Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Water Treatment Plant Jobs

  • Senior Estimator - Aslan Construction - Berthoud, CO

    Estimator will be involved in design build budgeting, value engineering, constructability review, marketing, and relationship building. We will

  • Water Treatment Plant Operator - Direct Hire Authority - Department of the Air Force - Washington, DC

    That vision orbits around three core competencies: Developing Airmen, Technology-to-Warfighting and Integrating Operations. Core competencies and

  • Project Engineer - Water/Wastewater - Reminton & Vernick Engineering - Haddonfield, NJ

    Engineer shall be self-motivated, capable of acting as firm’s representative to clients, and providing support to branch offices in NJ/PA/De/MD area

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Top 3 Wastewater Treatment Plant Jobs

  • Senior Estimator - Aslan Construction - Berthoud, CO

    Estimator will be involved in design build budgeting, value engineering, constructability review, marketing, and relationship building. We will

  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator - State of Washington - Washington, DC

    This posting may be closed at any time thereafter without prior notice. It is in the applicant's best interest to submit their application at their

  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator 09 - DC Water - Washington, DC

    Evaluates data and maintains detailed records of process control analysis, and

See all Wastewater Treatment Plant jobs

What Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators Do[About this section] [To Top]

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators manage a system of machines, often through the use of control boards, to transfer or treat water or wastewater.

Duties of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

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 plant 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 plant 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.

Work Environment for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators hold about 119,200 jobs. The largest employers of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 77%
Utilities 12
Manufacturing 4

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators work both indoors and outdoors. Their work is physically demanding and usually is performed in locations that are unclean or difficult to access. Operators may be exposed to noise from machinery and are often exposed to unpleasant odors.

Injuries and Illnesses for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and waste treatment plant and system operators have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. They must pay close attention to safety procedures because of hazardous conditions, such as slippery walkways, the presence of dangerous gases, and malfunctioning equipment.

Operators are trained in emergency management procedures and use safety equipment to protect their health, as well as that of the public.

Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator Work Schedules

Water and waste treatment plant and system operators typically work full time. Plants operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In small plants, 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 plant at all hours.

Occasionally, operators must work during emergencies. For example, they may need to work during weather conditions that cause large amounts of storm water or wastewater to flow into sewers, exceeding a plant's capacity. Emergencies also may be caused by malfunctions within a plant, such as chemical leaks or oxygen deficiencies.

How to Become a Water or Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators near you!

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent and a license to work. They also complete on-the-job training.

Education for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

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 Operator Training

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators must be licensed by the state in which they work. Requirements and standards vary widely depending on the state.

State licenses typically have multiple levels, which indicate the operator's experience and training. Although some states will honor licenses from other states, operators who move from one state to another may need to take a new set of exams to become licensed in their new state.

Advancement for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Most states have multiple levels of licenses for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators. Each increase in license level allows the operator to perform more complicated processes without supervision.

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.

Important Qualities for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

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.

Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is $45,760. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $73,120.

The median annual wages for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $45,740
Utilities 45,110
Manufacturing 44,940

Water and waste treatment plant and system operators work full time. Plants operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In small plants, 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 plant at all hours.

Occasionally, operators must work during emergencies. For example, they may need to work during weather conditions that cause large amounts of storm water or wastewater to flow into sewers, exceeding a plant's capacity. Emergencies also may be caused by malfunctions within a plant, such as chemical leaks or oxygen deficiencies.

Union Membership for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Compared with workers in all occupations, water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is projected to decline 3 percent over the next ten years

As water and wastewater treatment plants become more advanced with automated systems to manage treatment processes, fewer workers may be needed. Although some work can be automated, plants will still need skilled workers to operate increasingly complex controls and water and wastewater systems.

Job Prospects for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Numerous operators are expected to reach retirement age in the next decade. As these operators retire, those positions will need to be filled. Job prospects will be best for those with training or higher education in water or wastewater systems and good mechanical skills.

Employment projections data for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators 119,200 115,400 -3 -3,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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