Water Treatment Plant Operator

Job Duties

Water treatment plant operators are responsible for operating and monitoring the equipment used to treat drinking water by disinfection, purification, and clarification. They remove harmful pollution from wastewater that is transported to their plant through sewer pipes. Operators work closely with engineers, scientists, and technicians to comply with water quality regulations at the State and Federal levels. In larger communities that have both a water system and a treatment plant, many operators work in either wastewater or water treatment plants. Most work for cities, towns, or water districts, while some work in national parks or private campgrounds.

Water treatment plant operators are responsible for a wide variety of specific duties, usually depending on the size of their plant. In small plants, operators may perform many different duties, or even all the duties. In larger facilities, they often specialize in one part of the operation. They control electric valves, pumps, and motors. They regulate the flow of untreated water into the treatment plants, as well as the treated water flowing out of the plant. They observe the rates of flow, water distribution, and pressure levels. They often take samples of the treated water and perform tests to determine if it is safe for consumption. They keep detailed records of their daily tasks and perform routine maintenance on equipment.

Job Skills

Water treatment plant operators need to have a mechanical aptitude. They must be able to read and comprehend charts, reports, and graphs. They need to be able to understand verbal and written instructions and follow those instructions to the detail. They must have color vision and good eyesight. They need to be able to stand, walk, and lift heavy loads throughout the workday.


Earnings for water treatment plant operators depends on the size of the employer and the location of the plant. Entry-level workers earn between $1,030 and $3,050 per month. Those with experience earn between $1,100 and $3,785. Journey level employees earn between $1,720 and $5,700. Operators normally rotate shifts, working weekend, swing, and graveyard shifts. They may earn overtime at time-and-a-half or double-time. Benefits include paid vacation, holidays and sick leave, insurance, and retirement plans.

Training and Education

The entry requirements for this occupation vary from employer to employer. Some employers require applicants to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in water treatment technology. Some employers will hire applicants who have graduated from high school, have little experience, but appear to be very motivated to learn and excel. These new employees are usually trained on the job. Still other employers only hire applicants who have experience and are certified operators. Water treatment plant operators are required to be certified through State certification program agencies. Certification requirements include on-the-job training, completion of training courses, and passing a written test. Those with little experience or training work under the close supervision of more experienced workers. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of water treatment plant operators is expected to increase more slowly than the average. This is partly due to new Federal regulations that attempt to ensure cleaner water supplies by automating the treatment process, and partly due to the very low turnover rate in the occupation. Most job openings will be the result of workers retiring or leaving the work force for other reasons.