Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators
Overview Routines Hours/Wages Qualifications Jobs References

Figure 2. Cat tails at the Arcata Marsh

Routines - What Does a Wastewater Treatment Operator Do?

The job description for an operator at a wastewater treatment plant involves working with and maintaining electric motors, valves, pumps, and equipment for controlling the amount of chemicals added to and mixed in with the water as well as the amount of water flowing through the system. The trade involves organizing and filing information of data by keeping logs concerning the flow of untreated water into the plant, treated water out of the plant, and the condition of the water as it flows through the entire treatment process. Other duties throughout the day include adding chemicals and adjusting the levels of chlorine, ammonia, and lime addition, as well as taking readings of meters and gauges that keep track of the volume of water processed.

At the Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant, there are five operators that rotate through four different positions for about a three month period. The different job titles are field work technician, lab work technician, treatment plant operator, and floater. By rotating jobs, no one operator has to do the same thing continuously. Everyone is given a chance to work in every area which gives them more diversity in their job and keeps it more interesting for the workers. Duties for each position are as follows:

Field work technician: The operator in this position deals mostly with drinking water. The job involves driving around to different parts of Arcata to check up on areas related to the plant that are not located on the plant site. There are wells that the water treatment center uses for distribution to the community that need to be monitored and adjusted accordingly. The operator analyzes the pH and the turbidity levels in the water as well as tests for chlorine and fluorine levels. Some sites are set up to allow testing and alterations to be done with a machine while other sites require the operator to do tests and measurements manually. The operator working in this position does some work with wastewater which involves routine check-ups of the different tank's motors and pumps to make sure everything is working properly both for pumping sewage to the plant and for the distribution of water back into the bay or the community.

Lab work technician: This job involves testing to make sure that the plant is meeting city and state regulations. The concentrations of suspended solids (particles large enough to settle out) and the pH of the wastewater are measured and recorded daily. Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) tests are done weekly. Since the lab at the Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant is not certified, the water is sent to the North Coast Laboratory for tests that can be reported to the state officially to make sure regulations are met.

Treatment plant operator: The operator working in this position is in charge of how the actual plant is run. This job requires a lot of monitoring and calculations. This operator is responsible for reading and recording the different information off of the meters around the plant and calculating total values of flow based on those readings. They use meters and hand titration methods to determine whether the chlorine levels are present in the right concentration in the disinfection process. They check the water levels on different enhancement marshes and treatment wetlands, and make adjustments to the weirs accordingly. This operator is also in charge of maintaining the pumps and motors around the plant and checking the digester levels.

Floater: This operator's main job is to fill in where they are needed. If there are tasks that come up that don't fit into the other positions, they go to the floater. An example of this is giving tours to the public or talking to students or researchers about the marsh, as can be seen in Figure 1. Sometimes repair jobs are given to the floater so that the operator who is in charge of the area with the damage does not have to deviate from their routine in order to fix the problem. If one of the other operators is sick or on vacation, it is the floater's job to cover that person's shift.