a career in

Treatment

What if California’s coastal towns and cities drew their drinking water from the Pacific Ocean? They would no longer depend on nature’s water cycle, or be vulnerable to drought, and they would leave more water in California’s rivers for fish and farmers. This is just one reason why treatment plants are critical to California’s adaptation to climate change.

2017-2047

New plant operators starting out in 2017 will see four trends grow during their careers.

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Desalination

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego County is the largest in the western hemisphere, producing 50 million gallons of drinking water from the Pacific Ocean every day. A dozen more plants along California’s coast are in the planning stage.

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Potable reuse

Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System produces up to 100 million gallons of drinking water a day by purifying the region’s wastewater.  Similar projects are in the planning stage in San Diego County.

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Waste to energy

The City of San Diego’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant produces its own energy from methane gas, and it has done so for years. Now other wastewater utilities are looking to produce their own green energy.

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Onsite treatment

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters uses 65% less water than similar sized buildings by treating wastewater onsite and reusing it in the building’s toilets.

Desalination

Desalination

Potable reuse

Waste to energy

Desalination

Onsite treatment

What you do

Water and wastewater treatment plants function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to meet the needs of the communities they serve.  Plant operators have four areas of responsibility and must perform their duties in full compliance with state and federal water quality laws and regulations.

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Plant operations

Plant operators work with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems to monitor the treatment process and water quality. Interpreting data and making data-driven decisions are critical skills.

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Water quality analysis

Plant operators continuously collect water samples and perform laboratory analyses to assure water quality, and the chemicals needed to maintain it, are at appropriate levels.

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Coordination

Plant operators coordinate with system operators to anticipate and meet demand, maintain water quality and respond to issues.

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Plant maintenance

Plant operators maintain and repair the plant, including filters, basins, pipes and pumps, and the mechanical, electrical and IT systems.

Water treatment

Plant Operator Career Pathway

How to get started

Do a year of hard work

Many agencies want applicants with mechanical or facilities maintenance experience.

Take 3 courses

Take introduction to water technology, water mathematics and basic water treatment.

b

Pass the T1 or T2 exam

Students who understand the course material often skip the T1 exam and pass the T2.

Career Pathway

General Manager

Annual salary

$150,000-$350,000

Sample job description

Olivenhain Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Not required

Experience 

Multiple years of administrative and supervisory experience plus comprehensive knowledge of utility operations, engineering and financial management.

Education

Bachelor’s degree required / Master’s degree preferred

Director of Operations

Annual salary

$115,000-$184,000

Sample job descriptions

Coachella Valley Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

T3-5 and D3-5

Experience 

10 years of experience in a water utility including at least 5 years of supervisory experience.

Education

Bachelor’s degree

Plant Manager

Annual salary

$112,000-$144,000

Sample job description

Helix Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

T3-5

Experience 

Multiple years of experience managing a treatment plant

Education

Bachelor’s degree

Supervisor

Annual salary

$84,000-$126,000

Sample job description

East Bay Municipal Utility District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification
T3

Experience 
At least one year as a senior plant operator, or multiple years as a plant operator

Education
High school diploma or GED

Operator

Annual salary

$46,000-$96,000

Sample job description

Olivenhain Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

T1-2 for entry level Operator I job
T3-5 to advance into Operator II and III jobs

Experience 

Most agencies require 1 year in construction or facilities management

Education

High school diploma or GED

Certification

T5

Minimum qualifications for certification
Exam
Pass the T5 exam
Experience
– 2 years working as a T4 operator at a plant rated T4 or higher
– 3 additional years working as a certified operator. Education and wastewater experience can fulfill this requirement. Learn more

Minimum qualifications to take the exam
Education
– High school diploma or GED
– Four 3-unit courses in water technology, with at least two courses in drinking water treatment
Learn about the exam

Courses that prepare you for the exam
Advanced water treatment
Water quality/chemistry
Mechanical maintenance

 

T4

Minimum qualifications for certification
Exam
Pass the T4 exam
Experience
– 1 year working as a T3 operator at a plant rated T3 or higher
– 3 additional years working as a certified operator. Education and wastewater experience can fulfill this requirement. Learn more

Minimum qualifications to take the exam
Education
– High school diploma or GED
– Three 3-unit courses in water technology, with at least two courses in drinking water treatment
Learn about the exam

Courses that prepare you for the exam
Advanced water treatment
Water quality/chemistry
Mechanical maintenance

 

 

T3

Minimum qualifications for certification
Exam
Pass the T3 exam
Experience
– 1 year working as a T2 operator at a plant rated T2 or higher
– 1 additional year working as a certified operator. Education and wastewater experience can fulfill this requirement. Learn more

Minimum qualifications to take the exam
Education
– High school diploma or GED
– Two 3-unit courses in drinking water technology, with one course in drinking water treatment
Learn about the exam

Courses that prepare you for the exam
Advanced water treatment
Water quality/chemistry
Mechanical maintenance

T2

Minimum qualifications for certification
Pass the T2 exam

Minimum qualifications to take the exam
Education
– High school diploma or GED
– One 3-unit course in drinking water treatment
Learn about the exam

Courses that prepare you for the exam
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic water treatment

T1

Minimum qualifications for certification
Pass the T1 exam

Minimum qualifications to take the exam
Education
High school diploma or GED
Learn about the exam

Courses that prepare you for the exam
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic water treatment

Courses to take

Courses

For T1-2 Certification

 

Introduction to Water Technology

Water Mathematics

Basic Water Treatment

For T3-5 Certification

Advanced Water Treatment

Basic Water Distribution

Advanced Water Distribution

Mechanical Maintenance

Electrical Maintenance

Hydraulics

Wastewater treatment

Plant Operator Career Pathway

How to get started

Do a year of hard work

Many agencies want applicants with mechanical or facilities maintenance experience.

Take 3 courses

Take introduction to water technology, water mathematics and basic wastewater treatment.

i

Pass the G1 or OIT exam

Pass the Grade 1 or Operator in Training exam and apply for a job in wastewater treatment.

Career Pathway

General Manager

Annual salary

$150,000-$350,000

Sample job description

Olivenhain Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Not required

Experience 

Multiple years of administrative and supervisory experience plus comprehensive knowledge of utility operations, engineering and financial management.

Education

Bachelor’s degree required / Master’s degree preferred

Director of Operations

Annual salary

$115,000-$184,000

Sample job description

Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Grade 3-5 Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, OR
D3-5 Water Distribution System Operator

Experience 

5 or more years of management and administrative experience

Education

Bachelor’s degree

Plant Manager

Annual salary

$80,000-$124,000

Sample job description

Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Grade 3-5 Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator

Experience 

5-10 years as a wastewater treatment plant operator and 3-5 years of supervisory experience

Education

Bachelor’s degree

Supervisor

Annual salary

$72,000-$109,000

Sample job description

Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Grade 3-5 Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator

Experience 

3-5 years of experience as a wastewater treatment plant operator

Education

High school diploma or GED

Operator

Annual salary

$46,000-$96,000

Sample job description

Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Minimum qualifications for this job

Certification

Grade 1 or 2

Experience 

Most agencies require 1 year in construction or facilities management

Education

High school diploma or GED

Certification

G5

Minimum qualifications (option 1)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 18 college units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 10 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 2)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 60 college units including 15 units in science
For certification
– 6 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 3)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– Bachelor’s degree including 30 units in science
For certification
– 5 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 4)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– Valid registration as a chemical, civil or mechanical engineer
For certification
– 4 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Learn more

Courses that prepare you
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic wastewater treatment
Mechanical maintenance
Instrumentation
Recycled water
Wastewater collection

G4

Minimum qualifications (option 1)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 12 college semester units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 6 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 2)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 60 college units including 15 units in science
For certification
– 4 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 3)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– Bachelor’s degree including 30 units in science
For certification
– 3 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 4)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– Valid registration as a chemical, civil or mechanical engineer
For certification
– 2 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Learn more

Courses that prepare you
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic wastewater treatment
Mechanical maintenance
Instrumentation
Recycled water
Wastewater collection

G3

Minimum qualifications (option 1)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 5 college semester units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 3 years experience as a Grade 2 Operator

Minimum qualifications (option 2)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 8 college semester units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 4 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 3)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 60 college units including 15 units in science
For certification
– 2 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 4)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– Bachelor’s degree including 30 units in science
For certification
– 1 year experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Learn more

Courses that prepare you
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic wastewater treatment
Mechanical maintenance
Instrumentation
Recycled water
Wastewater collection

G2

Minimum qualifications (option 1)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 4 college semester units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 18 months experience as a Grade 1 Operator

Minimum qualifications (option 2)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 5 college semester units in math, science or wastewater treatment
For certification
– 2 years experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Minimum qualifications (option 3)
To take the exam
– High school diploma or GED
– 60 college units including 15 units in science
For certification
– 1 year experience at a wastewater treatment plant

Learn more

Courses that prepare you
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic wastewater treatment
Mechanical maintenance

G1 or OIT

Minimum qualifications for certification
Education
– High school diploma or GED
– One 3-unit course in math, science or wastewater treatment
Experience
-1,800 hours of work at a wastewater treatment plant

Learn more about Operator in Training Certificate
Learn more about Grade I Operator Certificate

Courses that prepare you
Introduction to water technology
Water mathematics
Basic wastewater treatment

Courses

Courses

For Grade 1-2 Certification

Introduction to Water Technology

Water Mathematics

Basic Wastewater Treatment

For Grade 3-5 Certification

Advanced Wastewater Treatment

Mechanical Maintenance

Electrical Maintenance

 

Other careers in treatment

There are other critical roles in a treatment plant that require specialized skills or a bachelor’s degree. These roles offer exciting careers but are outside the scope of the water technology program at most community colleges.

Electrician

Specialized skills required
Sample job description

SCADA Technician

Specialized skills required
Sample job description

Chemist

Bachelor’s degree required
Sample job description

Biologist

Bachelor’s degree required
Sample job description