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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.


Jill Wallitschek
Jill Wallitschek
Jill Wallitschek's Blog

Professional Recognition Opportunities for Water & Wastewater Operators

Professional Recognition Opportunities for Water & Wastewater Operators

Water and wastewater operators in responsible charge are required to hold an operating license issued by their primacy agency equivalent to or greater than the classification of their treatment system. This certificate ensures that the operator has demonstrated the skills and knowledge necessary to operate and maintain their facility. Each primacy agency sets its own licensing requirements, ultimately targeted at safeguarding public health and the environment.

In addition to a primacy issued license, there are many operators that look to other forms of professional certification to set themselves apart from their peers. While there are a variety of ways to demonstrate excellence in the industry, many operators enjoy the format of professional certificate programs. These programs are not often recognized by primacy agencies, however they demonstrate that an operator has taken the initiative to learn more about their field and develop additional skills that can be utilized in operations, treatment, or management.

Shaun Livermore is an operations manager of the Utilities Authority for the Parch Band of Creek Indians. He recently obtained Utility Management Certification with Water University. After taking the program Shaun concluded that the certificate is a good tool to help operators make the jump into management. He notes that, the utility management certification does give me validation that I have the knowledge to be in utility management. It is also a way to demonstrate that to others. The requirement of degrees for higher level positions at utilities is often a barrier for highly capable individuals that could more adequately perform the duties of the position. This practice will continue to change moving into the future, but affordable programs like this one and Professional Operator designation will be a way to measure the aptitude for upward mobility of developing operators. It is something that I hope to see on more job descriptions in the future.   

Programs like these often require more training than the average operator license. Upon request, some states may allow the training to be used toward an operator's certification. If you’re interest in a professional certificate, we will review a few programs available to water operators in this blog.

Professional Operator (PO)
Provider: Association of Boards of Certification – Certification Commission for Environmental Professionals (C2EP)
About: The PO certificate was the first professional designation created for operators. To earn the PO title, operators must pass a certification exam and meet specific educational and professional experience requirements.
Certificate Options: Certificates include water treatment, distribution, collection, and wastewater treatment. Each option consists of four certification classes ranging from Class I to Class IV. The highest class reflects the highest level of job complexity and operational requirements.
Certificate Requirements: Each OP class has different certification requirements. Check them out here.
Cost: As of now, the application ranges from $145-$195 while the exam costs $67. This cost does not factor in the continuing education training that could be necessary to meet PO certification qualifications.
Re-certification: Required every 2 years.

Water University’s Utility Management Certification (UMC)
Provider: National Rural Water Association
Certificate Options: Utility Management Certification
About: The Utility Management Certification is the first professional certificate to recognize an operator’s knowledge and skills in the management of a water or wastewater utility. The certification program is designed to evaluate a participant’s education, work experience, and training.
Certificate Requirements: The certification process starts when an applicant submits their education, industry experience, and training history. Each experience is assigned a point value that must ultimately add up to 100. Once an operator confirms their 100 points, they will take a certification exam.
Cost: The program costs $250 in addition to any training necessary to meet the 100 points of experience that might not already be met.
Re-certification: Renewal is required every 3 years and costs $125. Certificate holders must complete 40 hours of additional training. After five renewals the certificate does not expire.

WQA Water Treatment Industry Professional Certification
Provider: Water Quality Association (WQA)
Certificate Options: Certificates types include water specialist, master water specialist, and water treatment representative.
About: The WQA certification is a voluntary credentialing process that can demonstrate an operator’s commitment to higher education, professional growth, and customer service.
Certificate Requirements: To achieve any WQA certified designation, the candidate must complete the appropriate course work, pass a comprehensive exam, and abide by the WQA Code of Ethics for the Water Quality Improvement Industry.
Cost: Enrollment costs $315-$815 which includes a 1-year subscription to the learning modules required for certification. The exam ranges from $145 to $320.
Re-certification: Certificates must be renewed every three years. Re-certification requires a renewal fee and to have obtained three approved credits during the certificate cycle.

There are an increasing number of professional certificate opportunities available to the water industry. These programs are growing in diversity, focus, and program format. As operators look to these programs for development, they should identify a program that will be best suited to their previous experiences and future career goals.

Resources to Complete Your Risk & Resilience Assessment and Emergency Response Plan

Resources to Complete Your Risk & Resilience Assessment and Emergency Response Plan

Drinking water utilities should be aware of the risk and resilience assessment (RRA) and emergency response plan (ERP) requirements mandated by section 2013 of the America’s Water and Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2018. Under section 2013, community water systems (CWS) serving populations of 3,300 people or more are required to perform a risk assessment using the results to develop or update their ERP. The due date to certify the completion of these requirements is dependent on the population served by the system. If a CWS provides water to a consecutive system, they must include the population of the consecutive system in the total population served. 

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*After submitting the RRA, the ERP must be submitted and certified within six months. Community water systems will be required to review and revise, as necessary, their RRA and ERP every five years after the initial certification dates. 

These new AWIA requirements amend section 1433 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), originally created from the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. The Act focused on incidents of terrorism and required CWS’s serving more than 3,300 people to conduct a vulnerability assessment (VA) and develop an ERP. The new AWIA requirements place an emphasis on the risks of malevolent acts, natural disasters, and cybersecurity. Since the vulnerability assessments from the Bioterrorism Act are now more than 10 years old, AWIA approved the destruction of these assessments. Utilities that want their VA returned instead can submit a request letter to the EPA before the due date of their risk assessment.

To assist in meeting the new requirements, the EPA has developed several resources designed specifically for AWIA. Resources and tools are uploaded on this EPA web page as they become available. The risk and resilience assessment is the first requirement due under section 2013 and necessary to develop your ERP. The assessment must include six criteria. Following the assessment, the ERP must include four criteria in addition to any state requirements. In this blog we will provide information about these AWIA resources in addition to other documents that can be useful to complete your RRA and ERP. 

EPA's AWIA Resources:

Resiliency and Risk Assessment:

Emergency Response Plans:

Other Helpful Resources to Get Started:

Resiliency and Risk Assessment:

Emergency Response Plans:

To certify the completion of your RRA or ERP, the EPA has developed guidelines for certification submittals via their secure online portal, email, or mail. If your system needs any additional help to meet these requirements, the EPA will be hosting in-person and online training sessions for each region. If these document suggestions don’t meet your system needs, check out our document library to find a variety of resources on risk assessment and emergency response.

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment -Troubleshooting Aeration Basin

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment -Troubleshooting Aeration Basin

This week’s blog features a wastewater troubleshooting video by the YouTube account Wastewater Operations Channel. The account is run by Jon Kercher, an operator of 10 years who uploads educational videos filmed during the work day at his wastewater treatment plant.

In this video, Jon demonstrates how to troubleshoot a disparity between two air legs within an aeration basin that should be equal flow. The problem was noticed when the basin was put into lead position. This video not only demonstrates how to troubleshoot a flow disparity, but teaches a great methodology for troubleshooting any wastewater treatment issues. Jon notes that while we have a general tendency to gravitate our troubleshooting toward process parameters, we must also consider monitoring parameters as well. Watch his video to find out what was causing the flow disparity!

Developing an Asset Management Program

Developing an Asset Management Program

Asset management is a critical component to the short and long-term success of every water and wastewater utility regardless of size or system type. When a system understands the condition of its assets, in addition to present and future projected needs, the utility can make informed decisions about infrastructure operations, management, and investments. These decisions will minimize expenditures, equipment failures, and risk to public health while promoting reliability, resiliency, compliance, and customer satisfaction. Asset management moves utilities from reactive to proactive decision making and allows systems to get the most out of what they have.

If your facility has never developed an asset management plan or it’s been quite some time since you’ve last revised your plan, we’ve highlighted our favorite resources to get you back on track. A well-developed plan includes asset inventories, operation and maintenance tasks, emergency response and contingency planning, comprehensive financial plans, succession planning, and an understanding of current and future service level goals. Without addressing the technical, managerial, and financial management of your system, your plan will be incomplete. So without further ado, here’s our favorite resources to help you improve your understanding of asset management and develop your own program.

What is Asset Management?

Developing an Asset Management Plan

Writing Your Plan

Additional Help: Asset Assessment, Financial Planning, and Program Review

Developing a new plan can seem like an intimidating project, however utilities will ultimately improve their services and decision making capacity while saving time, resources, and money. If your system needs help developing or assessing a program, check out the EPA’s list of technical and financial assistance providers or contact WaterOperator.org to have help finding a provider. The EPA maintains a list of capacity development contacts that can answer any questions about specific requirements of your primacy agency.

To find additional information on asset management, visit our resource library. You can use the category filter to narrow down your search by topics in asset management, financial management, utility management, and more. Our library can also be filtered by resource type such as manuals, videos, or templates. The other filter options can refine your results to a specific host organization or state. Check out our tutorial to use the library to the best of its capabilities.

An EPA Guide for Climate Resiliency Planning

An EPA Guide for Climate Resiliency Planning

Many utilities are developing plans to increase short-term and long-term climate resiliency in response to extreme weather events, changing water availability, or the risk and resiliency assessment requirements set forth in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA). To assist in the early developmental stages of resiliency planning, the EPA's CRWU program designed the Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities. This online application prompts utilities with a series of questions about their system and its resiliency concerns to provide recommend strategies that will decrease vulnerability. This web application was updated in August 2019 to allow utilities to specify their system size and find funding sources for the projects they want to pursue.

Both water and wastewater systems can use the tool. The foundation of the guide is built using the CRWU Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change and a funding list maintained by the Water Finance Clearinghouse. Completing the guide takes roughly 20 minutes. After answering a series of questions that identify your system type, size, location, assets, preferred resiliency strategies, and funding interests, the application will produce a report that can be used as a starting point to develop a more complex plan.

Once the guide is launched, you will start by answering questions about your facility and its resiliency priorities. The priorities indicate the concerns that your system wants to address. You can filter the list of priorities in the left hand menu to narrow your focus to topics such as drought preparation, flood protection, energy efficiency, etc. The ‘More Info’ button will elaborate on any option you're considering. Once you’ve selected your priorities, you’ll indicate what assets are present within your system. From there you can select your preferred planning strategies that have been suggested based on your previous answers. Filter the strategies with the left hand menu to narrow down your options by cost or category. For example, if you want to exclude strategies that require new construction, you could check the ‘repair & retrofit’ category instead. The last section recommends potential funding sources that might assist with the strategies you've selected earlier.

The strategies and funding sources will be used to generate the final report. Continue to the end and select ‘Generate Report’. This report will include a detailed summary of your answers, contact information for any funding sources you've selected, and case studies relevant to your utility. To save a copy of the report you will have to copy and paste the results into a Word document. If you have a CREAT account, you can select ‘Export CREAT File’ to download a file that can be imported into your CREAT account’s existing analysis. CREAT (Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool) is a more in-depth risk assessment and planning tool that can be used once you've done your initial research. You can preview the CREAT tool framework with their guide here.

Developing & Implementing a Cost Effective Water Utility Safety Program

Developing & Implementing a Cost Effective Water Utility Safety Program

Even with advances in smart water technology, any supervisor knows that a utility can't run without its dedicated staff. While workers take care of equipment operations, maintenance, billing, or customer service, it's the responsibility of the person in charge to ensure these duties are being carried out in a safe environment using appropriate precautions.

Water and wastewater utilities have a history of experiencing occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities (IIF) at a higher rate than most other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Incidence Rates - Detailed Industry Level table from each year’s Industry Injury and Illness Data Summary Tables has generally supported this trend. Their reports show the average non-fatal incident rate for the water and sewage industry has historically been higher than the industry average as a whole.

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The data from this table was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Incidence Rates- Detailed Industry Level for 2008 and 2017. (Click table to enlarge.)

The table above shows the rate of non-fatal injuries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008 and 2017. While any year can have variability, in 2008 the non-fatal injury incident rate was much higher than the industry average. In 2017 you can see that the average number of injuries has decreased since 2008 and is now closer to the industry average. These values don’t include the number of fatal injuries experienced by the water and wastewater industry, but as an overall trend, non-fatal injury reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics support that the water industry has improved since the early and late 2000’s.

Types of Injuries
As utilities continue to prioritize and promote a safe work culture, we hope to reduce the frequency of incidents even further. There are many hazards that pose a risk to operator safety. The most frequent non-fatal water and wastewater injuries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 were due to over exertion during lifting, being struck by a tool or object, and falls, slips, and trips. Water and wastewater utilities also have to manage the risks posed by confined spaces, electrical equipment, trenching, road safety, ladders, hazardous chemicals, blood borne pathogens, and more.

Safety Costs
According to Bureau Veritas’ presentation at the 2008 CSWEA Maintenance and Safety Seminar, the financial costs for water and wastewater injuries can be quite expensive. Budgeting for a good safety program will protect your employees and incur less expenses than the direct and indirect costs that result from a poor safety program.

Developing and Implementing a Safety Program
Since every system faces different hazards, your safety plan should be specific to your system hazards. To get started, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends seven core elements for your system’s safety program: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, program evaluation and improvement, and communication and coordination for host employers, contractors, and staffing agencies. OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs website provides an explanation of these elements in addition to a list of helpful tools, case studies, additional resources, and a download for the recommended practices guide.

We also encourage you to check out the Water Research Foundation’s Water Utility Safety and Health report to review safety program best practices and cost evaluations for various proactive and reactive programs. Once you’ve done your research, West Virginia Rural Association has developed an Injury and Illness Prevention Program template that systems can expand from.

Water System Specific Hazards
As you continue to promote safety in the work place remember that complacency is the adversary to injury and accident prevention. More specific  guidelines for electrical safety, traffic control, hazardous material communication, competent persons, confined space, chemical handling, chlorine exposure, fires, and waterborne disease can be found in Chapter 8 of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Intro to Small Water Systems Correspondence Course. The OSHAcademy also offers a variety of water and wastewater specific safety training. If you have a different safety question, more resources are available at WaterOperator.org’s document library or under our blog post category Operator Safety.

Nocardia Foam in Activated Sludge Systems

Nocardia Foam in Activated Sludge Systems

Nocardioforms are filamentous, Gram positive actinomycete bacteria that can cause persistent and excessive foaming in activated sludge plants during the summertime. There are nine main genus of nocardioforms. Two of these genera are involved in activated sludge foaming, Rhodococcus and Nocardia with the latter being the better known troublemaker. How to best control Nocardia foam is a highly debated topic.

Nocardioforms are known for their branch-like hyphae that extend from the cell wall similar to the hyphae found in fungi. These branches link together with other filaments and floc. Simple and complex organic material make up their diet which includes fats, oils, and grease (FOG). Nocardioforms are slow growing and utilize the aerobic conditions established by an aeration tank. These actinomycetes generally have difficulty out-competing other wastewater microorganisms, but once established they're a handful to remove.

Present in lower concentrations, Nocardia help to stabilize floc structure. The bacteria can rapidly breakdown biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) which can be beneficial to high strength wastewater. In higher concentrations, Nocardia can rip the floc apart and swiftly breakdown BOD starving out floc forming bacteria. The dense, brown foam that accompanies an outbreak forms when filaments float to the surface as a result of their low-density fatty acid membrane and the waxy, hydrophobic biosurfactant that coats their bodies. Bubbles from the aeration system can also help the filaments to float. Unlike Microthrix, nocardioforms are not often associated with sludge bulking.

Unfortunately, the conditions required for a nocardioform outbreak are still debated. In general, any change in temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), solids concentration, or nutrients might spur an outbreak. It’s believed that nocardioforms will be most favored under warm temperatures with a high concentration of FOG, low food to mass (F/M) ratio, and/or a high mean cell residence time (MCRT). Since nocardioforms grow slowly, they need ample time to proliferate, and under low F/M their larger surface area helps to secure nutrients easily. Some people theorize that anaerobic conditions in parts of the aeration tank or surfactants can encourage Nocardia growth as well.

Before deciding on a treatment solution, it helps to confirm that you are dealing with nocardioforms and not some other filament. Just because your foam is brown, doesn’t ensure that Nocardia is the culprit. Toni Glymph has developed a manual that describes how to identify filaments under the microscope. Nocardia is both Gram positive and Neisser positive, but after reading his guide you’ll find that only a Gram stain is really required for identification.

Treatment solutions for nocardioform foam are also highly debated. Using a high volume water spray will temporarily break down the foam, but be prepared for its return. A better solution is to skim off excess foam so the bacteria is not recycled back into the system. Chlorination is not highly recommended. The branching Nocardia filaments prevent sufficient disinfectant contact while healthy floc bacteria are killed. Many companies promote defoaming products, but the interlocking filaments are often too stable for these chemicals as well. Most resources recommend reducing your MCRT to under 8 days while increasing (F/M). Wastewater technician, Jeff Crowther, lists three of his own treatment recommendations on page 10 of the H2Oregon Springs 2016 Newsletter. Solids wasting may be the most common control method. Operators should learn about the life cycle of Nocardia to maintain a system that avoids future foaming incidents.

Featured Video: Replacing the Power Cord on a Sewage Pump

Featured Video: Replacing the Power Cord on a Sewage Pump

Submersible sewage pumps can be used for a variety of applications spanning the needs of residential homes to wastewater treatment plants depending on their size and design. A submersible pump is made up of a submerged motor filled with air or oil. Various impellers designs determine what sized solids the pump can handle.

In this week’s featured video, Chris with R.C. Worst & Co. demonstrates how to replace the power cord on a submersible sewage pump. This particular pump is designed for septic tanks and the sewage handling of commercial and residential applications. While working on the pump, he offers some tips and tricks that can help you to save money during repairs and prevent additional damage. As a bonus he discovers some unexpected factory damage and demonstrates how to repair broken wiring. If you need to fix a pump from your own system, remember that this sort of repair work should only be made by operators with the appropriate training. You can find hands-on pump training in your area by visiting our operator event calendar.

A Veteran’s Guide to Becoming a Water or Wastewater Operator

A Veteran’s Guide to Becoming a Water or Wastewater Operator

The career path of a water or wastewater operator is a great fit for veterans that want to continue serving the public with the skills developed during their time on active-duty. The profession requires mechanical, hands-on problem solving abilities and in turn offers job security, good pay, benefits, and professional development opportunities.

Utilities can mutually benefit by recruiting veterans. Talent gaps created by retiring operators can be filled by veterans returning home from active duty. Their military training ensures that they have the dedication, flexibility, accountability, and communication skills necessary to juggle small system needs. Furthermore, veterans are familiar with working nontraditional hours that are sometimes required to maintain smaller water systems.

Given the compatibility between veterans and the water industry, this blog will provide resources and guidelines veterans can use to become a water or wastewater operator.

Obtaining certification will be easiest if military personnel can start developing the necessary qualifications before leaving the military. Operators need to have a broad knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, math, equipment operations, and mechanics. Try to work in water operations or other positions that develops transferable skills during active duty. Request that these experiences be documented by your superiors. Saved military evaluations can also be useful to demonstrate qualifications.

Once you’ve left the military, research the certification requirements under your state. Each state’s certification requirements can vary, however many programs will convert military training into college credits or certification requirements. In the state of Virginia, “substantially equivalent” military training, education, or experience can be credited toward licensure requirements. Virginia also waives the costs for the certification exam. If you haven’t met all the requirements necessary to sit for the certification exam, use our national training calendar to find relevant certification courses and local training providers.

Veterans that are just beginning to fulfill certification requirements should consider joining a certificate program within their state. Certificate programs consist of a series of classes that take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for completion. At the end of the program students will be prepared and qualified to take the state certification exam. The best programs facilitate hands-on training at a local utility, however these experiences can also be gained in an apprenticeship. To find an apprentice program, reach out to local water utilities, assistance providers, and the National Rural Water Association’s nation-wide apprentice program. Working at a water utility early on will ease the job hunting process after passing the exam.

For additional assistance, contact the AWWA’s veteran program. Scholarships, internships, and career advice in the water workforce can be found at Work for Water. Residents of New England states, can look into the Water Warriors Initiative to find assistance in certification, training, and internships. If you need help finding additional resources for your state’s certification program, contact WaterOperator.org and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Featured Video: Water Tower Collapse Compilation

Featured Video: Water Tower Collapse Compilation

Online trends can seem bizarre, but browsing the web is worth the effort when you stumble upon videos likes these. If you’ve ever searched for distribution maintenance videos on YouTube, you may have already encountered water tower tipping videos. Some of them have reached millions of viewers. Once you watch a few for yourself, you’ll realize why.

There are many reasons a water system might want to remove an existing water tower. Older towers have a higher probability of failing an inspection or causing safety issues to the community. When that happens, it may be easier to just remove the tower provided it’s no longer necessary for the system. If a system has already connected to a newer tower, the costs to maintain redundant towers may drive the incentive for removal. Other times, communities might remove a tower due to damage incurred from a natural disaster or because they want to open the property for other uses.

Only a very small number of tanks are tipped over like the ones in this week’s featured video. Collapsing a tower is a dangerous job only performed in wide open areas with experienced professionals. Generally most tanks are dismantled with a crane instead. Before removal the site may undergo an environmental review. Then if the tower is still in use, it will have to be disconnected from the current water and power supply. After putting out a bid and selecting a contractor, the system will coordinate the rest of the planning with them. Crane dismantling involves cutting the tower into pieces with a torch and lowering those pieces down with a crane. Often times any leftover steel can be sold to a local scrap yard.

So even though tipping a tower is much less common, please enjoy this week’s featured video. It’s hard to look away once you start!