Spotlights

Job Description

Water and wastewater treatment plants and system operators manage a system of machines to transfer or treat water or wastewater.

Similar Titles

Plant Operator, Process Operator (Process Op), Relief Operator, SCADA Operator (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Operator), Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator (WWTP Operator), Wastewater Operator (WW Operator), Water Control Dispatcher, Water Plant Operator, Water Treatment Operator, Water Treatment Plant Operator

The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators typically do the following:

  • Add chemicals, such as ammonia or chlorine, to disinfect water or other liquids
  • Inspect equipment on a regular basis
  • Monitor operating conditions, meters, and gauges
  • Collect and test water and sewage samples
  • Record meter and gauge readings and operational data
  • Document and report test results to regulatory agencies
  • Operate equipment to purify and clarify water or to process or dispose of sewage
  • Clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas
  • Follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations
  • Ensure safety standards are met

It takes many steps to get water from natural sources—reservoirs, streams, and groundwater—into people’s houses. Similarly, it is a complicated process to convert the wastewater from drains and sewers into a form that is safe to release into the environment.

The specific duties of plant operators depend on the type and size of the plant. In a small plant, one operator may be responsible for maintaining all of the systems. In large plants, multiple operators work the same shifts and are more specialized in their duties, often relying on computerized systems to help them monitor plant processes.

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must be able to manually operate the equipment if there is a plant malfunction due to power outages or electrical issues.

Water treatment plants and system operators work in water treatment plants. Fresh water is pumped from wells, rivers, streams, or reservoirs to water treatment plants, where it is treated and distributed to customers. Water treatment plant and system operators run the equipment, control the processes, and monitor the plants that treat water to make it safe to drink.

Wastewater treatment plants and system operators remove pollutants from domestic and industrial waste. Used water, also known as wastewater, travels through sewer pipes to treatment plants where it is treated and either returned to streams, rivers, and oceans or used for irrigation.

Skills Needed on the Job

Analytical skills. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must conduct tests and inspections on water or wastewater and evaluate the results.

Detail-oriented. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must monitor machinery, gauges, dials, and controls to ensure everything is operating properly. Because tap water and wastewater are highly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, operators must be careful and thorough in completing these tasks.

Math skills. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must have the ability to apply data to formulas that determine treatment requirements, flow levels, and concentration levels.

Mechanical skills. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must know how to work with machines and use tools. They must be familiar with how to operate, repair, and maintain equipment.

Organization Types
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals    
  • Utilities    
  • Manufacturing
2020 Employment
122,100
2030 Projected Employment
119,000
Education and Training Needed

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent to become operators. Employers may prefer applicants who have completed a certificate, an associate’s, or a bachelor’s degree program in a related field such as environmental science or wastewater treatment technology.

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators need long-term on-the-job training to become fully qualified. Water and wastewater treatment is a complex process. Trainees learn their skills on the job under the direction of an experienced operator. The trainees learn by observing and doing routine tasks, such as recording meter readings, taking samples of wastewater and sludge, and performing simple maintenance and repair work on plant equipment. They also learn about industrial safety and how to use personal protective equipment.

Larger treatment plants usually combine this on-the-job training with formal classroom or self-paced study programs. As plants get larger and more complicated, operators need more skills before they are allowed to work without supervision.

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