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Ground water worker shortages spark education initiatives

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To draw interest to the ground water field, Oklahoma State (OSU) partnered with the National Ground Water Association to create online training programs for entry-level workers, university students and industry professionals. This partnership brought the Oklahoma Ground Water Association's (OGWA) annual conference and tradeshow to OSU for the first time.

Todd Halihan, a geology professor at OSU, said the workers are needed. Halihan said the water well industry in Oklahoma is like a family-based business and the younger generations are going into different fields. 

“There’s a whole range of issues to manage (concerning ground water), but the biggest one for us to manage is getting people to help manage them,” Halihan said.

There are over 135,000 jobs open in the country's ground water industry, according to a study at the American Geoscience Institute. Josh McClintock, director of the OGWA, said the need for workers is the biggest issue because ground water is constantly being used.

About 0.3% of Earth’s water is usable for humans, and of this percentage of available water, 98% is made up of ground water, according to the NGWA.

“Oklahoma’s been pretty fortunate that we’ve historically had more ground water resources than a lot of other places but words out about that,” McClintock said. “And we’ve started using more of the groundwater especially as we are in drought cycles."

McClintock said because surface water comes from ground water somewhere, water quality issues are in any area of the state. These challenges surrounding ground water include water quality and having enough ground water in parts of the state like the panhandle. This area sits on the Ogallala Aquifer, which is reportedly being extracted at a faster rate than recharge can fill it.

McClintock said being able to do a better job at facilitating more conversations to raise awareness in these topics is one of reasons why he is excited about the partnership with OSU and the academic and research community.

Caitlin Barnes is a professor and assistant director of outreach for the college of arts and sciences. She said the worker shortage was projected before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, NGWA connected with OSU to help with education and training.

For Barnes, this presents an opportunity to showcase the industry and geology in general. Although working in the ground water industry can be difficult, Barnes said it's also vital.

“The more awareness you bring to it, the more attention and hopefully it will capture people who are like, ‘Yeah, I want to be a part of this,’” Barnes said.