Wastewater Operator: What Is It and How to Become

Wastewater Operator: What Is It and How to Become

If you’re interested in a career as a wastewater operator, there are several important steps you’ll need to take. Wastewater operators are responsible for treating domestic and industrial wastewater to ensure it meets regulatory standards before it is released back into the environment. These operators play a crucial role in protecting public health and the environment, making it a rewarding career choice.

The first step on your journey to becoming a wastewater operator is to enroll in a state-approved training program. These programs are divided into different levels, ranging from entry-level courses to specialized courses for experienced operators. One reputable training program is TREEO, which offers a variety of classes and certifications to help you get started.

Once you’ve completed the necessary training program, you can apply for a wastewater operator-in-training (OIT) certification from your state’s environmental agency. This certification allows you to work under the supervision of a licensed operator and gain practical experience in a wastewater treatment plant. OIT certifications typically require passing an examination and may have additional requirements depending on the state.

After gaining experience as an OIT, you can then apply to become a fully licensed wastewater operator. The requirements for licensure vary by state, but they often include a combination of education, experience, and passing an examination. Some states may also require proof of a high school diploma or GED and a letter of acceptance into a wastewater operator program.

It’s important to note that wastewater operator licensing is state-specific, so it’s crucial to research the relevant statutes and requirements in your state. These requirements can change, so it’s important to stay up-to-date with any changes that may affect your licensure.

Once you’ve obtained your wastewater operator license, you’ll need to renew it regularly to ensure it stays valid. Renewal requirements may include completing continuing education courses, passing exams, and paying renewal fees. The frequency of renewal varies by state, but it’s typically every four years.

Becoming a wastewater operator can be a rewarding and satisfying career choice. Not only do you get to make a difference in public health and the environment, but you also have opportunities for career advancement and specialization. By following these steps and putting in the time and effort, you can become a highly skilled wastewater operator and contribute to the protection of our water systems.

GED Acceptance

Water/wastewater operator programs are intended to ensure that those becoming certified have the necessary knowledge and skills to operate water and wastewater systems effectively. Therefore, it is essential to have at least a GED certificate to enroll in these programs.

The California State University (CSU) system offers the Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Specialist Certification Program. This program is divided into four courses and provides relevant educational information for aspiring operators. Depending on the level of certification you wish to obtain, there are different requirements and fees associated with the program.

It is helpful to note that the CSU program is not the only option available to become a certified water/wastewater operator. There are other schools, associations, and programs that offer classes and examinations for certification.

For example, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) offers the Operator-in-Training (OIT) Program. This program allows individuals with a GED or higher to work at a wastewater treatment plant while gaining the necessary experience to become a licensed operator.

If you already have a GED and want to become a certified water/wastewater operator, it is recommended to research and reach out to the relevant licensing authority in your area to determine the specific requirements and steps to take. Each state or region may have different statutes, policies, and fees in order to comply with their certification process.

Helpful Hints to Certification

Research State-Specific Requirements

Each state has its own set of requirements and regulations for wastewater operators. Before you begin the certification process in California, it is crucial to research and fully understand the state-specific statutes, regulations, and educational requirements.

Comply with Educational Requirements

California’s highest level of wastewater operator certification, Grade V, requires a minimum of four years of education in water/wastewater treatment. This can be fulfilled by attending accredited schools or programs, such as the water/wastewater treatment program offered at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).

Gain Practical Experience

Experience is a crucial component of becoming a certified wastewater operator. To meet California’s experience requirement, you must work as an Operator-in-Training (OIT) under the direct supervision of a certified treatment plant operator or specialist. This practical experience allows you to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios and develop the necessary skills to protect public health and the environment.

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Prepare for the Exams

Passing the certification exams is essential for becoming a wastewater operator. California requires operators to pass both a written and a practical examination. It is important to dedicate sufficient time to study, attend preparatory courses, and take practice exams to ensure you are well-prepared.

Renewal and Continuing Education

Once you obtain your wastewater operator license, it is crucial to stay updated with the latest regulatory changes and advancements in the field. California requires operators to renew their licenses every three years and complete state-approved continuing education courses. By keeping up with the latest developments, you can ensure you provide the highest standard of wastewater treatment for domestic and industrial wastewater systems.

Following these helpful hints will help you on your journey to becoming a certified wastewater operator. Remember to stay dedicated, continuously educate yourself, and seek guidance from professionals in the field. With the right information and experience, you can build a successful career in the water/wastewater industry.

What Does a Wastewater Systems Operator Do?

As a wastewater systems operator, you will be tasked with a range of responsibilities, including:

  • Maintaining and operating wastewater treatment equipment
  • Monitoring and adjusting chemical dosages
  • Inspecting and cleaning tanks, pumps, and control systems
  • Performing laboratory tests to analyze water samples
  • Documenting and reporting plant operations and maintenance activities
  • Responding to emergencies, such as equipment malfunctions or backflow issues
  • Ensuring compliance with state-specific regulatory requirements
  • Implementing safety protocols to protect yourself and others

To become a certified wastewater systems operator, you will need to follow a specific process that varies by state. Generally, the steps involved in becoming a wastewater systems operator include:

  1. Research Your State’s Requirements: Each state has its own licensing and certification requirements for wastewater operators. Research the specific regulations and qualifications in your state.
  2. Meet Educational Requirements: Most states require a high school diploma or GED equivalent, while some may have higher education requirements. You may need to complete specific courses or degree programs related to wastewater treatment.
  3. Gain Experience: Many states require operators to have a certain amount of experience in wastewater treatment. You can gain experience by working in entry-level positions or pursuing internships at wastewater treatment plants.
  4. Enroll in Operator Training Courses: Some states offer operator-in-training programs or courses that cover the necessary knowledge and skills for wastewater operators. These courses may be offered by universities, community colleges, or professional associations.
  5. Submit an Application: After completing the required courses and gaining the necessary experience, you will need to submit an application to your state’s regulatory agency for wastewater systems operators.
  6. Pass the Certification Exams: Once your application is accepted, you will need to pass the certification exams. These exams assess your knowledge and understanding of wastewater treatment systems and regulations.
  7. Obtain Your License: After passing the exams, you will receive your wastewater systems operator license. This will allow you to legally operate and maintain wastewater treatment plants.

Once you become a certified wastewater systems operator, you can pursue various career opportunities in the field. You may work for municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, consulting firms, or government agencies. The demand for wastewater systems operators is expected to grow as the need for wastewater treatment increases.

In terms of salary, wastewater systems operators earn a competitive wage that can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and the type of plant they work at. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for water and wastewater treatment plant operators was $48,990 as of May 2020.

If you’re considering a career as a wastewater systems operator, it’s important to research the requirements and regulations specific to your state. By following the right process, gaining the necessary experience and education, and obtaining your license, you can become a valuable professional in the field of wastewater treatment.

California State University Sacramento CSUS Course Change

What is CSUS?

CSUS is a higher educational institution that offers relevant courses for those who want to become wastewater operators in California. The university’s program is divided into several courses that cover the regulatory and technical aspects of wastewater treatment.

How Does CSUS Help in Becoming a Wastewater Operator?

The CSUS program provides the educational foundation needed to become a certified wastewater operator in California. It covers topics such as water treatment processes, plant operations, and regulatory compliance. The courses offered by CSUS are designed to prepare individuals for state-specific certification exams.

CSUS also offers courses that help individuals renew their wastewater operator licenses. These courses provide the necessary information and hints to pass the renewal examination.

CSUS Courses and Enrollments

CSUS offers a variety of courses for individuals interested in becoming wastewater operators. The courses range from introductory classes to advanced topics. Depending on the level of certification you want to achieve, you can choose the courses that are most relevant to your career goals.

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In order to enroll in CSUS courses, individuals must meet certain requirements. These include having a high school diploma or GED, completing any necessary backflow prevention courses, and passing the state-specific wastewater operator certification examination.

Fees and Certification

CSUS courses have associated fees that cover tuition, books, and other educational resources. The fees for these courses may vary depending on the level of certification being pursued.

Once individuals have completed the necessary CSUS courses and passed the certification examination, they can apply for a wastewater operator license from the California State Water Resources Control Board. This license is required in order to legally work as a wastewater operator in the state.

By becoming a licensed wastewater operator, individuals can pursue careers in wastewater treatment plants, domestic water treatment facilities, and other related fields. These careers offer competitive wages and opportunities for growth and advancement.

If you are interested in becoming a wastewater operator in California, consider enrolling in the CSUS program. The courses offered by CSUS can provide the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in this rewarding field.

Water and Domestic Wastewater Operator Certification Program

The water and domestic wastewater operator certification program is regulated by the state government, and each state has its own specific requirements for certification. These requirements typically include passing exams that test your knowledge of relevant regulatory policies, water and wastewater treatment processes, and other important topics.

In California, for example, the California State University (CSU) system offers a four-year educational program to help individuals become licensed wastewater treatment operators. This program consists of courses that cover a range of topics, including water and wastewater treatment, regulatory compliance, and plant operations. By completing this program, you’ll be well-prepared to take the state licensing exams and begin your career as a wastewater operator.

Once you’ve completed the necessary education and training, the next step is to apply for certification. This process typically involves submitting an application along with any required fees and documentation, such as proof of education and/or work experience. It’s important to carefully review the certification requirements for your state to ensure that you’re providing all of the necessary information.

Upon acceptance of your application, you will be eligible to take the certification exams. These exams are typically offered by the state regulatory agency or a similar organization. The exams assess your knowledge and skills in areas such as water treatment processes, wastewater treatment processes, and regulatory compliance. Passing these exams is a crucial step towards becoming a certified wastewater operator.

It’s worth noting that certification is not a one-time requirement. Most states require operators to renew their certifications periodically, usually every few years. This ensures that operators stay up-to-date on the latest industry standards and regulations. The specific requirements for certification renewal vary by state, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the renewal process in your state.

If you’re considering a career as a wastewater operator, obtaining the necessary certification can be a helpful way to demonstrate your qualifications to potential employers. Certification shows that you have met the highest standards for knowledge and skills in the field. It can also help you negotiate a higher wage or advance in your career.

By taking the time to research and enroll in state-specific certification programs, completing the required educational courses, and passing the certification exams, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a licensed wastewater operator.

Hints for Becoming Certified:

  • Research state-specific certification requirements and programs
  • Enroll in relevant educational courses or programs
  • Prepare for and take the certification exams
  • Submit your application for certification, including any required documentation and fees
  • Ensure you meet any renewal requirements to maintain your certification

How to Become a Water Treatment Plant Operator

If you’re interested in becoming a water treatment plant operator, there are several steps that need to be taken to ensure you meet the necessary requirements. Below, we’ll outline the process and provide helpful hints to guide you along the way.

Educational Requirements:

In order to become a water treatment plant operator, you’ll need to have a high school diploma or GED. Some positions may require further education, depending on the state and specific job requirements.

Research and Information:

Research the specific requirements of the state you plan to work in. This includes looking up the licensing requirements, educational programs, and certification exams that you’ll need to pass. Each state may have different requirements, so it’s important to gather accurate and up-to-date information.

Enroll in a Certification Program:

Enroll in a water treatment program that is approved by the state’s environmental protection agency or relevant regulatory association. These programs provide the necessary education and training needed to become a licensed water treatment plant operator. Some colleges, universities, and technical schools offer programs specifically tailored to water treatment plant operations.

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Courses and Classes:

During your certification program, you’ll take courses and classes that cover the operation and maintenance of water treatment systems. This includes topics such as water chemistry, biology, mathematics, and plant operations. These classes will ensure you have a strong foundation in the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in this career field.

Obtain a License:

Once you’ve completed your educational program, you’ll need to pass the certification exams to obtain your license. These exams are designed to test your knowledge and ensure you meet the requirements to operate a water treatment plant. The fees for these exams vary depending on the state and may include both written and practical examinations.

Operator-in-Training Program:

Some states have an operator-in-training program, which allows you to work under the supervision of a licensed operator while gaining practical experience. This can be a beneficial step in the process, as it provides valuable hands-on experience in a real-world setting.

Continuing Education and Certifications:

Once you’ve become a licensed water treatment plant operator, it’s important to stay up-to-date with industry trends and best practices. Pursuing additional certifications and continuing education courses can help you stay current in your field and demonstrate your commitment to professional growth.

Job Search and Employment:

With your certification in hand, you can start searching for job opportunities as a water treatment plant operator. Check job boards, industry websites, and professional associations for available positions. Be prepared to submit your resume and cover letter outlining your qualifications and educational background.

Wage and Career Advancement:

The wage for water treatment plant operators varies depending on factors such as location, experience, and education. With experience and additional certifications, you may have opportunities for career advancement within the industry.

Licensing Process

Becoming a licensed wastewater operator involves several steps and requirements that vary depending on the state you’re in. In general, the process includes the following:

Step 1: Obtain the Required EducationComplete the necessary courses or programs that comply with state-specific educational requirements. You may need to take classes at a university or a state-approved training provider, such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) or the Treeo Center at the University of Florida.
Step 2: Gain Relevant ExperienceWork in a wastewater treatment plant or a related field to acquire practical experience. The amount of experience needed may vary, but typically ranges from one to three years.
Step 3: Research State-Specific RequirementsResearch and understand the licensing requirements set by your state’s regulatory agency, such as the Department of Environmental Protection. This will help you determine the specific certifications and exams you need to pass.
Step 4: Take the Required ExaminationsTake the necessary examinations to become a licensed wastewater operator. These exams are designed to test your knowledge and skills in areas such as wastewater treatment, plant operations, and environmental regulations.
Step 5: Submit Application and FeesComplete and submit the licensing application along with the required fees. The fees help cover the administrative costs associated with processing your application.
Step 6: Maintain Your LicenseOnce you become licensed, you will need to renew your license regularly, usually every two to three years. Renewal may require completing additional educational courses or continuing education credits.

It’s important to note that the licensing process may have changed or may be different in some states. To ensure you meet all the requirements and comply with the regulations, it is recommended to contact your state’s regulatory agency or professional association for wastewater operators.

Having a wastewater operator license not only demonstrates your expertise in the field, but it also shows that you have the necessary qualifications to protect public health and the environment. It opens up opportunities for higher wages, specialized careers, and advancement within the industry.


What is a wastewater operator?

A wastewater operator is a professional who is responsible for managing the treatment process of wastewater in a treatment plant. They operate and maintain the equipment, monitor and test the water quality, and ensure that the wastewater is treated properly before being discharged back into the environment.

How can I become a wastewater operator?

To become a wastewater operator, you typically need to have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete a training program or apprenticeship, and obtain the necessary certifications. Some states also require a certain amount of work experience in the field. It is important to check the specific requirements of your state to ensure compliance.

What certifications do I need to become a wastewater operator?

The certifications required to become a wastewater operator vary by state. However, most states require operators to have a certification from a recognized organization such as the California State University Sacramento CSUS or the Water and Domestic Wastewater Operator Certification Program. These certifications typically involve passing an exam and demonstrating knowledge of wastewater treatment processes and regulations.

Is a GED accepted for becoming a wastewater operator?

Yes, in many cases a General Education Development (GED) certificate is accepted as an equivalent to a high school diploma for becoming a wastewater operator. However, it is important to check the specific requirements of your state or certification program, as some may have additional requirements or limitations regarding the acceptance of a GED.

Should I become a water treatment plant operator?

Whether or not to become a water treatment plant operator depends on your interests, skills, and career goals. Being a water treatment plant operator can be a rewarding career for those who are interested in environmental protection, have a strong attention to detail, and enjoy working with complex systems. However, it is important to consider the physical and technical demands of the job, as well as the potential for exposure to hazardous substances.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.