Increasingly, public discourse pits environmental protections against economic development. Yet communities within the Anacostia watershed demonstrate how clean water regulations and directives create jobs and spur investment in local businesses.

The Anacostia River is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the federal government, Washington, DC, Maryland, and 5 other watershed states that make up the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership have spearheaded efforts to reduce harmful pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states have incorporated pollution limits into enforceable permit requirements for sources regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, including wastewater treatment plants, municipal storm sewer systems (MS4s) and construction activities.  

Efforts to curb pollution are yielding marked improvements in water quality even while population and economic activity in the Chesapeake watershed increases. They are yielding economic and employment benefits as well. In a 2012 report, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that every $1 invested in water and sewer infrastructure increased economic output by $6.35. Adding a job in the water and sewer sector created an additional 3.68 jobs.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) 2017 State of the Region: Human Capital Report recommends continued advancement of workforce development and job opportunities in the rapidly growing stormwater infrastructure sector. The finding grew out of COG’s Communities that Work initiative to assess stormwater workforce training and credentialing needs and practices in the Anacostia watershed. Examples below reveal jobs and opportunities already created in this sector.

In the District, a consent decree driving DC Water to install and maintain green infrastructure as part of the utility’s DC Clean Rivers Project to reduce combined sewage overflows into local waterways by 96% requires 51% of new green infrastructure jobs to go to District residents. To meet this requirement, DC Water has teamed with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and other jurisdictions throughout the country to create a National Green Infrastructure Certification Program, with the initial certification level targeted for entry-level workers for green infrastructure construction, inspection and maintenance. Washington Parks and People and the University of the District of Columbia are training residents for the national certification exam with support from DC Water and the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). The first training and exam occurred in late 2016; 8 DC residents became certified and are now eligible for jobs with DC Water. Additional trainings are underway and planned, and WEF will administer the exams in June and fall of 2017.

DC residents receive training to become eligible for green jobs with DC Water. Credit: DC Water

DC residents receive training to become eligible for green jobs with DC Water. Credit: DC Water

Further, DOEE is working with the Latin American Youth Center to provide paid hands-on training in bioretention maintenance, invasive plant removal, stream monitoring, and litter removal to youth ages 18-24 through River Corps. The program is in its first year, and the first cohort will provide training to 20 District youth. DOEE is working with DC Water to allow River Corps graduates to take the Green Infrastructure Certification exam.

Moving to the Anacostia headwaters, Prince George’s County and Corvias Solutions formed the Clean Water Partnership to meet the County’s MS4 permit requirements for stormwater management. The public-private partnership includes performance goals for local hiring and local businesses. Through February 2017, Corvias has awarded 77% of $22.6 million in expenditures to local, small, minority, veteran and women-owned businesses, with 95% of these expenditures going to local businesses. County residents account for thirty percent of work hours. The Clean Water Partnership includes a Contractor Development and Mentor Protégé Program to prepare local contractors to compete for County contracts. To date, 100% of participating construction firms have bid work and 84% have been awarded contracts. The Clean Water Partnership also worked with End-Time Harvest Ministries to provide paid internships to 50 area high school students to learn about the impacts of stormwater. The investment will continue; the County anticipates spending $1.2 billion by 2025 to retrofit 15,000 acres, creating job opportunities in design, engineering, project management, landscaping, maintenance, supply chain and research.

Also in the County, Prince George’s Green is a nonprofit designed to catalyze green workforce and business development. Sixty-four students have completed PGG’s Clean Water Class. Of these, five have received full-time employment, one has become an apprentice, and two have obtained-part-time positions in the field.

Finally, Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Montgomery County and Latin American Youth Center have partnered to create the Montgomery County Conservation Corps. Youth ages 17-24 years can earn their GED and learn about conservation principles through completing projects in regional parks. 

Clean Water Act permits are driving investments in the Anacostia watershed to restore the river. Thanks to innovative local governments, compliance strategies are leveraging market forces and using public-private partnerships to create more cost-effective solutions that benefit local businesses and workers. 

Images courtesy of DC Water