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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

WaterOperator.org Recommends Agencies Postpone Operator Certification Renewals During COVID-19

WaterOperator.org Recommends Agencies Postpone Operator Certification Renewals During COVID-19

As communities tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the critical services that water and wastewater utilities supply are ultimately pulled into the spotlight. While reliable drinking water and wastewater services remain essential to public health, they also sustain adequate hygiene practices to prevent the spread of illness.

Central to the continuity of operations for every utility lies our water and wastewater operators. Under normal operating conditions, operators, especially those of small or rural systems, must juggle the challenges of aging infrastructure, regulatory compliance, customer communication, board collaboration, and regular operations and maintenance. During the pandemic these challenges can be exacerbated by handling COVID-19 customer concerns, cross training staff, updating contingency and emergency response plans, connecting with critical suppliers, acquiring backup equipment and parts, reaching out to neighbors or mutual aid groups, etc. Operators must take on this workload while sustaining personal health and safety.

As operators manage the ongoing challenges associated with the Novel Coronavirus and Stay-at-Home orders, we have observed that several certifying agencies are extending or postponing their deadlines for continuing education requirements and the recertification of licenses expiring during this pandemic. WaterOperator.org believes that the focus of our operators should remain on continuity of operations and customer outreach without having to manage renewal and recertification requirements at this time. Our concern for small system operators, especially those of rural communities, is that some do not have access to reliable internet. Internet access that may have previously been obtained through public libraries or recreational centers is no longer accessible as a result of community shutdowns leaving operators with no alternative locations to complete online training for certification renewal. Given the extent of these shutdowns, online trainings do not offer a reliable substitute for in-person training sessions at an equal opportunity to all operators.

Many agencies are already working to address the accessibility and burden of licensing renewal. Among the certification programs who have provided relief for operators, agencies in Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin as well as the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona are working to suspend or extend the time period for licensing renewal and continuing education requirements. In Ontario, Canada an emergency order offers relief to utilities by allowing operators with recently expired licenses to continue work while temporarily allowing non-certified, but qualified individuals to perform operational duties if deemed necessary. Taking a different approach, the drinking water program in Kentucky is currently waiving late fees for renewals until August 31, 2020. While licenses can still expire, the Kentucky Operator Certification Program will consider this grace period when performing inspections or alternate staffing plans. At this time other agencies are actively considering similar measures to the examples we’ve highlighted.

Where these actions are not possible, we ask that agencies consider supplementing other educational resources to operators in need. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency notes on their website that correspondence courses are available for operators to earn continuing education credit. They recommend reaching out to local training providers to find these courses and other training alternatives. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is also researching self-guided distance learning and the loaning of training books distributed via mail.

For some operators, achieving educational requirements and licensing renewal through the duration of the pandemic will create an added burden that may impact their ability to protect and serve the citizens of their communities. Other operators may be left unable to run their facility due to an expired license. We are grateful to the primacy agencies that have taken positive action to support their operators. WaterOperator.org believes that these measures will help utilities of all sizes to protect their communities.

Featured Video: Interviewing Basics Webinar

Featured Video: Interviewing Basics Webinar

In this week’s blog post, we’d like to feature an excellent webinar recording hosted and published by CA Water Pros with the California Water Environment Association and California-Nevada Section AWWA. The webinar introduces both incoming water professionals and those seeking new industry positions to some interview best practices that will help any operator stand out above the competition during a job hunt. The webinar is presented by Todd Novacek, Director of Operations at the Moulton Niguel Water District. Todd frequently interviews professionals for the District and started putting together popular interview questions with his favorite answers when his son received his Water Distribution II certificate.

From the video job seekers will learn how their social skills, attire, attitude, honesty, and pre-interview research can make all the difference in a first impression. Todd stresses the importance of gauging an audience and making every interview question count. You’ll learn popular questions that can likely be expected during an interview at a water district. These questions will help you start thinking of your own answers now. Remember that questions can vary with utility size, location, and job requirements. As Todd emphasizes, you should know the facility you’re applying to before the interview. Even when you feel that you’re already the best candidate for the job, practicing and preparing beforehand will demonstrate your dedication to the position.

Once an operator fulfills their certification and educational requirements, interviewing at utilities can seem like a completely different challenge that neither training workshops nor any workbook has adequately prepared them for. This one hour webinar is worth the time and will help operators start a new aspect to their professional development, interviewing.

Studying for the Certification Exam

Studying for the Certification Exam

Studying for the certification exam can seem difficult or tedious for the many of us who are out of practice when it comes to taking and preparing for standardized tests. Adding to the challenge, most operators or operators in training must balance daily responsibilities and work with studying. In this week’s blog post, we hope to make your certification exam prep more productive by reviewing the best methods to study.

Before studying for the exam, operators should start by briefly researching the exam itself. Knowing the topics that will be covered and the resources that will be available during the test can help you make the best use of your study time. For starters, each certification agency can have a substantially different distribution of topics included on their need-to-know (NTK) criteria. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) published a 2018 summary of each state’s licensing requirements and NTK criteria (if developed), however operators should check with their primacy agency directly to really familiarize themselves with the test requirements, format, and design.

For most primacy agencies, certification exams are administered online at a certified testing center, however many agencies offer a few pencil and paper exams throughout the year. Operators that are taking an online exam can familiarize themselves with the feel of an online test using the Association of Boards of Certification’s (ABC) exam demo. For either exam format, the test taker should find out how many questions will be included in the exam, what the question format will be, and how many minutes they have to complete the exam. Certification agencies that use ABC testing services require candidates to bring photo ID, a non-programmable calculator, two sharpened #2 pencils, and an eraser. The exam will likely provide a Formula/Conversion table that you should practice with during your studies. Please check with your primacy agency to determine what score is required to pass. Most agencies require a 70% or higher.

The AWWA suggests that operators should begin studying immediately after submitting their testing application. Applications are generally due two to three months before the test date itself offering ample time to study. During this period, test takers should strive to learn and understand, not memorize, all the material identified on the NTK criteria. Setting a goal to study at the same times and location each day will help improve focus when you sit down to work. As you study, keep your notes and study material in the same binder or notebook to improve organization. How long you study each day will depend on your current knowledge and experience. Even if you think you know some material pretty well, set aside time to review just in case.

Deciding how to study and the resources you want to use will depend on how you learn best. Some operators retain information by reading and writing. For the exam, this might look like learning from a textbook or manual and then summarizing the information in flashcards or a study guide. Research has shown that writing down information improves retention. Generally by the time a student has finished their flashcards, they already know the material pretty well. Reviewing those written summaries will only reinforce that knowledge. Check out our previous blog post on free test prep resources to find downloadable study manuals. If you want to use a textbook instead, we recommend purchasing them used whenever possible!

Many other operators prefer a visual or auditory form of learning that comes from watching training videos online or enrolling in a certification exam prep course. If already studying from a textbook, we encourage visual learners to make their own diagrams and charts. Operators can find upcoming certification classes by visiting our national training calendar and selecting “Certification/Exam Prep” in the Category filter. Training courses are also good for kinesthetic learners that retain information by 'doing'. To really prepare for the exam, chances are high that you will need to apply a combination of these study methods. When none of these tips seem to work and you just can’t seem to remember an important fact or process, try developing your own mnemonic.

The last important tip we must offer is to repeat, repeat, repeat! In order to remember anything long-term, you should review the same material several times without cramming. For example, during the duration of your exam prep try reading from your study manual and summarizing the information in a notebook. Return to those summaries periodically, perhaps creating diagrams when possible or even rewriting the material for a second time. When you feel like you know your stuff, take a practice test to assess your knowledge.

Practice tests will help students determine where they need to improve while letting them get used to the types of questions that will be asked on the exam. Some primacy agencies have developed their own practice tests, however we recommended several additional practice exams in the October 29, 2019 edition of the WaterOperator.org Newsletter. The edition also includes some of our own practice questions and helpful test taking tips for the day of the exam.

Remember that doing well on the exam requires developing a study plan and sticking to it. With any luck, and a lot of practice, these tips will have you acing your certification exam!

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: Tech Review: Liquid Flow Velocity

Featured Video: Tech Review: Liquid Flow Velocity

Knowledge of flow velocity, volumetric flow rate, and pipe diameter can assist operators in selecting, installing, and troubleshooting flow meters. This week’s featured video will guide operators in the math used to calculate flow velocity using volumetric flow and or pipe diameter.

Brent Baird with Instruments Direct demonstrates three techniques that will estimate flow velocity. The old school method utilizes a flow calculator slider ruler. With Brent’s particular ruler, by sliding to the known value for the inside pipe diameter (ID) in inches, the velocity in feet per second (FPS) can be read above the known value for volumetric flow in millions of gallons per day (MGD). Alternatively, the inside pipe diameter can be estimated by lining up the known values for velocity and volumetric flow and then looking at the value indicated under pipe diameter. Brent demonstrates that a cross reference chart performs the same calculations using a different visual.

Both of these tools are based off the equation GPM=2.45*ID2*FPS. If neither of his reference tools are available, plugging in the known FPS value for velocity and the inside pipe diameter in inches will calculate the volumetric flow rate. By rearranging the equation to solve for FPS, the flow velocity can be calculated using FPS=GPM/(2.45*ID2). Remember to follow PEMDAS. To calculate the internal pipe diameter with known values for FPS and GPM, rearrange the equation to solve for pipe diameter: ID= √(GPM/FPS/2.45). If the value for the internal pipe diameter is unknown, Brent demonstrates how an ANSI chart can be used to find that value.

With the video's final explanation of basic flow meter requirements, these calculations can be used to spot and avoid problem areas for flow metering in your distribution system.

Featured Video: Becoming a Water Operator

Featured Video: Becoming a Water Operator

Succession planning in the water industry has led to a growing demand for new operators. In addition to job security, the career path offers great benefits and opportunities to develop professionally while directly improving local communities. 

In this 10 minute interview by California Water Jobs, a successful operator describes the plans he accomplished to become an operations technician foreman for the Desert Water Agency. Before his career in water, Emmanuel Sarpong worked as a Field Radio Operator for the U.S. Marine Corps. He notes that his experience in the military gave him the discipline, communication skills, and problem solving abilities essential for utility operations and maintenance. A workday for Emmanuel is always changing, whether he’s putting treatment filters back on line, collecting water samples, or even pushing a broom for an upcoming tour.

To become an operator, Emmanuel began employment with a water utility as a general worker in construction. During this time he took correspondence courses with the state of California to obtain the certification that would allow him to advance into operations. He discusses his mentor Tom, an experienced foreman who trusted him to tackle projects that trained him in the skills he uses everyday. Emmanuel’s advice to operators is to keep pushing for higher levels of certification.