By Michael Vos
Ever wonder what it takes to work in a water treatment facility? Students in West Michigan now have the opportunity to pursue a degree in Water Environmental Technology (WET) through an articulation agreement between Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) and Delta College, located near Bay City, Michigan. There is also an agreement with Bay College in Escanaba, Michigan for a similar degree. The program is designed to prepare students for entry into the water and wastewater field, most often working for municipal treatment plants, but with opportunities existing in engineering firms, laboratories, and state and local agencies as well.
Any entity that discharges water into streams, rivers, and lakes including water treatment facilities and municipal stormwater systems is required by law to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to do so. According the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) website, “the NPDES program is intended to control direct discharge into the surface waters of the State by imposing effluent limits and other conditions necessary to meet State and federal requirements.” Students who complete the WET program go to work overseeing the processes that release clean, high-quality water back into our local bodies of water. Ron Sharp, a professor of chemistry at Delta College and contact for the WET program says, “Graduates of the WET program are prepared to provide both the private and public sector with the expertise to ensure we protect our precious Great Lakes watershed.”
As part of the program, students do one month practicums at both water and wastewater plants, gaining valuable experience working directly under a plant superintendent. This experience is an important component of the program and allows graduates with the Associates Degree in Applied Science to immediately write the entry level water and wastewater exams administered by MDEQ.
Mark Mundt, a local water professional with United Water, was one of the primary driving forces in bringing this degree program to GRCC. As seasoned water professionals retire, “The water and wastewater industry is experiencing a shortage of good employees at our treatment facilities,” says Mundt. “One of the solutions to this problem is to get a water degree program offered locally.” While not a full GRCC degree program as they originally hoped, the WET partnership is important for West Michigan students interested in water treatment, especially those who cannot easily relocate to pursue the career. Students take their general education coursework through GRCC, and technical courses through Delta or Bay College, which offers some of the courses online.
To support this education effort, local water and wastewater plants are ready to provide interested students with internships to gain further experience. The City of Lowell has a wastewater spot available through United Water, and other possibilities include the City of Grand Rapids, City of Wyoming, and Holland Board of Public Works. Interested candidates should be studying biology, chemistry, or a related environmental topic, or be enrolled in the WET program.
Applications should be filed with both GRCC and the transfer institution prior to beginning the program. If you are interested in this degree more yourself, check out the GRCC website: https://cms.grcc.edu/watertechnology.