Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator

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Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator

Education and Training: High school

Salary: Median—$34,960 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Wastewater treatment plant operators are responsible for the purification of wastewater. They remove harmful organisms, solid wastes, and toxic chemicals (such as lead and mercury) from domestic and industrial wastewater. They then return the treated water to the rivers and oceans.

Wastewater treatment plant operators read and interpret meters and gauges that monitor the purification process and operation. They use this information to control the pumps, valves, and generators that move the wastewater through the treatment processes and dispose of the waste materials. Plant operators also collect water samples, operate chemical-feeding devices, and perform laboratory tests. In addition, they may make minor repairs on equipment. Increasingly, operators use computers to monitor and regulate processes and equipment and to generate reports.

The duties of a wastewater treatment plant operator vary with the size and type of plant. In smaller plants one operator may perform all tasks. Large plants may employ several operators—each specializing in one process—who work with chemists, engineers, and other technicians.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school diploma or its equivalent is generally required to work in this field. Courses in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and computers are recommended. Most prospective wastewater treatment plant operators acquire the necessary skills through on-the-job training. With the increased use of computers and advanced technologies, however, individuals with additional training and education have an advantage. Some community colleges offer two-year programs leading to an associate degree in wastewater technology. Many vocational–technical institutes offer a one-year program leading to a certificate. Certification requirements vary by state.

Getting the Job

Check with the placement offices at high schools, colleges, and technical schools for job openings. Other sources for job information are the state employment office, state and local water pollution control agencies, and the personnel offices of treatment plants.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

With added skills and experience, some wastewater treatment plant operators advance to supervisory positions. Others transfer to larger facilities. Experienced operators with postsecondary training can become technicians for state water pollution control agencies or plant superintendents of smaller facilities. Experienced operators can also move into related jobs with industrial treatment plants, consulting firms, or companies that sell treatment equipment and chemicals.

The job outlook for wastewater treatment plant operators is good through the year 2012. Although most jobs will be with local governments, opportunities can be found in the expanding private wastewater treatment industry and with companies that pretreat industrial wastewater.

Working Conditions

Wastewater treatment plant operators work both indoors and outdoors and may be exposed to noisy machinery, unpleasant odors, and such potential hazards as slippery walkways and dangerous gases. They may have to climb, reach, and stoop.

Because wastewater treatment plants operate twenty-four hours a day, plant operators work eight-hour shifts on a rotating basis. They balance night, weekend, and holiday work schedules.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries of wastewater treatment plant operators vary depending on such factors as size and location of the plant, job responsibilities, and level of certification. The median annual salary of wastewater treatment plant operators is $34,960 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

American Water Works Association
6666 West Quincy Ave.
Denver, CO 80235-3098
(303) 794-7711

Water Environment Federation
601 Wythe St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-1994
(800) 666-0206

Benefits usually include health and life insurance, a pension plan, and reimbursement for job-related education and training.