What is a Water Treatment Plant Operator?

Also known as: Wastewater Treatment Operator, Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator, Waste Water Operator, Wastewater Operator.

A water treatment plant operator works in water treatment plants. Fresh water is pumped from wells, rivers, streams, and reservoirs to water treatment plants, where it is treated and distributed to customers. They run the equipment, control the processes, and monitor the plants that treat water to make it safe to drink.

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What does a Water Treatment Plant Operator do?

Water treatment plant operators typically do the following:

  • Add chemicals, such as ammonia, chlorine, or lime, to disinfect water or other liquids
  • Inspect equipment on a regular basis
  • Monitor operating conditions, meters, and gauges
  • Collect and test water and sewage samples
  • Record meter and gauge readings and operational data
  • Operate equipment to purify and clarify water or to process or dispose of sewage
  • Clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas
  • Stay current on environmental laws and regulations
  • Ensure safety standards are met

It takes a lot of work to get water from natural sources—reservoirs, streams, and groundwater—into our taps. Similarly, it is a complicated process to convert the wastewater in our drains and sewers into a form that is safe to release into the environment.

The specific duties of plant operators depend on the type and size of the plant. In a small plant, one operator may be responsible for maintaining all of the systems. In large plants, multiple operators work the same shifts and are more specialized in their duties, often relying on computerized systems to help them monitor plant processes.

Occasionally, operators must work during emergencies. For example, weather conditions may cause large amounts of storm water or wastewater to flow into sewers, exceeding a plant’s capacity. Emergencies also may be caused by malfunctions within a plant, such as chemical leaks or oxygen deficiencies. Operators are trained in emergency management procedures and use safety equipment to protect their health, as well as that of the public.

Wastewater treatment plant and system operators do similar work to remove pollutants from domestic and industrial waste. Used water, also known as wastewater, travels through sewage pipes to treatment plants where it is treated and either returned to streams, rivers, and oceans, or used for irrigation.

What is the workplace of a Water Treatment Plant Operator like?

Most water treatment plant operators work for local governments. Many others work for water, sewage, and other systems utilities and for waste treatment and disposal services. They work both indoors and outdoors. They may be exposed to noise from machinery and are often exposed to unpleasant odors.

Operators’ work is physically demanding and usually is performed in locations that are unclean or difficult to access. They must pay close attention to safety procedures because of hazardous conditions, such as slippery walkways, dangerous gases, and malfunctioning equipment. As a result, workers experience an occupational injury and illness rate that is much higher than the average for all occupations.

Plants operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In small plants, 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 plant at all hours. Operators may be required to work overtime, weekends, or holidays.

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