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Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators control a system of machines to treat or transfer water or liquid waste.

By Julia Mann
Posted 2012

Plant and system operators record personnel attendance, operational data or meter and gauge readings on specified forms. They operate and adjust controls on equipment to purify and clarify water, process or dispose of sewage and generate power. Plant and system operators use hand and power tools to repair, lubricate and maintain equipment. They also clean and maintain filter beds, tanks and other work areas using hand tools and power tools.


  • Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators monitor operating conditions, meters and gauges, or inspect equipment to determine load requirements and detect malfunctions.
  • They use test equipment and color analysis standards to test water and sewage samples.
  • Operators add chemicals such as ammonia or chlorine to disinfect and deodorize water and other liquids.

Work Environment for Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators work indoors and outdoors, and may be exposed to foul odors and machine noise. Operator work is often performed in dirty locations and can be physically demanding. Hazardous conditions are present, so operators must pay close attention to safety procedures. Operators work one of three eight-hour shifts, as plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This schedule includes weekends and holidays and operators may be required to work overtime.

Education, Training and Licensing

Usually, a high school diploma is required to become a water or liquid waste treatment and system plant operator. Operators should be competent in basic chemistry, math and biology and should have mechanical aptitude. They must be able to apply data to formulas prescribing treatment, flow levels and concentration levels. Basic computer skills are necessary because computer-controlled equipment may be in use.

Trainees usually start as attendants or operators-in-training and learn their skills on the job. Trainees learn by doing basic tasks like taking samples of wastewater and sludge, recording meter readings and performing simple maintenance and repair work on electric motors, valves and other plant equipment. Larger treatment plants usually combine formal classroom programs with on-the-job training.

Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings

Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system held 109,090 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some positions in this field include waste water treatment plant operator (WWTP operator), water treatment plant operator, wastewater operator, wastewater treatment plant operator, water operator, water plant operator, process operator, and SCADA operator (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Operator).

The Occupational Information Network (ONET) expects employment in this field to increase up to 20% from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average growth for all occupations.

BLS reports indicate that the median annual wage for Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators was $39,850 in May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $30,960 and $50,620. While the lowest 10% had an annual income at or below $24,580, the top 10% earned upwards of $62,200 per year.

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