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WATER AND WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT OPERATORS MANAGE A SYSTEM OF MACHINES USED to transfer or treat and purify water or wastewater, and to process and dispose of sewage. They add chemicals to disinfect the water, and collect and test water and sewage samples. Their duties may include regular inspection of equipment, recording data, and documenting and reporting test results to regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They must also be knowledgeable about EPA regulations.

The Workplace

Water and wastewater treatment plant operators work in government facilities, for utilities and in manufacturing, but the U.S. Department of Labor reports that local governments were, by far, the largest employer of water and wastewater treatment plant operators.


Water and wastewater treatment plant operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent, but the Department of Labor notes that employers may prefer applicants who have completed a certificate, an associate or a bachelor's degree program in a related field, such as environmental science or wastewater treatment technology. Two-year programs in wastewater treatment and water quality management are available at a number of technical and community colleges. State licenses are required for water and wastewater plant and systems operators, and the requirements vary from state to state.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators was $45,760 in May 2016, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $73,120.

Job Outlook

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't predict strong growth in the field, it also notes that numerous operators are expected to retire in the next decade; their jobs will need to be filled. Moreover, although greater automation and advancements in technology may mean fewer workers, skilled, well-trained employees will be needed to operate complex controls and systems.

By Susan Reese

EXPLORE MORE For more information about the career of water and wastewater treatment plant operator, here are some places to turn.

American Water Works Association

National Rural Water Association

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Water Environment Federation

Work for Water

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Title Annotation:CAREER CURVE
Author:Reese, Susan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2018
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