Become a Certified Operator

Becoming a Certified Operator

Certified water operators are a crucial part of providing an adequate and safe supply of water. AWWA has publications, online tools and other resources needed to become an operator.

What is a certified operator?

A certified operator is an individual that works to ensure safe water. Operators can work in various areas, such as water, wastewater, distribution and reuse. These operators maintain equipment and processes to monitor and affect water as it moves through the treatment and distribution cycles.

Why become a certified operator?

The certified operator career is a very promising field. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains that the average salary for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators in 2015 was $44,790 USD per year. In general, jobs within the water industry remain relatively less affected by changes in the economy than other industries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that the job outlook between 2014-2024 is expected to grow 6%, requiring 7,000 additional operators. Becoming a certified operator also offers individuals the opportunity to make a difference in society on a daily basis. Clean and safe water is essential to everyday life. Operators have the ability to regularly impact that need.

What does it take to be a certified operator?

These are some of the key skills that it takes to be a successful certified operator:

  • Strong mathematical, mechanical and science skills
  • Ability to read charts, graphs and maps
  • Ability to engage in logical processes for troubleshooting
  • Excellent interpersonal, verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to create records and observations; engage in reporting of issues and lapse of best practices
  • Articulates issues, problems and processes clearly
  • Demonstrates a strong commitment to plant safety activities, practices and standards
  • Willingness to work indoors and outdoors
  • Willingness to work nights, weekends and holiday shifts - as plants are always running

How to become a certified operator


What are the steps to getting certified?

In some states, you need to pass a certification exam before you can be considered for an operator position. In others, you can get an operator job, but must pass the certification test within a set time frame after being hired. Refer to your state or province for more information about what is required.

What is required to get a job as an operator?

Utilities have different job requirements based on how large and complex their operations are and what the specific job duties are. Some positions may require a high school diploma, while others demand a stronger math and chemistry background, or an Associate’s or Undergraduate degree. Refer to the AWWA Career Center to see the requirements for jobs in your area.

How do I get certified as an operator?

Tests are fairly similar between states, although some states add or remove information based on local conditions or environmental/health requirements. The Association of Boards of Certification (ABC) has established need-to-know criteria for each certification area that is used for most tests in the United States. Make sure to verify that the testing agent in your state or province offers the certification you need.

What is the certification exam like?

Certification tests cover topics such as chemistry, disinfection, biology, hydraulics, treatment techniques, measurement, and math calculations. The exams typically contain multiple choice questions. For questions that are similar to those on certification exams, you can look at the Opflow Certification Corner. AWWA also has various study resources available for purchase:

What resources does AWWA have once I become certified?

AWWA has numerous resources for operators who wish to advance their career. Learn More

Certification Resources

AWWA Leads the Industry in Operator Certification and Training

The Water System Operations (WSO) series has been completely revamped and is easier to use for both students and trainers. Illustrated with full-color graphics, these guides also contain over 100 study questions, as well as access to additional online video resources. It is also the only book series that meets the latest ABC-Need-to-Know Criteria. 

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Practice Exam Questions and Answers

  • 1,400+ all-new questions and answers
  • Vetted and approved by water industry experts
  • Arranged by subject matter for easy reference
  • Pairs with AWWA's Certification Exam Prep App

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Take Studying on the Go

AWWA's Exam Prep App allows you to study wherever it is most convenient.

  • See detailed answer explanations
  • Track your performance
  • Filter by question type or subject

Download the app for free today! It includes 20 sample questions. Additional question sets are only $19 each.

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Wastewater Certification Study Guide

Pass your wastewater certification exam with this guide that is specially developed to give wastewater operators practice answering questions that are similar in format and content to the questions that appear on certification exams.

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Practice Math for Operators

Most operators cite math as the most challenging part of certification exams. These guides allow operators to practice and improve their math skills.

Treatment Operators 
Distribution Operators
Wastewater Operators Grades 1&2
Wastewater Operators Grades 3&4

The ONE AWWA Operator Scholarship

The One AWWA Operator Scholarship is funded through a matching fund from AWWA’s The Water Equation Campaign and participating Sections. Contact your Section on how to apply or receive more information on this new operator scholarship.

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Training and Education 

American Water Works Association and the 43 sections across North America have come together to create the One AWWA Operator Scholarship to support continuing education within the water industry. AWWA’s Water Equation matches funds raised at the section level to provide books, tuition, training, education and certification to operators at water and wastewater treatment plants.

Recent statistics show that an additional 7,000 water and wastewater operators will be needed over the next decade. The demands for water operators will increase as technology becomes even more complicated. The One AWWA Operator Scholarship is intended as an incentive to increase the number of new operators as well as address the needs of the current workforce. 

Contact your AWWA local section to apply for a scholarship!

Online Operator Education

AWWA offers instructor-led online courses to help you learn relevant material that you will see discussed on the operator certification exam. A convenient alternative to trade schools or in-person training, these programs offer you a convenient and cost-effective way to learn the material.

Water Treatment Operator | Level 1

February 11 – March 15
July 22 – August 23

Refresh your skills while learning how to prepare for the certification test. This course introduces the basic functions and responsibilities of Level 1 operators, as well as water treatment processes, their uses, characteristics, sizing, and calculations and analyses of these processes.

Water Treatment Operator | Level 2

March 18 – April 19
September 9 – October 11

Learn concepts and practices about conventional water treatment processes, membrane/UV processes, and basic laboratory and sampling skills. Gain an in-depth understanding of surface water treatment, groundwater treatment, and the particular parameters that dictate successful treatment of both sources.

Water Treatment Operator | Level 3

April 22 – May 24
October 14 – November 15

This course offers a unique combination of advanced process troubleshooting knowledge and introductory preparation for supervisory responsibilities. Also, this course will also help you learn how to manage employees and the legal obligations for regulatory compliance.