Operator Certification Program

Information Sheet

Overview of New York's Operator Certification and Recertification Program

Since the 1930's, New York State has had a Water Treatment Operator Certification Program for Community Water Systems that treat their water supplies. The qualifications of operators of water treatment plants are defined in Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code. The State Sanitary Code also establishes the requirements for certification and recertification of operators at these plants.

There are six grades of certification, based on the size and complexity of the different water systems. Each operator is required to meet certain education, training and experience requirements to be certified.

In 1996, amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act brought with them changes for the operator certification program. Every state was required to develop a program to certify and recertify operators of community and nontransient noncommunity public water supplies. While New York State already had a program in place, revisions were needed to meet the federal mandate. These changes also provided the State with a unique opportunity to update Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code to address the changing technology and demands of operating a drinking water system today.

The Department of Health convened a committee of stakeholders to help develop the changes. The committee was comprised of representatives from organizations and groups that were interested in and/or impacted by the operator certification program. The committee's work significantly assisted the Department with the revisions. The new revised program went into effect on February 14, 2001.

Program Highlights

There are eight main sections to the revised Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code. The main requirements in each of the sections are highlighted below. Please note that this fact sheet is a summary of the Code and its requirements. This fact sheet does not contain all the details of the Code. Reading this fact sheet is not a substitute for reading Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code. You may obtain a copy of the Code from your local health department.


Section Overview: This section contains the definitions that are used throughout the code.

Summary of Requirements:

The major definition changes or additions are for the following terms: available, operating experience, operation, purchasing water system, and validated examinations. Other definitions were clarified to better describe and define how the Code should be carried out.

Certification Requirements

Section Overview: This portion of the code defines which systems are required to have a certified operator and what grade of operator each system must have. The procedures for certification are also covered.

Summary of Requirements:

  • All community and nontransient noncommunity (e.g. business, school) water systems are required to have a certified operator(s) for their system.
  • The system owner must designate a certified operator in responsible charge who is certified at the appropriate grade level. The operator in responsible charge is the person (or persons) that makes decisions about the daily operations of the system that will directly impact the quality and/or quantity of the drinking water.
  • If the operator in responsible charge changes then the system owner must notify the Department in writing, within one month of the change, including the new operator's name.
  • All personnel that make process control decisions and/or decisions about the integrity of the system must be certified to the appropriate grade level and must be under the direction of the operator in responsible charge.
  • A designated certified operator must be available during plant operation.
  • Certified operators must inform the department, within 30 days, of any changes in address or employment.
  • All persons seeking certification must submit an application to the New York State Department of Health.

Qualifications Required

Section Overview: There are certain qualifications that someone who wants to be a water operator must possess. Each grade of operator has specific initial training, experience and education requirements.

Summary of Requirements:

  • The education, training and examination requirements for each grade have been clarified and for Grades IA and IIB the experience requirements are now more prescriptive. See the Code for specific information about each grade of operator.
  • The required experience, training and proof of education must be submitted with the initial application.

Education, Experience and/or Training Substitutions

Section Overview: The Department will allow substitutions for some of the education, experience and/or training requirements.

Summary of Requirements:

  • Experience that is used to meet the experience requirements may not be substituted for education and vice versa.
  • See the Code for the list of allowable substitutions.

Validated Examinations

Section Overview: Many training courses gave examinations at the end of the course; however, in the past there was not a State certified or validated examination. This section discusses the requirements for a validated examination for each grade of operator.

Summary of Requirements:

Anyone applying for certification must pass a written, oral and/or practical skills validated examination. This will provide consistency between the initial training courses.


Section Overview: This section was an addition to the 2001 revision of Subpart 5-4. It permitted systems (during the period of February 14, 2001 to February 14, 2003), that were now required to have a certified operator, to allow the then current personnel to continue to operate their system without meeting the requirements for conventionally certified operators.

Summary of Requirements:

  • A grandparented operator's certification, to operate a water system, is limited under specific conditions. For example, a grandparented operator's certification is limited to a specific system or systems and is not transferable. Further limitations are provided in Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code.
  • Grandparented operators must meet the renewal requirements, as outlined in Subpart 5-4.8, no later than 3 years after the effective grandparenting date.


Section Overview: This section of the code outlines what will happen to an operator's certification if s/he commits fraud or shows gross incompetence or negligence.

Summary of Section Requirements:

  • The types of offences that are grounds for suspension include selective sampling, sabotaging equipment and bribery. See the Code for the complete list of specific offences.
  • A suspended certification may be reinstated upon request from the operator once s/he completed her/his suspension period and any other requirements (e.g. course work).
  • Grounds for revocation are based on more serious offences such as falsifying reports, illegal bypassing and sample tampering. See the Code for the complete list of specific offences.
  • A revoked certification may be reinstated upon request from the operator once the operator has served his/her revocation period, re-completed the initial certification requirements and completed any other revocation requirements (e.g. course work).

Renewal/Recertification Requirements

Section Overview: An operator's certification must be renewed every three years. In this section of the Code, the requirements for renewal of each grade of operator are listed. This section also addresses the requirements that an operator must meet to have their certification reinstated if their certification lapse.

Summary of Section Requirements:

  • The certificate renewal period has changed from 4 years to 3 years. All operators must meet the renewal requirements within the three year period.
  • The requirements for renewal have been modified to include the types of training an operator must have for renewal of their certificate. Refer to the Code for specific requirements. A validated examination will only be required when an operator's knowledge and/or experience is in question.
  • If an operator holds a dual certification, then throughout the renewal period, the operator must fulfill the requirements for the highest level of certification that they hold.
  • If an operator allows their certificate to lapse, they are no longer certified to operate a water treatment plant and/or distribution system after the expiration date of the certificate. The operator can be reinstated if they provide the Department with information that they have completed the recertification requirements.
  • If the operator allows their certification to lapse for longer than one year, they are required to re-complete the initial training and experience requirements and pass a validated examination before being reinstated.

Who to Call for More Information

You can contact your County or District Health Department for a copy of Subpart 5-4 of the State Sanitary Code.