| Prior to COVID, water and wastewater utility salaries trending up
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Prior to COVID, water and wastewater utility salaries trending up

Compensation trends for water and wastewater utilities were on the rise for a third consecutive year from 2019 to 2020 – until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

2020 AWWA Compensation SurveyThe American Water Works Association's (AWWA) recently-released 2020 Water and Wastewater Utility Compensation Survey reported a significant increase in utility salaries between March 2019 and March 2020, including a 4.2% increase for large utilities (above 100,000 population served), 4.0% for medium utilities (10,000-99,000) and 3.9% for small utilities (less than 10,000). Between 2018 and 2019, according to the 2019 AWWA survey, salaries increased 1.7% for large utilities, 0.8% for medium utilities and 1.9% for small utilities.

But even as the 2020 survey concluded on a high note, the pandemic began sweeping across the globe, upending business-as-usual. In April, an AWWA-funded study produced by Raftelis estimated that water and wastewater utilities will experience a negative financial impact from the pandemic in excess of $27 billion. And AWWA’s June COVID-19 impact survey reported that 70% of utilities had or were considering implementing spending adjustments.

While the actual impact on water utilities – including compensation trends -- is yet to be determined, the Raftelis study, Financial Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on U.S. Drinking Water Utilities, predicted that water utilities will face potential impacts including customer delinquencies, revenue shortfalls due to water consumption declines, slower growth, increased expenses. Other impacts could include delayed and reduced capital expenditures and deferred water rate increases.

“When COVID-19 hit, the fact that water professionals were essential workers became more evident and, as AWWA reported multiple times, these workers performed heroic work,” said David LaFrance, AWWA’s CEO.

“We don’t yet know if next year’s salary figures will reflect tougher economic times,” he added. “Regardless, with the help of dedicated water professionals providing safe and uninterrupted water and sanitation services, we will move beyond these difficulties.”

Other findings from the 2020 compensation survey include:

  • Salaries were increasing faster for specific jobs, including corrosion tech (23.2%), information services manager (14.4%), water controller supervisor (14.0%) and watershed keeper (13.5%)
  • Across most industries, average salary increase budgets nationally were around 3.0%
  • 67% of the responding organizations maintained consistent staffing levels during the last 12 months, 31.8% increased staffing levels, 12% hired additional contract/seasonal or temporary labor, and 1.7% implemented reductions-in-force

The 2020 survey results are based on input from 566 organizations through March 1 of this year, representing more than 25,100 employees. Detailed survey results addressing salaries, salary ranges and compensation practices are available for purchase in separate versions for large, medium and small utilities on AWWA’s website.