Arcata Marsh operators
 Waste Water Plant Operators Overview
Waste Water Treatment Plant Operators work with equipment to remove harmful, industrial, and domestic pollution from wastewater before releasing it into a larger body of water. Scientists, Engineers, and technicians work together with treatment operators to meet federal and state water quality standards. Most operators are employed by cities, towns, or water districts, but a smaller percentage work in national parks or private campgrounds.
 Job Duties of Plant Operators
Job duties vary widely depending on the size, type and needs of different communities and water treatment facilities. In smaller plants, few operators are required to run the equipment, while in large facilities with greater needs there may be more equipment with the potential for more complex operations.
Workload The skilled work performed by plant operators includes operation, control and maintenance of electric motors, valves, pumps, chemical feeding devices and mixers. Water treatment operators also work in the field by traveling out into the town or city they work in and take gauge readings and indicator diagnostics as well as providing maintenance on city lines that move the water.
Equipment Operators, while on the job, use appropriate technology including computer operation and testing and protective equipment to prevent injury or chemical exposure like gloves and protective head/eye wear. Electrical equipment is used to monitor flow rates, water levels, and pressure gradients. There is often sampling and biological testing, especially during the change of seasons as the flow rates vary with rainfall.
Chemicals Used The chemicals used in water treatment plants can include chlorine, ammonia, lime and hydrogen sulfide which all serve different purposes and are added according to intended use of the water and specific stage of clarification.
 Salaries and Benefits of Plant Operators
According to collegeboard.com the average salary for a wastewater treatment plant operator in 2006 was $37,000. Operators work rotational shifts that include weekends, but remain on call during all hours for emergency purposes such as a malfunction or needed repair. Operator benefits can include paid vacation, holidays, and sick leave; health, dental, and vision insurance as well as retirement plans. More information about employment outlooks in other areas is located on the California Projections of Employment Labor Market Information Division web page.
 How to Become a Plant Operator
There are many opportunities to become a plant operator. The State Water Resource Control Board describes in detail the requirements to become a plant operator depending on the location and plant desired. One can obtain a degree in categories related to becoming a plant operator such as becoming an engineer, technician, or biologist at a number of schools in California.
Certification Requirements The Department of Health Services requires that a certain number of hours of apprentice experience combined with a certain number of scholarly units be completed before an exam can be conducted. Also, all water and wastewater treatment plant operators must be certified by one of the two state operator certification program agencies.
Certification Exam Operators are tested with written exams which examine one's knowledge of the field, equipment, and safety as well as classify an operator based on skill level and ultimately job applicability. Exams are performed in licensed testing centers every six months. The grade scale varies from one, which is the entry level rating, to five, which shows that the operator has achieved ratings in grades one through four and tested to become an experienced grade. Facilities are also assigned a grade depending on the level of treatment, complexity of equipment used, or risk involved in chemical usage. The facilities grade is important because it stands as a requirement for the employees. If a treatment plant, like Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Plant, holds a grade five then the operators employed at the plant must also hold at least a grade five license. There are a number of schools in California, as well as outside of California that prepare one for the licensing requirements and exam. For more information and specific schools, please follow this link: Schools and Other Resources.
 Arcata Wastewater Plant Operators
The Arcata facility deals with both wastewater and drinking water. This means that operators must be specialized in both fields. Operators must obtain certifications called grades in wastewater treatment or drinking water treatment. The grading system requires experience and eventually a test for all grades 1 through 5. Plants are also given grades based on the level of treatment and intensity of chemical use.
Operators at Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant Arcata’s plant is a grade two facility, so operators must hold at least a grade one in wastewater treatment and water treatment and at least a grade two in either wastewater or drinking water treatment. As of 2002, Arcata Plant Operators must now also hold at least a grade one in distribution as well as their other certifications.
Shifts and Schedules There are five operators at the plant, not including a maintenance staff that is capable of assistance for field work and repairs. The operators work in rotational shifts that change every four months filling one of four positions. The work day is from 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM, 7 days a week. Operators rotate on call duties as well as their shift duties, but on a different rotation. On call means that they are to come into work as normal, but after hours operators can be called to respond to an alarm that is triggered at the plant because of high chemical levels, equipment malfunction, or leaks. The alarm system automatically sends a message to the Arcata Police Station for any of these reasons.
Arcata’s Plant Position Rotation
- The first position is the field technician who is responsible for conducting field tests and logging information at two different locations in Arcata. For the drinking water in the facility, they must treat on site for waterborne pathogens using fluoride and chlorine treatment, depending on the measured pH and turbidity levels. Different sites require different techniques of chemical addition as not all of the sites are equipped with analog computers to distribute chemicals at a constant rate. They are also responsible for monitoring sewage pump rates to be compiled with the other logged data that will be sent to the city.
- The second position is the lab technician who conducts tests at the wastewater facility. Settle-able solids, alkalinity, and turbidity are tested daily using a variety of lab equipment. The Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) for all influents and effluents are tested weekly at the subcontracted North Coast Labs facility as they are a certified lab and allow the tests to meet California Water regulations.
- The third position is the treatment plant operator responsible for flow meter readings, chlorine dosage and usage, and water levels in the ponds and marshes. The flow meters and chlorine concentrations must be used to calculate a 24 hour water flows and 24 hour chlorine dosage. Treatment plant operator conducts titrations by hand and performs grounds maintenance.
- The fourth and final position are the floaters which includes two of the five staff, rather than one, and are responsible for stepping into any of the other three position when sick leave or vacation leave is taken by a co-worker. They are also given special projects that are not otherwise part of their daily routines. The floaters serve as tour guides for visitors.
California Occupational Guide – Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators. California Occupational Guide Number 443, Interest Area 5-C, 1995
Water Resources Control Board Operator Certification P.O. Box 944212 Sacramento, CA 94244-2120 (916) 657-2390
Department of Health Services Operator Certification Program P.O. Box 94234-7320 Sacramento, CA 94234-7320 (916) 322-2308 California Water Pollution Control Association 3050 Citrus Circle, Suite 225 Walnut Creek, CA 94598-9935
Thea Sevelson, Arcata Wastewater Plant Operator. 31, March 2008.
Columbia Encyclopedia. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/.
Sci-Tech Encyclopedia. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dictionary. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Arcata City Hall