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How to Become a Wastewater Operator

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

Wastewater operators operate and maintain equipment to purify and clarify water or 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 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. Good familiarity with testing tools and equipment is essential to ensure that the water quality meets Environmental Protection Agency standards. Accuracy is required to record and track meter and gauge readings, and excellent observation skills are a must to ensure equipment is working properly. Wastewater operators need strong communication skills as you 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 to be used in irrigation. They 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 or to process 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

This position requires a high school diploma or GED, preferably with wastewater operator certification. Most employers provide on-the-job training.

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
  • Analytical
  • 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 not clean or are difficult to access. A big part of their duties include 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. Wastewater plants operate 24 hours a day. Depending on the size of the plant, operators may be expected to work night or day.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a wastewater operator can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In small plants, wastewater operators are likely to work during the day and be on call nights and weekends. In medium and large-size 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 people, 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. 

  • Operator Certification. Offered by the Association of Boards of Certification, the Operator Certification can be earned either through testing or through 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 and earn higher wages, as well as help you perform your job better.

Career path

The path to becoming a wastewater operator typically starts 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 who have the highest license level work as shift supervisors and may be in charge of 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, or the nature of their jobs will evolve with the technology.