, and water and wastewater services.
Energy managers coordinate energy supplies and services for a variety of businesses and organizations. They work with renewable and traditional energy sources to provide safe, reliable power. In many areas of the country, however, energy and telecommunications are run by private companies rather than the local government. As a result, public utilities management focuses primarily on water distribution, water treatment, and wastewater services.
A utility manager, also known as a public works director, oversees the operations and maintenance of the systems responsible for water treatment, wastewater collection, and water distribution to a localized community. The manager supervises the utility staff, interacts with the public, and coordinates with other municipal officials to ensure the efficient function of facilities and the timely distribution of resources. Individuals in this position are frequently expected to meet with liaisons from health services organizations, environmental agencies, and other government entities to discuss various issues affecting utilities management.
A Day in the Life of a Utility Manager
According to the Houston Chronicle, a public utilities director can anticipate many of the following tasks on a given day:
Overseeing the daily operation of water plant and wastewater facilities
Supervising personnel, building teamwork, and addressing interpersonal issues
Ensuring a safe water supply
Following federal and state guidelines
Preparing a utilities budget, which includes staffing expenses, equipment, and supplies necessary to maintain utilities and infrastructure
Overseeing construction crews as they install new water and wastewater lines
Working with other officials to create policies for the safe use of public utilities
Preparing and presenting reports to the governing board of the municipality regarding the operations of utilities
Collecting and presenting data as required by state and federal agencies
Salary ranges for utilities managers vary depending on the size of the municipality and the number of utilities managed. Payscale.com reports that the median annual salary for a utilities manager in 2013 is $63,491 while the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the median annual income for a water and wastewater treatment plant and system operator was $42,760 in 2012. The discrepancy between the two numbers is likely related to the responsibilities required of each job.
The training requirements to become a public utilities manager vary from state to state. Often, a four-year degree in engineering, public administration, or urban planning is required in addition to some years of experience with utilities. Acquiring a water operator’s license and wastewater operator’s license in the manager’s state of residence is often necessary. While a bachelor’s degree is a basic requirement, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree, coupled with experience in the industry, makes for a more desirable utilities management candidate.
Challenges and Opportunities
Utilities managers face the challenges of increasing populations and decreasing water supplies, especially during seasons of drought. It is during these periods when the efficiency of the manager, staff, and equipment are put to the test. Utilities managers may need to coordinate with other officials to implement water restrictions in extreme conditions in order to prioritize water usage.
Additionally, in states where oil companies are drilling for natural gas, fracking techniques affect the water quantity and quality. A utilities manager may need to serve on the regulatory committee that monitors the drilling sites for compliance.
Utilities managers have the opportunity to keep the community healthy by providing clean water and ensuring that there are enough resources for everyone to use. They also collaborate with both public and private organizations during emergency situations and natural disasters that can knock an entire community off the grid.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2010 to 2020. While this is an average increase for all occupations, communities will continue to need utilities to function in everyday life, which provides a certain amount of job security for utility managers. As cities grow, so will the utility infrastructures and the need for people to manage those infrastructures. At the same time, an increasing awareness of the limitations of natural resources and the impact of energy use on the environment will likely lead to changes in regulations and technology systems in the future.
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