Operators Everywhere are Helping Water Utilities Protect Public Health

Certified operators are a critical part of providing an adequate and safe supply of water.

Operators are typically responsible for a variety of tasks centered around operating and maintaining a system or plant. They typically work in a selection of capacities: water treatment, distribution, water collection, or wastewater. 

AWWA has a large number of resources devoted to helping individuals become a certified operator, as well as materials to help existing operators advance their career.

No Operator No Water

The Operator Career

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.

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 and operators have the ability to regularly impact that need.


Stats About the Career

The operator career is a promising and stable field. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2016 there were 119,200 water and wastewater treatment plant operators in the United States. In general, jobs within the water industry remain relatively less affected by changes in the economy than other industries. Additionally, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains that in 2018 the average salary for water and wastewater treatment plant operators was $46,780 USD per year.

"Why I Became an Operator"

“I became an operator first and foremost because of my love of the environment and desire to be a part of protecting it." 

I love helping the people of NY in this capacity and look forward to explore other opportunities with them in the future or any other utility that will allow the opportunity for advancement.”

“I like the thought of the stability, the serving my community aspect, the pay, vacation time, and being able to retire at 55.”

Operator Certification - FAQ

What does it take to become 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

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. 

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 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.

Additional AWWA Resources to Take You Further

water operator examp prep

Water Operator Certification Exam Prep

Exam Prep book offers 1,400+ expert-vetted practice questions & answers so that you practice your test-taking skills and make sure you are ready to pass the exam.

wastewater operator exam prep

Wastewater Operator Certification Exam Prep

Exam Prep book offers 500+ expert-vetted practice questions & answers so that you practice your test-taking skills and make sure you are ready to pass the exam.

WSO Guidebooks

WSO Guidebooks

The WSO set of guidebooks cover different grade levels for treatment and distribution. Offering training on fundamental practices and principles for all operators.

opcert exam prep

Exam Prep App

Study wherever it is most convenient for you. With 2,000+ questions, you can sort by subject, track your progress, and more. Question sets are available individually.

operator certification

Guide to Operator Certification

Review a high-level overview of the certification process for operators.

operator Licensing requirements

Operator Licensing Requirements

See license requirements for water and wastewater operators across all 50 states.

math reference sheet

Math Reference Sheet

Get familiar with frequently used formulas and conversions that may appear on the exam.

chemistry reference sheet

Chemistry Reference Sheet

Get familiar with frequently used formulas and conversions that may appear on the exam.

Water Treatment Operator – Online Courses

AWWA offers online, instructor-led WTO courses to help operators learn relevant material discussed on the Operator Certification Exam:  

Our facilitated Water Treatment Operator courses offer a convenient and cost-effective way to learn fundamental operator material. Courses provide participants with feedback, graded assignments, and discussion.

WTO students may complete coursework on their own time within an established 5-week completion window. 

Please contact EducationServices@awwa.org with questions.
*Courses are non-refundable.




Registration is now open!

Select course titles below to learn more or view 2024's WTO Course Schedule.


Water Treatment Operator | Level 1

Closed  |  Februrary 5 - March 8, 2024
SOLD OUT  |  July 15 - August 16, 2024

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. This course often sells-out, register early! Stay tuned for 2025 dates.


Water Treatment Operator | Level 2

Closed  |  March 11 - April 12, 2024  
Register  |  September 9 - October 11, 2024  

Learn concepts and practices about conventional water treatment processes, membrane/UV processes, and basic laboratory and sampling skills. WTO Level 2 provides an in-depth understanding of surface water treatment, groundwater treatment, and the particular parameters that dictate the successful treatment of both sources.


Water Treatment Operator | Level 3

Closed  |  April 15 - May 17, 2024  
Register  |  October 14 - November 15, 2024 

WTO Level 3 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.





Video-on-demand streaming is the solution to effective and professional utility training. It’s easy to train anywhere, anytime. These high-resolution videos provide comprehensive and engaging training on a large selection of topics. All of the video content that your organization needs to train its employees is quick and easy to access through streaming.

The WSO Channel includes 60+ full length videos covering 20 hours of certification and training content for operators.

Strengthen the practices and procedures of your operator employees. Topics include disinfection, coagulation, filtration, water loss control, maintaining distribution systems and more.   

Preview the Channel


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. 

Certification Preparation

Water Operator Certification Exam Prep Book
Water Operator Certification Exam Prep App
Wastewater Operator Certification Exam Prep Book
Wastewater Operator Certification Exam Prep App

Certification Preparation - Math Help

Math for Water Treatment Operators
Math for Distribution System Operators
Math for Wastewater Operators, Grades 1 & 2
Math for Wastewater Operators, Grades 3 & 4

Fundamental Operator Practices & Principles

WSO Water Treatment, Grade 1
WSO Water Treatment, Grade 2
WSO Water Treatment, Grades 3 & 4
WSO Water Distribution, Grades 1 & 2
WSO Water Distribution, Grades 3 & 4

On-the-Job Training

Utility Management for Water and Wastewater Operators
Water Treatment Operator Training Handbook
Water Distribution Operator Training Handbook

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.

Learn More

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!


Tap Into Your Future

AWWA has teamed up with Steve Hernandez to create resources that address the challenges and struggles that you might face along your operator journey. We hope that these resources offer motivation and guidance for those front-line workers who are or will be making a difference in the future of water.

Steve has been in the water industry for nearly 20 years and has acted as a Water Division Manager in California for the past 11. He holds both Treatment Grade 4 and Distribution Grade 5 operator certifications. Steve is currently the Secretary of the Education Committee for the California-Nevada Section and Director of the Monterey Bay Water Works Association. In 2016, Steve founded WaterWisePro Training and has successfully helped thousands of operators pass their various certification exams.

"AWWA is committed to helping operators succeed in their careers, through providing helpful resources they can use to study for exams and advance in their organization."
- Tony Petrites, WSO Product Manager

Motivation and Inspiration, Tips for Success, Advice, and More