Brochure: Environmental Careers - Water & Wastewater Operators

"Brochure: Environmental Careers - Water & Wastewater Operators" is also available in Portable Document Format (PDF, 731KB, 2pg.).

Work with your hands, your head and your heart.

"It has been estimated that almost 50% of today's water and wastewater operators will retire within the next five to seven years. They'll need to be replaced." - The American Water Works Association


Drinking water and wastewater operators serve their neighbors by protecting public health. It is extremely important that people receive clean, potable water and that wastewater be discharged in an environmentally safe manner.

Water operators are certified by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). Wastewater operators are certified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

There are minimum educational and experience requirements depending on the various certification grade levels. All levels now require a high school or GED diploma, training courses and on-the-job experience.

  • For Water Operator Certification:
    • High school or GED diploma,
    • Training - from a 15-hour course to 120 hours for the highest level,
    • Experience begins with six months on-the-job and can extend to ten years at the upper level,
    • Pass NYSDOH exam.
  • For Wastewater Operator Certification:
    • High school or GED diploma,
    • Training - from 60 hours to 170 hours for the highest level,
    • Experience begins with six months on-the-job and can extend to eight years at the upper level,
    • Pass NYSDEC exam.


For water and wastewater operators it is especially helpful to have some science and math knowledge with some mechanical ability. It is recommended that candidates have a background in biology, chemistry and mathematics, as well as interest in carpentry, metal working, plumbing, heavy equipment or automotive maintenance.

The Rewards

Depending on the size and complexity of the utility, salaries can begin in the mid-$30,000s and reach over $100,000 at the upper level. Almost all municipal systems offer health care and retirement plans and many offer tuition reimbursement for continuing education.

One of the greatest rewards for water and wastewater operators is knowing that they are protecting public health and the environment and providing a much needed and valuable service to their community.

Operator Certification

There are a number of colleges and training providers that offer courses for operator certification. The NYSDOH and NYSDEC also have approved lists of home study and online courses available for operator certification. Contact the agencies directly for more information. A list of upcoming water and wastewater certification courses can be found on the following water and wastewater websites. Please visit the NYSDEC website at The NYSDOH website is at


Contact your local department of public works or drinking water or wastewater treatment plant to find out about entry level job opportunitites. You may also be able to gain some experience through a summer job or internship. It would give you the chance to see if this is the career for you.


"Within the next decade, the job market for water supply operators holds the promise of becoming a buyer's market. Because qualified operators are expected to be in short supply, those with ambition may see more opportunities for advancement, a choice of locations and utility size, work schedule flexibility, employer-supported training, and negotiable wages and benefits." - The American Water Works Association

A Challenging and Rewarding Career

Working in the drinking water and wastewater industry can be extremely rewarding since you are providing a vital service to your community. It just might be one of the most important positions in the world since no one can live without water. It takes knowledgeable, conscientious people to deliver clean, potable water and to ensure that wastewater is discharged in an environmentally safe manner.

It takes special people to do this job. People who like to work with their hands and have an interest in biology, chemistry, and mathematics are well-suited for the job. One thing is for sure - no two days are the same for water or wastewater operators. They may be repairing a leak in a water line, running a backhoe, welding pipe and fixing a pump one day and the next day working in the laboratory testing samples for pathogens and microorganisms or presenting information to the town board or the public. Operators wear many hats.

A college degree is of value but is not required. This career does require a great deal of training and experience. If you like a challenge and the responsibility of protecting the public health and the environment - this could be the job for you!

For More Information

Agency/Organization Phone Number Website
Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (202) 293-7655
Environmental Finance Center at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University (315) 443-9994
NYS Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (518) 463-1185
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (518) 402-8177
NYS Department of Health (518) 402-7712
NY Rural Water Association (518) 828-3155
NY Section American Water Works Association (315) 455-2614
NY Water Environment Association (315) 422-7811
RCAP Solutions (315) 482-2756
United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800) 426-4791 Water Operator Certification Website at