What Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators Do
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators manage a system of machines to transfer or treat water or wastewater.
Most water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators are employed by local government. Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators typically work full time.
How to Become a Water or Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator
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.
The median annual wage for water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators was $47,760 in May 2019.
Employment of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029. As water and wastewater treatment plants become more advanced due to automation, fewer workers may be needed.
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.
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.
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators held about 126,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators were as follows:
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||75%|
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
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators sometimes get injured on the job. 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 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.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators.
For information on employment opportunities, contact state or local water pollution control agencies, state water and wastewater operator associations, state environmental training centers, or local offices of the state employment service.
For information related to a career as a water or wastewater treatment plant and system operator, visit
For more information on certification for water or wastewater treatment plant and system operator, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/water-and-wastewater-treatment-plant-and-system-operators.htm (visited ).