Wastewater OperatorJob Description, Salary, Career Path, and Trends

One of the essential services cities and governments provide to their citizens is water and wastewater treatment. Monitoring and treating water helps ensure a safe water supply for the entire community. Wastewater operators play an essential role in this process. 

Wastewater operators operate equipment to purify and clarify water or to process or dispose of sewage. Along with monitoring, regulating, and correcting water quality, they clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas.

Most wastewater operators are employed by local governments, at water and wastewater treatment plants, or for local and regional utility companies.

Sample job description

[Your company name] is hiring wastewater operators. Wastewater operators do the important job of cleaning and disinfecting used water so that it’s safe to be released into the environment or to be used in irrigation. They use chemicals to test and treat the water, operate machines, and analyze samples of water to ensure that safety standards are met. If you are detail-oriented with excellent mathematical, analytical, and mechanical skills, a wastewater operator job at our company could be the perfect fit. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Operate equipment to purify and clarify water or to process or dispose of sewage
  • Collect and test water and sewage samples
  • Document and report test results to regulatory agencies
  • Add chemicals as needed to disinfect water or other liquids
  • Monitor operating conditions, meters, and gauges
  • Record meter and gauge readings and operational data
  • Clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas
  • Follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations
  • Meet safety standards

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or GED, preferably with wastewater operator certification. Most employers provide on-the-job training.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Ability to use computer programs for process control
  • Strong communication and teamwork skills
  • Keen attention to detail
  • Ability to stand for extended periods, both indoors and outdoors

Preferred qualifications

  • 3+ years of experience working with wastewater
  • Analytical
  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Strong mathematical skills

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for a wastewater operator is $46,200 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$45,950$62,150
Los Angeles, California$51,850$70,150
Denver, Colorado$43,200$58,450
Washington, DC$52,600$71,200
Miami, Florida$43,000$58,200
Orlando, Florida$39,650$53,650
Tampa, Florida$40,050$54,200
Atlanta, Georgia$42,000$56,850
Chicago, Illinois$48,300$65,350
Boston, Massachusetts$52,250$70,650
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$41,650$56,300
New York City, New York$55,000$74,400
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$44,750$60,550
Dallas, Texas$43,600$58,950
Houston, Texas$43,200$58,450
Seattle, Washington$50,250$68,000
National Average$39,250$53,150

Typical work environment

Wastewater operators typically work inside a wastewater plant that’s run by the government or a utility company. Conditions can be hazardous, and a wastewater operator must follow safety protocols to avoid injury. The job can be physically demanding, and wastewater operators often have to work in places that are not clean or are difficult to access. A big part of their duties include inspecting equipment to make sure it’s working, and should it fail, operating machinery manually. They also monitor gauges and meters and record the data collected. Wastewater plants operate 24 hours a day. Depending on the size of the plant, operators may be expected to work night or day.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a wastewater operator can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In small plants, wastewater 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 facility at all hours.

Available certifications

Every city and state has to handle wastewater for the health of their people, so wastewater operator certifications are found throughout the country. Most states have their own requirements and certification programs. To work as a wastewater operator, you’ll need a high-school diploma or GED, in addition to on-the-job training and eventual certification. 

  • Operator Certification. Offered by the Association of Boards of Certification, the Operator Certification can be earned either through testing or through reciprocity. There are four levels of certification, in addition to a specialty in very small water systems. Getting certified can help you advance your career and earn higher wages, as well as help you perform your job better.

Career path

The path to becoming a wastewater operator typically starts with earning a high school diploma or GED. Wastewater Operators can also earn certification to help further their knowledge and experience. At the largest plants, operators who have the highest license level work as shift supervisors and may be in charge of large teams of operators.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 51-8031

2020 Employment122,100
Projected Employment in 2030119,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 3% decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift3,100 decrease

As water treatment plants become more advanced due to automation, it’s likely fewer workers in these positions will be needed in the future, or the nature of their jobs will evolve with the technology. 

Sample interview questions

  • What skills and qualities do you have that make you a good wastewater operator?
  • Why are you passionate about wastewater management?
  • Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
  • What responsibilities did you have in your prior facility?
  • How do you keep up to date with the latest technological advances? 
  • Describe your technical skills with operating the machinery and equipment.
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you correct your error? 
  • Describe a time you received criticism from your supervisor. How did you respond? 
  • Explain your process for double-checking your work to avoid mistakes.
  • How do you make sure the facility is operating in a way that complies with regulatory standards?
  • Tell me about a time you made a suggestion that improved efficiency in your plant. 
  • Describe the proper procedure for treating and storing wastewater.

Wastewater Operator Jobs in Ashburn

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