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Wastewater Operator How to become, career path, income potential

Are you detail-oriented and like to work with machinery? Do you have excellent analytical skills and a knack for numbers? If so, a career as a wastewater operator might be a great choice for you.

Wastewater operators operate and maintain equipment to purify and clarify water, reintroduce it into the water system, or dispose of it. They use complex machinery and other tools to monitor and regulate water quality, as well as troubleshoot any issues with equipment, tanks, filters, and other parts of the system. Most wastewater operators work at water and wastewater treatment plants for local governments or utility companies.

As a wastewater operator, you should be mechanically inclined, have excellent math skills, and be detail-oriented. Familiarity with testing tools and equipment is essential for this role to ensure that the water quality meets Environmental Protection Agency standards. Accuracy is necessary as well to record and track meter and gauge readings. Excellent observation skills are also a must to ensure equipment is working properly. Wastewater operators need strong communication skills as they will interact with supervisors, coworkers, and other employees. 

Sample job description

[Your company name] is hiring wastewater operators. Wastewater operators do the important job of cleaning and disinfecting used water so that it’s safe to be released into the environment or used in irrigation. These individuals use chemicals to test and treat the water, operate machines, and analyze samples of water to ensure that safety standards are met. If you are detail-oriented with excellent mathematical, analytical, and mechanical skills, a wastewater operator job at our company could be the perfect fit. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Operate equipment to purify and clarify water, process it, or dispose of sewage
  • Collect and test water and sewage samples
  • Document and report test results to regulatory agencies
  • Add chemicals as needed to disinfect water or other liquids
  • Monitor operating conditions, meters, and gauges
  • Record meter and gauge readings and operational data
  • Clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas
  • Follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations
  • Meet safety standards

Education and experience

  • High school diploma or GED required
  • Wastewater operator certification preferred

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to use computer programs for process control
  • Strong communication and teamwork skills
  • Keen attention to detail
  • Ability to stand for extended periods, both indoors and outdoors

Preferred qualifications

  • 3+ years of experience working with wastewater
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Strong mathematical skills

Typical work environment

Wastewater operators typically work inside a wastewater plant that’s run by the government or a utility company. Conditions can be hazardous, and a wastewater operator must follow safety protocols to avoid injury. The job can be physically demanding, and wastewater operators often have to work in places that are unclean or difficult to access. A big part of their duties includes inspecting equipment to make sure it’s working, and should it fail, operating machinery manually. They also monitor gauges and meters and record the data collected.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a wastewater operator can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, wastewater plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At smaller plants, wastewater operators are likely to work during the day and be on call during nights and weekends. At medium and large-sized plants, that require constant monitoring, operators work in shifts to control the facility at all hours.

Available certifications

Every city and state has to handle wastewater for the health of their community, so wastewater operator certifications are found throughout the country. Most states have their own requirements and certification programs. To work as a wastewater operator, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, in addition to on-the-job training and eventual certification. Here is one available certification:

  • Operator Certification – Offered by the Association of Boards of Certification, this certification can be earned either through testing or reciprocity. There are four levels of certification, in addition to a specialty in very small water systems. Getting certified can help you advance your career, earn higher wages, and perform your job successfully.

Career path

The path to becoming a wastewater operator typically begins with earning a high school diploma or GED. Wastewater operators can also earn certification to help further their knowledge and experience. At the largest plants, operators with the highest license level work as shift supervisors and may oversee large teams of operators.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 51-8031

2020 Employment122,100
Projected Employment in 2030119,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 3% decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift3,100 decrease

As water treatment plants become more advanced due to automation, it’s likely fewer workers in these positions will be needed in the future. But for now, the nature of wastewater operator jobs will continue to evolve with the latest technology.