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How Emily Griffith Technical College Is Helping To Ensure Clean Water for the Future

The importance of our water utilities cannot be overstated; they are the quiet guarantors of our public health and environmental wellness. Despite a half-century of progress under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) systems of rigorously enforced water regulations, the past decade’s news cycles have been peppered with stories of water system failures that tend to overshadow the resilient everyday safeguards that our water industry provides.

When even minor system failures are reported, we hear soundbites like ‘insufficient utility funding,’ ‘government corruption,’ ‘neglect’ and ‘lack of qualified staff to operate our vital infrastructure,’ all muddled together in the pre-politicized, modern context of climate change and water scarcity. The atmosphere of alarm is easy to understand, as water touches all of us fundamentally.

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In Colorado’s Front Range, with relatively pristine mountain water sources and long-term economic growth, we are buffered from the worst-known elements. Our local utilities maintain an exceptionally high level of service without meaningful risk of catastrophic failures, but they do share equally in one truly alarming trend common to these news events: the lack of trained professionals to operate our increasingly technical, highly specialized public water infrastructure.

Consistent, correct system operation is a fine line between both our safe drinking water and exposure to a host of microbial pathogens, toxins and carcinogens, and our healthy rivers and their decay into dead zones due to oxygen depletion and microbial and nutrient pollution. Lack of a qualified workforce is a looming crisis that cannot be ignored.

Here, near the mountain sources, our water system failures would literally trickle down to the country’s most critical water supplies. In this vital region, the Water Quality Management program at Emily Griffith Technical College is helping to address the urgent workforce demand by offering high-quality, entry-level operator training to all who wish to learn.

Our local water industry is a dynamic environment full of dedicated professionals, technical innovation, partnerships, growth and opportunity. Dozens of examples of exciting projects present themselves at a glance: new treatment plants being constructed to meet the challenges of a complex array of emerging contaminants, aging infrastructure being replaced at unprecedented efficiencies, resource recovery plants producing natural gas and fine agricultural fertilizers from what was considered “wastewater” only a decade ago, are just a few examples.

There are countless career opportunities across a fascinating technical spectrum, but water seems relatively unrecognized as a viable career path among our younger generations. This lack of awareness is a critical problem that bears an increased risk of future system failures.

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USEPA requires certification by exam to operate water facilities. While a 4-year college degree is not necessary, passing the exams calls for substantial knowledge of hydraulic systems and equipment with a nuanced grasp of environmental science, applied chemistry and microbiology. As the industry grows more technically sophisticated, it becomes more difficult to pass the exams without first-hand experience or formal education.

The Emily Griffith Water Quality Management program is in a unique position to bridge this knowledge gap by providing this specialized training through a 10-month certificate program to all interested candidates, but more students are needed to fill the burgeoning local demand for operators.

Emily Griffith Technical College is dedicated to a learning approach and curriculum that provide the highest level of entry-level operator training and exam and career preparation. Our accelerated program covers the broad scope of the industry, providing the strong scientific foundation required while keeping student debt at a minimum.

Steeped in a long tradition of trades education, we focus on providing an experiential, hands-on learning environment. Students perform the chemistry and microbiological laboratory analyses while operating small-scale water and wastewater systems to reinforce the principles they are learning and benefit from unique hands-on learning opportunities to help them grasp subtle concepts.

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With a current job placement rate of around 90%, the program meets its goal of supplying highly qualified water professionals. Graduates are welcomed into an industry where their education is valued, they have a clear path of career growth and life-long learning, and they attain the long-term financial stability and benefits that have historically been the hallmarks of a career as a water operator.

Emily Griffith Technical College is one participant in a growing effort to increase awareness of water quality as a meaningful career path. There is an immediate and urgent demand for good operators to sustain the traditions of public health custodianship and environmental stewardship that our industry represents.

To explore water quality as a career path and learn more about the Water Quality Management program at Emily Griffith, visit or call 720-423-4700 to speak with an Emily Griffith Career Navigator.


Matthew McfaddenMatthew McFadden is the Water Quality Management Instructor at Emily Griffith Technical College. He holds an MSCE from the University of Washington and has a wide range of technical experience spanning 15 years in the industry as a professional engineer. In addition to facilities design and construction management, he has been principal investigator and lead author for numerous water quality-related research efforts.