Water Works: Careers in Water Technologies

If you care about water, the environment and your community, consider looking at careers in water technologies. Water technology is a skilled STEM trade that offers the opportunity for you to clean, deliver, and renew the world’s most essential resource.

A variety of careers requiring different types of training are available within the water and wastewater field. Water jobs include: hydrologist, water resource specialist, water resources engineer, water/wastewater treatment operator, water distribution operator, water chemist, laboratory technician, industrial pretreatment coordinator, plant foreman, public works director, and water services technician.

Water technology can be a long term career starting right out of high school or college, or one that can be entered into later for people changing careers. According to WorkForWater.org, “From high school graduates, to PhDs, to veterans, no matter your background, there is opportunity for everyone to join the water workforce.”

Water Systems

Water is pumped from the ground, rivers, canals, lakes or reservoirs; and then it is treated and distributed to customers. Public drinking water systems use various methods of water treatment to provide safe drinking water for their communities. Today, the most common steps in water treatment used by community water systems (mainly surface water treatment) include:

  • Coagulation and Flocculation

Coagulation and flocculation are often the first steps in water treatment. Chemicals with a positive charge are added to the water. The positive charge of these chemicals neutralizes the negative charge of dirt and other dissolved particles in the water. When this occurs, the particles bind with the chemicals and form larger particles, called floc.

  • Sedimentation

During sedimentation, floc settles to the bottom of the water supply, due to its weight. This settling process is called sedimentation.

  • Filtration

Once the floc has settled to the bottom of the water supply, the clear water on top will pass through filters of varying compositions (sand, gravel, charcoal) and pore sizes, in order to remove dissolved particles such as dust, parasites, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals.

  • Disinfection

After the water has been filtered, a disinfectant (chlorine) may be added in order to kill any remaining parasites, bacteria, and viruses, and to protect the water from germs when it is piped to homes and businesses.

Wastewater vs. Water Treatment

Water treatment and wastewater treatment are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are both vitally important to ensuring a clean water supply. Wastewater is any water that has been used by some human domestic or industrial activity. Wastewater management is the field of handling wastewater to make it suitable to either be recycled into a water system or to be disposed of in an environmentally-conscious manner.

Certified Water Operator

One of the typical careers in water technologies is that of a certified water operator. Water operators are also known as drinking water treatment operators, water treatment plant operators, wastewater operators, or water distribution system operators. Water operators work for municipal water treatment plants as well as private water systems. One operator may be enough for maintaining a small facility, while multiple operators with specialized duties may be needed in larger facilities.

All water facilities require an operator in direct charge who is certified for the class of the facility at or above the grade of the facility. In most states, you can become a Grade 1 water operator if you have a high school diploma or GED and pass the certification exam. Trainees will complete on-the-job training under the direction of an experienced operator, observing and doing routine tasks.

Water operator responsibilities are centered on delivering a safe, sufficient supply of water. A water or wastewater operator typically works both indoors and outdoors, operating the equipment and monitoring the processes to make sure the water is treated properly and safety standards are met. Such duties include collecting samples, adding chemicals, and monitoring equipment such as pumps, valves, meters and gauges. Some systems have computerized control panels.

Study.com says that water operators should “be comfortable working with data and using it to make decisions” (Study, 2021). Knowledge of chemistry and math is helpful. The job of a water operator involves cooperation with outside laboratories and regulatory agencies. The work can involve climbing up ladders and working outdoors in all types of weather. It may also require being on call and coming in at odd hours if a problem or emergency should arise.

There will always be careers in water, and “jobs within the water industry remain relatively less affected by changes in the economy than other industries” (AWWA, n.d.). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment of water operators to decline 4 percent by 2029. “As water and wastewater treatment plants become more advanced due to automation, fewer workers may be needed” (BLS, 2021). However, new jobs will open up as experienced water operators retire from long-held positions.


There are a variety of careers in the field of water technologies. Each of these jobs is necessary and important to provide for the availability, safety, and quality of the water supply for drinking, irrigation, and other purposes. Water workers are STEM professionals and essential members of the community delivering clean water to businesses, industries, and families.


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