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Water Operator: Job Description & Career Info

Apr 05, 2019

Water operators use testing equipment, take samples, and make adjustments to water treatment systems to make water safe for distribution and consumption. Read on to learn what education and training prepares you for this job. Get the details about career prospects and earning potential to see if this career choice is right for you.

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Career Definition for a Water Operator

Water operators are also known as water treatment and distribution system operators. They work with engineers, chemists, management staff, and laboratory staff. Their job involves using computer technology to gauge water quality and abundance as well as conducting maintenance and repairs to water treatment and delivery equipment.

Education 1-year vocational certificate or 2-year associate's degree
Job Skills Detail-oriented; able to work with data, make decisions, understand mechanics
Median Salary (2018)* $46,780 (for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* -3% (decline) (for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Water operators can increase their employment opportunities by completing a postsecondary training or education program. Options include a 1-year vocational certificate program and a 2-year associate's degree program in water quality and treatment.

Certification Requirements

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides regulations and guidelines for mandatory state certification of water operators in order to protect public health. Gaining certification requires completing state-specific exams. Some states also require the completion of specific training programs. Federal law requires each state to test water operators for their competency before certifying them.

Skills Required

Monitoring equipment and water quality requires water operators to be detail-oriented and careful in their work. They should also be comfortable working with data and using it to make decisions. Maintaining and operating equipment requires strong mechanical aptitude.

Career and Economic Outlook

The number of jobs for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is expected to decline 3% from 2016-2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many experienced water operators are expected to retire from long-held positions, and new positions will open as the growing population requires more water. The median annual salary for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators in May 2018 was $46,780, according to the BLS. In the top-paying states of California, Connecticut, Washington, Alaska and Nevada water operators earned an average salary of more than $63,110 per year.

Alternate Career Options

Similar careers to water operators include:

Power Plant Operator

Power plant operators monitor and regulate the performance of electricity-generating systems. Education requirements vary from a high school diploma to completion of a postsecondary education program. On-the-job and on-going training is necessary, and completion of an aptitude test may be required as well. Licensing and certification requirements may apply. According to the BLS, power plant operator jobs are expected to increase by 1% from 2016-2026, due in part to energy conservation and the modernization of facilities that require fewer workers. The median pay for this occupation was $77,180 in 2017, per the BLS.

Construction Equipment Operator

Construction equipment operators drive and maintain specialized machinery such as cranes, bulldozers, and pavers. They work closely with other members of a construction team. A high school diploma is required for employment. Both on-the-job training and apprenticeships are common; vocational school programs are also available. States may require that construction equipment operators have commercial driver's licenses and construction vehicle operator's licenses, although requirements vary. The BLS predicts that jobs in this field will grow 12% from 2016-2026; these jobs paid a median salary of $46,080 in 2017.

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