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Operator Certiciation Program

Operator Certification Program

Frequently Asked Questions


  • 1. What is the office of Operator Certification (OOC)?
    • The OOC administers the Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Certification Program to provide certificates for operators and registration for contract operators. The OOC conducts the exams required by the regulations, processing applications, printing and mailing the certificates, mailing out renewal notices and processing renewal applications. To contact OOC, see our contact information at: Here.

  • 2. What is the difference between drinking water and wastewater treatment plant operator certification?
    • Drinking water operator certification is separate from wastewater operator certification.
      Drinking water treatment plant operator certification is required to work as an operator in a treatment plant that produces water for human consumption in homes and businesses.  Wastewater treatment plant operator certification is required to work as an operator in a treatment plant that receives and treats wastewater from homes and businesses.  The Department of Health Services administers the water treatment plant operator certification program.  They take applications; give exams and issue certificates to applicants who meet their requirements.  The drinking water treatment plant operator certification program may be reached at:

      Department of Health Services
      Office of Drinking Water Certification Unit
      PO Box 942732
      Sacramento, CA  94234-7320
      (916) 449-5610

  • Examination

  • 3. What are the requirements to take an examination?
    • In order to take the operator certification examination, you must meet the educational requirement by the final filing date. Examinations are scheduled in cities throughout the state and each approved applicant is assigned to an examination site based on their mailing county code.

  • 4. When are applications due for the examination?
    • Our regulations list the exam application filing dates.  They are February 1 for exams given in April and August 1 for exams given in October.  Your complete application package, including fee, must be postmarked no later than the final filing deadline.  Our regulations allow for no exceptions.  You may submit your application as early as you like.

  • 5. What study materials are available for the examination?
    • The Office of Operator Certification does not endorse specific reference materials.  However, we do have a list of reference materials that may be helpful.
  • Certification

  • 6. Do I need a certificate to work at a plant?
    • The law requires you to have a certificate to work as an operator at a publicly owned wastewater or industrial treatment plant, or a privately owned wastewater or industrial plant if it is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  You do not need a wastewater treatment plant operator certificate to work as something other than an operator at any of these treatment plants, such as a laboratory technician or a maintenance worker.  You do not need a certificate to be an operator at a privately owned industrial or manufacturing wastewater treatment plant if that plant is not regulated by the PUC. http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PUBLISHED/GRAPHICS/107172.pdf

      NOTE:  While laboratory technicians do not need wastewater treatment plant certification, they must be certified by the California Water Environment Association (CWEA) in accordance with Health & Safety Code 100825 et seq.

  • 7. How can I get certified?
    • There are three major things that you must do to get certified:
      a. You must take courses in wastewater plant operations. The number and difficulty depend on the certificate grade you want. NOTE: Courses are NOT required for Grade I OIT certification.
      b. You must pass a written exam. Wastewater treatment plant operator certification exams are given twice each year, once in early April and once in early October. Exams for all five grades are given at the same time at several locations throughout the State of California. To take an exam, you must show that you meet the minimum educational requirements and submit a fee and application. NOTE: An Examination is NOT required for OIT certification.
      c. You must meet experience requirements and submit a fee and an application for a certificate.  Your experience must be in the operation of a wastewater treatment plant with a valid operator certificate or operator-in-training certificate.  You may submit your application for a certificate up to four years after you pass the written exam.  NOTE:  No experience is necessary for an OIT certificate.
  • 8. How many different levels of certification are there?
    • There are five levels of wastewater treatment plant certification: Grade I – Grade V.  Additionally, an individual may be certified as an operator-in-training (OIT) while gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to be a Grade I – Grade V certified operator.
  • 9. How long is a certificate valid?
    • Certificates are valid for up to two years and must be renewed.  NOTE:  OIT certificates are NOT renewable.  The Office of Operator Certification (OOC) will send you a renewal notice notification.  You must submit an application for renewal along with the applicable fee.  It must be postmarked before the expiration date.  You will receive a new certificate within 30 calendar days.  Renewal is very important; it is illegal to work as an operator with an expired certificate.  If you have a change of address, please complete the Name/Change of Address form and provide OOC with the updated information.

  • 10. How do I renew my certificate?
    • At least 60 calendar days prior to expiration of an operator certificate, the Office of Operator Certification will provide a renewal notification with the expiration date of the certificate holder at his or her address of record.  You must submit an application for renewal, along with the applicable fee.  Failure to receive a notice of renewal does not relieve the certificate holder from the responsibility of renewing a certificate before the expiration date.

  • Operator-in-training (OIT)

  • 11. What is an (OIT)?
    • An OIT is a person operating a wastewater treatment plant who is gaining the experience necessary to become a certified operator.  To receive an OIT certificate, a person must simply complete an OIT application and pay a fee.  After the application has been completed, the Office of Operator Certification will issue a certificate allowing that person to operate at a wastewater treatment plant under the direct supervision of a certified operator.  In order to qualify for a Grade I certificate, an OIT must complete at least one year (2080 hours) of qualifying experience, as well as meet other requirements.  NOTE:  It is against the law to operate a wastewater treatment plant prior to receiving an OIT certificate or a certificate of Grade I or higher .

  • 12. How much supervision does an (OIT) need?
    • The regulations require that an OIT work at least 2080 hours under the direct supervision of an operator with a certificate of equal or higher grade.  Direct supervision means that the oversight and inspection of the OIT’s work by the supervisor without an intervening person.  An OIT cannot work as the only operator at a plant, including during swing, late night or weekend shifts.  The OIT must have ready access to the supervising operator, so that if the OIT has any doubt about what to do he or she can ask.  The supervising operator need not be the shift supervisor.  The regulations only require a certified operator must be a Grade I or higher. It is recommended that a well-experienced operator be the mentor for an OIT.  It is illegal for an OIT to operate without the direct supervision of a certified operator.  Additionally, an OIT will NOT receive work experience credit for any time that he or she has operated without direct supervision.

  • Endorsements

  • 13. Is there a reciprocity between California and other states?
    • California has reciprocity with all states except Florida and Michigan. We do have limitations on reciprocity with other states:
      a. Only Grade I and II operator certificates may be granted through reciprocity.
      b. To qualify for reciprocity from another state, the other state's experience and education requirements must be comparable to California's. the other state must also grant reciprocal privileges to California certificate holders.
      c. You must have passed a written examination comparable to California's at the appropriate leven with the last four years.

      To get a Grade I or II certificate through reciprocity, you must complete an application and submit it along with the appropriate fee to the OOC.

  • 14. How can I get a job as a wastewater treatment plant operator?
    • City owners of the wastewater treatment plant to the hiring of operators. Usually this is a city, county or special district. You need to contact them to see if there are any jobs available. Other potential sources of job listings are local newspapers and the local sections of the California Water Environment Association (CWEA). Job opportunities are also posted on the CWEA website.

  • 15. Where can I take wastewater treatment plant operator courses?
    • Many State University campuses and Community Colleges offer training.  There are also non-profit and for-profit organizations that offer training.  Please be aware that the law only allows us to recognize training given by colleges and universities and by professional associations or other non-profit private or public agencies.

  • 16. How can I find a certified operator for my wastewater treatment plant?
    • The Office of Operator Certification (OOC) can only release the names, addresses and grades of certified operators that have authorized us to do so for recruitment purposes and only to municipalities.  The municipalities must fill out a form and email or fax the form to OOC.

  • Enforcement

  • 17. What laws and regulations apply to certified and contract operators?
  • 18. What are the penalties for not complying with the Operator Certification legal requirements?
    • Violation of the operator certification requirements are taken seriously.  Depending on the severity of the violation, enforcement can range from disciplinary actions (revoking an operator’s certificate, for example), to civil penalties (fines), to criminal prosecution.

  • 19. Who enforces the Operator Certification requirements?
    • The Office of Enforcement (OE) within the State Water Resources Control Board typically conducts operator certifications investigations.  Depending on the severity of the violation, OE may propose disciplinary action (revoking an operator’s certificate, for example) or may impose civil penalties (fines), or may refer the case to the local District Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.

  • 20. The Office of Enforcement (OE) has taken enforcement action against me. Can I appeal?
    • Yes., You typically have 30 days in which to appeal a proposed enforcement action.  (Read your letter for exact details.)  You can appeal to the Division of Financial Assistance (DFA) within the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), and then directly to the Board itself at a State Water Board hearing.  Finally, after the Board renders a decision, you may appeal this decision through the courts.

  • 21. How do I file a complaint?
    • There are several ways you can file a complaint of operator wrong-doing.  You can contact the State Water Board’s Office of Enforcement at (916) 341-5272.  OR, you can “File an Environmental Complaint.

  • 22. Can I remain confidential if I file a complaint?
    • The State Water Board will maintain confidentiality of your information to the extent allowed by California and federal law. In order to follow up on your complaint, we may need to share the information you give us with other regulators or government agencies. This may include sharing any personal information you include in your complaint.

      The information you provide may also be disclosed in the following circumstances:
      a. In response to a Public Records Act request, as allowed by the the California Public Records Act;
      b. To another government agency as required by state for federal law; or
      c. In response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena or a search warrant;
      d. In a final enforcement action, if we need your information to substantiate a violation.