There are approximately 114,000 water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators in the United States. Job projection figures over the next decade indicate a very rapid rate of job growth of 20%, which makes it one of the fastest growing industries in the country.
Nearly all water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators are employed by local government or utilities companies. While some jobs require only a high school diploma, possessing a two-year associate degree in environmental studies or related area or being certified will make job applicants more attractive and increase the rate at which they will advance in their careers.
Water is becoming one of our most cherished natural resources; recent studies and catastrophic weather events have brought its importance to the forefront. Reservoirs, streams, and groundwater where tap water originates must go through an involved process before the water is potable. Water treatment plant and system operators are responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and operating the equipment that transforms wastewater into water that can be safely consumed. Liquid waste treatment plant and system operators are responsible for operating machinery that eliminates contaminants from wastewater.
Wastewater is a catch-all term for water that has undergone some type of use, from cooking to cleaning to sewage removal. Wastewater is carried to treatment plants via sewage pipes. There, it is treated and returned to natural water bodies or recycled as irrigation water.
Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators must carefully oversee chemical and mechanical processes that eliminate, minimize, or destroy bacteria, chemicals, poisons, and microorganisms from wastewater. Frequent tests must be run, and careful records registering water quality must be kept. Plant operators must keep the pumps and motors that drive the water filtration systems in prime working order, as well as study gauges and meters to confirm equipment is working correctly, adjust chemicals, and otherwise ensure that the resulting water emerges clean from harmful toxins. Small plants may employ a single operator who handles all tasks during a day shift and is on call during weekends and evenings for emergencies. Large plants employ numerous operators who specialize in one or two tasks. In either type of plant, extremes in the weather can create problems with storm drains and excess wastewater. Other issues can arise if equipment malfunctions, if there is a chemical leak, or if an oxygen deficiency occurs. Operators are required to use safety equipment and strictly follow safety procedures. They are trained in emergency procedures as well.
Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strictly monitors wastewater and tap water, operators must know the regulations and follow them precisely.
Water treatment operators work both inside and outside. Indoors, chemicals and wastewater may produce malodorous air, and machinery can be extremely loud. The work can be physically challenging. Attention must be paid to safety regulations, due to a number of hazardous conditions, including slippery floors, toxic fumes, and equipment that can malfunction and create a danger.
Certification can be earned from the Association of Boards of Certification (ABC), which offers a program and certification accepted by numerous states.
The median annual salary of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is around $39,000. Those trainees in the lowest 10% of pay receive under $24,000, while those in the top 10% in terms of pay earn more than $60,000. The median annual salary of water and liquid waste treatment plant and systems operators is about $38,000.In addition to salary, benefits typically include health and life insurance, vacation days, and retirement incentives.