Thursday, July 17, 2014

Career Spotlight - Water Treatment Plant Operators

Turn your faucet on….Water comes out and unused “waste” water runs down the drain. This process occurs numerous times per day whether we are at home, at work or we are out running errands. This service is automatic and most of us have come to expect this service to be available 24/7/365. Safe, plentiful drinking water doesn’t magically appear in our cup, so how do we get it?

We can thank Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators for providing safe, clean water. Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators have extensive responsibilities and lead rewarding and fulfilling careers.

What do they do?
As an Treatment Plant Operator, responsibilities include operating of equipment in the water and wastewater treatment facilities in order to purify drinking water, remove pollutants from water, and return clean water and biosolids back to the environment. Having safe and clean drinking water is essential for life and good health. They are also in charge of maintaining the pumps, motors, chemical feed systems, computer process that control remote water storage facilities and wastewater pump stations that convey wastewater through the sewer system. As an operator, it is critical to abide by the guidelines of the Federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act as well as comply with Minnesota Department of Health and Pollution Control Agency requirements.

Hours and Earnings
Treatment Plant Operators usually work 8-12 hours a day and 40 or more hours per week. Because many treatment facilities operate 24 hours a day, Operators may be required to work different shifts. Earnings vary depending on the size of the facility and its locations, the skill of the operator, education, experience, and certification. Most operators receive “overtime” pay, paid vacations, and benefits. The average national salary for a Treatment Plant Operator is $42,760.

Education and Training
With the complex instrumentation and computer-controlled equipment now in use in many water treatment facilities, employers seek applicants with at minimum, a high school diploma. Education requirements are increasing as plants become more complex. Each plant has a formal training process that employees must complete.

Certification and Licenses
All water and wastewater systems are required to meet state and national standards as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In every state, Operators must pass a certification examination to show they are capable of overseeing a wide variety of treatment processes. There are classes of certification for different size treatment plants. Some states, such as Minnesota, have their own certification program.

Public perception may be that with improvements in technology and the increase use of automation and remote access control, the need for water professionals may be decreasing. The new tools available have helped reduce the need for some work tasks, but the increase regulatory requirements, demands for the highest quality water and consumer expectations require more water system professionals than ever before.

Mike Rowe and the crew for Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs at the Moorhead water treatment plant 2011.

Available Jobs
Water and Wastewater Treatment Facilities and systems operators held over 111,000 jobs throughout the United States and it is expected to grow at an 8% rate. Most work for local governments, but State and Federal positions are also available. Others work for private water, wastewater, and sanitary utilities and services companies, which increasingly provide operation and management services to local governments on a contract basis. There are many fulfilling career choices in the water quality profession including Treatment Plant Operator, Laboratory Technician, Maintenance Mechanic, Civil Engineer, Chemist and Biologist; just to name a few. Which career are you most interested in? Share below!