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Operators

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
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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.

 
 

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. Almost three years ago, 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

1 NOV
2019

Get the Job: Putting Your Best Foot Forward on Paper and in Person

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Additional AWWA Resources to Take You Further

             

Guide to Operator Certification

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

Download
      
Operator Licensing Requirements

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

Download
      
Math Reference Sheet

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

Download
      
Chemistry Reference Sheet

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

Download
             

 

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. 

Certification Preparation

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

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

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

2020 dates to come


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.

              

High-Tech Operator | Course 1

2020 dates to come
 

Learn about SCADA systems in detail, including terms, drawing symbols and naming standards, sample diagrams, descriptions of components and features.

Water Treatment Operator | Level 2

2020 dates to come

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 the successful treatment of both sources.

 

High-Tech Operator | Course 2

2020 dates to come

Review the technologies available to track, monitor, and maintain equipment, and to represent, locate, and communicate with remote facilities and equipment. There will be a focus on CMMS, GIS, and GPS.

Water Treatment Operator | Level 3

2020 dates to come
 

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.

 

High-Tech Operator | Course 3

2020 dates to come
 

Review information management technologies, both server-based and Web-hosted. Participants will discuss and compare management systems, as well as applications available for collecting and managing performance data and methods available for securing and storing online information.

Online Operator Education

A convenient alternative to trade schools or in-person training, AWWA self-paced online courses offer you a convenient and cost-effective way to learn the specific skills you need to solve our unique utility challenges. Explore a variety of subjects, methods, and strategies at your own pace while earning continuing education units (CEUs).

EL6 Applied Mathematics
This course provides a foundation in applied mathematics as used in the water supply profession. It is suitable for entry-level operators or operators who have not had recent exposure to mathematics in their jobs.
 

EL7 Basic Mathematics
Basic Mathematics provides a foundation in basic mathematical notation, methods, and calculations. It is suitable for entry-level operators or operators who have not had recent significant exposure to mathematics in their jobs.
 

EL11 Hydraulics
Build a foundation in hydraulic concepts, calculations, and operational uses. This course is suitable for entry to intermediate-level operators. 
 

EL15 Water Main Installation
Suitable for entry-level operators, the course reviews information on water distribution system design and layout, excavation details and water main installation in an excavation, trench backfilling, pipeline disinfection, and system testing before a main is put into service. 
 

EL16 Water System Mechanical Equipment
Gain the tools needed to maintain the life of the mechanical equipment at your utility and the knowledge to properly maintain a functioning distribution system. 
 

EL106 Increasing Need for Water Loss Control
This course gives an overview of current North American water loss accounting, provides updates on regulatory agency issues, describes accounting procedures and software, and introduces industry manuals for evaluating and controlling water losses. 
 

EL211 Flushing and Bacteriological Testing
Take this course and learn about flushing the new distribution pipelines, disinfecting it, and performing bacteriological tests. 
 

EL252 Water Compliance and Enforcement
This course is designed to teach operators and managers the basic regulatory framework for water compliance (both drinking and wastewater) as well as the key areas of focus of government regulators, and strategies for those in the water sector to help maximize compliance and minimize the possibility of enforcement scrutiny.

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!


Featured Operator Jobs

Los Altos, CA
California Water Service
Earp, CA
Metropolitan Water District
VA
Western Virginia Water Authority
Miamisburg, OH
City of Miamisburg
Gilbert, AZ
Town of Gilbert
Tinley Park, IL
Village of Tinley Park
Mineral Ridge, OH
Mahoning Valley Sanitary Dist.
San Jose, CA
Washington Water Service
Easton, PA
Easton Suburban Water Authority
Wenatchee, WA
City of Wenatchee
Los Altos, CA
California Water Service
Earp, CA
Metropolitan Water District
VA
Western Virginia Water Authority
Miamisburg, OH
City of Miamisburg
Gilbert, AZ
Town of Gilbert
Tinley Park, IL
Village of Tinley Park
Mineral Ridge, OH
Mahoning Valley Sanitary Dist.
San Jose, CA
Washington Water Service
Easton, PA
Easton Suburban Water Authority
Wenatchee, WA
City of Wenatchee
Wenatchee, WA
City of Wenatchee
Los Angeles, CA
Metropolitan Water District
Sunnyvale, CA
City of Sunnyvale
Gold Canyon, AZ
Liberty Utilities
Cicero, IN
Town of Cicero
Sunnyvale, CA
City of Sunnyvale
Bonner Springs, KS
City of Bonner Springs
Carson, CA
West Basin Municipal Water District
Robinson, TX
City of Robinson
South Kona, HI
Hawaii Water Service