October 10, 2018

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $1.4 million grant to the Idaho Rural Water Association (IRWA) to help build a new workforce development and training center to educate current and future professionals responsible for the operation of Idaho’s drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.

The total cost of this project is estimated to be $1.8 million. The remaining $400,000 will be provided by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Rural Development’s Community Facilities Loan Program and will be repaid by the IRWA.


IRWA is scheduled to break ground on the new facility and warehouse in the spring of 2019. It will be a 10,808 sq. ft. building in Ada County on Gowen Road and will house both indoor and outdoor training areas to accommodate classroom-style coursework and hands-on training for practical field experience.


After many years of hard work and determination by the IRWA staff and Board of Directors, the vision of providing superior training opportunities for professionals in the drinking water and wastewater industry can now become a reality. Former Board Member Roland F. “Butch” Anderson was a driving force behind this project. Shortly after retiring from the Board in 2017, after 13 years of service to the Association, Mr. Anderson tragically passed away. The IRWA and Board of Directors are proud to dedicate this project to his memory.


A 2017 survey conducted by the Association of Idaho Cities (AIC) listed the public works infrastructure as the #1 challenge Idaho cities are facing. It is critical that we have qualified drinking water and wastewater professionals to maintain the infrastructure needed to accommodate the state’s population growth. Since industry licensing requirements include a combination of both education and experience, there is a demand for more educational opportunities that provide an interactive training environment that allows both classroom and hands-on learning.


AJ Gray, City Of Buhl, Idaho Water Superintendent said, “The IRWA has become the principal training entity for the water and wastewater professionals in Idaho. With the new facility, the opportunities to advance and provide continuous training to Idaho’s water and wastewater technicians will increase ten-fold. The vision of “hands on” training, technical support and regulatory training all under one roof will become a reality. Huge thanks to Shelley Roberts, IRWA CEO, her staff and previous IRWA Board of Directors for pursuing this dream.”


This grant comes at a time when we are experiencing both national and local work shortages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 8.2% of existing drinking water and wastewater professionals will need to be replaced annually between 2016 and 2026. The Idaho Department of Labor is projecting an overall shortage of approximately 50,000 workers in Idaho in the next 10 years. IRWA’s research found that 33% of Idaho’s licensed drinking water and wastewater professionals, those critical for the maintenance of utility infrastructure, are 56 years old or older. The solution to this forthcoming problem, in part, is the development of this state-of-the-art workforce development center.


“The grant award announcement is welcome news for Idaho’s rural water systems and the communities that rely upon them. By establishing a workforce training center, Idaho’s rural communities will have a dedicated source of trained workers prepared to take on the management and challenges associated with rural water infrastructure,” said Idaho Senator Crapo. “Congratulations to the Idaho Rural Water Association for putting together a highly-merited proposal deemed worthy of investment by the Economic Development Administration.”


In addition, the training center will also be used to recruit and train members of the Idaho Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (IdWARN) to help protect drinking water and wastewater facilities prepare for and respond to man-made or natural disasters. Additionally, the center will house specialized equipment that can be used by Idaho communities in the event of a disaster. A portion of the grant originates from the $600 million Congress appropriated for disaster relief and recovery as a result of wildfires, flooding and other disasters that took place during 2017. As a result of heavy snowfall, flooding and wildfires during 2017 in Idaho, the State declared nearly half of its 44 counties and 5 tribes to be under local or state disaster declarations due to weather-related destruction.


The National Infrastructure Advisory Council’s (NIAC) 2016 report determined water service disruption directly impacts a variety of critical services including health care services, fire suppression, functionality of schools and government headquarters, as well as some manufacturing facilities and other businesses that may be rendered inoperable. The study also suggests the need to invest in water and wastewater infrastructure resiliency as a top national priority.


“This investment will create jobs and energize rural water in Idaho and the industries it supports,” said Senator Risch. “I look forward to seeing the positive impact it has on our community and business development for years to come.”
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