How Can I Become a Certified Water System Operator?

Research what it takes to become a certified water system operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, certification and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Certified Water System Operator?

Water system operators are responsible for treating and purifying water from reservoirs and rivers and for making it safe to consume. This involves the use of disinfecting chemicals, like ammonia or chlorine. They also monitor the operations of system equipment, conduct regular inspections and run tests on water samples. Every once in while they may also need to clean out tanks, filter beds and other components of the water system. Their job requires them to follow EPA and safety regulations. Continue reading the chart below to learn the general requirements for this career.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent for entry level
Key Responsibilities Monitor water treatment operations, test water quality, perform routine maintenance on water treatment equipment
Certification Required, varies by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for all water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators)*
Median Salary (2015) $44,790 (for all water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Will I Need to Become a Certified Water System Operator?

A career as a certified water system operator will require that you either obtain comprehensive on-the-job training or enroll in a wastewater technology program. Certificate and associate's degree programs can be found at technical schools and community colleges. It may be advisable to pursue formal training in order to increase your marketability.

A typical certificate program might offer classes in wastewater treatment operations, geographic information systems, water resources, mineral control, membrane technology, sludge handling and advanced waste treatment. If you decide to obtain an associate's degree, your courses might deal with wastewater plant administration, analytical laboratory, water quality, hydrology, industrial safety and ion exchange technology. You might also complete an internship in water resources.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Depending on the size of the water system plant, you may be responsible for monitoring water treatment operations with the help of computerized systems and gauges. Your duties may also include clarifying and purifying water samples, testing water for quality, performing routine maintenance on electrical water treatment equipment, using meters and hand tools and checking equipment for malfunctions. You might disinfect water with chlorine and ammonia, dispose of impurities found in water, and maintain and clean water filtration systems.

How Do I Acquire Certification?

State certification is required for water system operators. Individual states also have their own requirements for certification, with some states having multiple levels of certification. To qualify for certification, some states require an associate's degree in a wastewater treatment curriculum, along with actual work experience. Once you meet your state's requirements, you must then successfully complete a state-sponsored water treatment examination.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators who worked in local government earned average annual salaries of $46,570 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those who worked in steel product manufacturing from purchased steel were paid approximately $60,530 per year, on average.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

General maintenance and repair workers are trained to repair and maintain equipment and building facilities. Construction equipment operators are trained to operate heavy machines used in construction projects. Both of these careers requires the operation and maintenance of equipment and may be held by individuals with a high school diploma. Hydrologists are scientists who study the movement of water in the Earth's crust to develop solutions for water quality and availability problems. Hydrologists typically have a bachelor's degree in geosciences, engineering, or Earth science, though many go on to earn a master's degree or PhD.

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