Career Beat: Drinking Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators
by Patti Schwenke
Ever consider a career as a drinking water or wastewater treatment plant operator? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects are expected to be excellent in the coming decade with a projected growth of 8% through 2022. Many current treatment plant workers are nearing retirement age, and there are not enough new workers entering the industry to meet demand. Recent high school graduates looking for steady work or anyone thinking about a new career with good pay, benefits, and economic stability can find career opportunities in the water treatment and distribution fields. As of May 2014, more than 78% of water and wastewater treatment plant operators were employed by local governments and earned an annual salary of $45,880. Those employed by the federal government reported the highest annual salary at $55,050. Employees of state governments averaged $51,800 a year.
It’s an exciting time to be working in these industries: plant operators are now on the cutting edge of innovative treatment technologies, energy efficiency, and nutrient recovery. The processes to get drinking water from streams, reservoirs and aquifers and to make wastewater safe to release into the environment are complex. Drinking water treatment plant operators run the equipment and monitor the processes that treat the water which starts in aquifers, streams, and reservoirs, ultimately flowing to your tap. At wastewater treatment plants, operators use biological and chemical treatment to treat and disinfect wastewater before it’s released to a local waterway.
Energy efficiency has also become an important part of treatment plant operations in helping communities become more sustainable, protect against climate change, and save money. Drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3 to 4 percent of energy use in the U.S., resulting in emissions of more than 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually. Wastewater plants are being recognized as resource recovery facilities, harnessing energy and even mining nutrients for marketing as a fertilizer.
What does it take to be a water treatment plant operator? Check out this video from an EPA partner, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership or take a virtual tour of a water treatment plant. If you think this might be a career for you, these links to operator certification programs in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia will get you started.
Water is vital for all living things to survive. Professional treatment plant operators have the challenging and rewarding job of keeping water safe for us all.
About the Author: Patti Schwenke has been with EPA’s Philadelphia office for more than 20 years. In 2014, she joined the Water Protection Division as a Project Officer, where she manages grants that fund drinking water projects. Patti and her husband, Glen, enjoy the outdoors and travelling in their motorhome.
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