California Occupational Guides

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Summary Guide for

   Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators in California

May also be called: Process Operators; Wastewater Operators; Wastewater Treatment Operators; Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators; Water Plant Operators; Water Treatment Plant Operators

Specialties within this occupation include: Drinking Water Treatment and Distribution Operators

What Would I Do?

Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant and System Operators* operate and maintain the pumps and motors that move water and wastewater through physical, mechanical, biological, and chemical treatment systems. They monitor the indicators, read meters and gauges, and make adjustments as necessary to make sure that plant equipment is working properly. They take samples and run tests to determine the quality of the water being produced.

Both tap water and wastewater are highly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other State and local agencies. Plant Operators must be familiar and comply with these regulations. Keeping proper records of compliance and documentation is another responsibility of Operators.

Water and Wastewater Treatment Operators work indoors and outdoors. They may be exposed to noise from machinery and unpleasant odors. Work is often physically demanding and performed in unclean locations. Operators must pay close attention to safety procedures because of the presence of hazardous conditions, such as slippery walkways, dangerous gases and chemicals, and malfunctioning equipment.

Treatment plants operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Operators in small plants may work during the day and be on call during the evening, nights, and weekends. Medium and large plants that require constant monitoring may employ workers in three 8-hour shifts. Because larger plants require constant monitoring, weekend and holiday work is generally required. Operators may often be required to work overtime.

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Water and Wastewater Treatment Workers may appeal to those who enjoy activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. Duties often involve working independently and with various tools and machinery.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

The median wage in 2017 for Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant Workers in California was $69,498 annually, or $33.42 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

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Annual Wages for 2017Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2017 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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Water and Wastewater Treatment Operators usually receive benefits that may include health and life insurance, a retirement plan, and educational reimbursement for job-related courses. Holidays, vacation, and sick leave are also provided.

What is the Job Outlook?

An increasing population, the retirement of the baby boomer generation, and an increased focus on environmentally sustainable business practices are expected to boost demand for water and wastewater treatment services. As new treatment plants are constructed to meet this increased demand, new Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator jobs will become available.

How Do I Qualify?

Employers often prefer applicants who have completed an associate degree or one-year certificate program demonstrating a dedication to the field. Completion of a training program may enhance an applicant’s competitiveness in the job market. However, employers may also hire high school graduates and provide on-the-job training.

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers is one of the most effective job search methods. Jobs may also be found through classified advertisements in newspapers and online job boards. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Learn More About Water and Liquid Waste Treatment Plant Workers