Water/Waste Water Treatment Operator
Kaiwhakamahi Whakapai Wai (Paru)
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Water/waste water treatment operators operate water and waste water treatment plants and equipment. They control the process that treats rain, ground and river water so it reaches an acceptable standard for human and industrial use. They also control the treatment and disposal of sewage and industrial waste water.
Water/waste water treatment operators usually earn
$40K-$70K per year
Source: Annie Yeates, Water Industry Training
Pay for water/waste water treatment operators varies depending on their qualifications, employer, and the complexity of the plant they work at.
- Trainee water/waste water treatment operators usually start on between $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
- Skilled, qualified operators usually earn $40,000 to $70,000 or more.
Source: Annie Yeates, Water Industry Training.
What you will do
Water/waste water treatment operators may do some or all of the following:
- monitor the water treatment process and make adjustments
- collect, analyse and interpret water/waste water samples
- maintain, operate, repair and replace equipment as necessary
- maintain treatment plant grounds and buildings
- check treatment chemical supplies and order new supplies as required
- write reports and logs.
Skills and knowledge
Water/waste water treatment operators need to have:
- knowledge of water or waste water treatment processes
- an understanding of how water or waste water treatment equipment operates, including how pumps work
- knowledge of the basic chemistry of water, and of chemicals used to treat water
- knowledge of drinking water standards and regulations.
Water/waste water treatment operators:
- generally work regular business hours, but may work shifts, weekends and be on call
- work inside and outside at water/waste water treatment plants
- work in most weather conditions and in conditions that may be noisy and smelly
- may travel locally to other treatment plants to monitor and maintain them.
What's the job really like?
Watch the video below to find out more about being a water treatment operator - 6.01 min. (Video courtesy of Water Industry Training)
Clinton: We’ve taken Harriet to the beaches of the Coromandel, and to the holiday resort Matarangi. Matarangi’s small, modern water treatment plant is run by just one person – plant operator Steve Harwood.
Steve: Gidday, I’m Steve.
Harriet: Hi, I’m Harriet Draper.
Steve: Hi Harriet, have a taste of that and tell me what you can taste.
Harriet: Um, nothing! Just water.
Steve: Just water? Fantastic! Because that’s what we’re trying to make!
Steve: A lot of people, they turn the tap on and water comes out, they don’t really put any thought into how that water actually gets to that tap. There’s quite a complex process.
Clinton: The plant is fully automatic and everything can be managed from this control point. First job of every day is to head out and inspect the main water intake at the river nearby.
Steve: So this is the Opitonui River. This is where we get most of our extractions, and if you have a look just over the edge here, you’ll see the wedge-wire filter, and that’s the main intake point.
Clinton: Steve Harwood has been working for United Water for two years and is currently completing his National Certificate in Water Treatment.
Steve: I learned all the science, maths, all the chemistry, the biology – I learned all on the job, and I love it, I really do.
Harriet: So if this all automatic and it’s all here, why do you come down here to do it yourself if it’s all there?
Steve: The reason for it is the only way to see exactly what your raw water source is, is to come to your raw water source and take a sample. There you go…
Steve: That’s it. And just make sure you don’t put your fingers under that lid. Perfect. That’s what we do every day.
Steve: The only real issue we’ve got on this river is when you have big rains, the river turns to mud. If you see heavy rain coming on, you instantly dial up and shut your plant down before all that mud gets into the intake.
Clinton: Graeme Sawyer, from Water Industry Training, has come to Matarangi to assess Steve’s progress towards his National Certificate.
Graeme: A job as a water treatment operator is extremely responsible. Effectively, this is a food product that’s going out, in some cases here to 4,300 people. And the public health risk is huge if that isn’t done right.
Harriet: What are the right kind of people for the job?
Steve: Well, anybody really, if you’ve got a bit of enthusiasm and don’t mind working outdoors. I’ve even heard that they’ve even employed girls!
Steve: She was going to hit me then! Did you see that?!
Graeme: Traditionally, it has been a fairly male-based industry, but there’s absolutely no reason for that. So we’re actively encouraging young women to apply for jobs and get into the industry.
Steve: It’s asking if you want to calibrate it...seven...that’s correct, “E” again…
Clinton: Calibrating instruments is part of the routine.
Steve: And there you go, you’ve just done a calibration.
Clinton: So is this, adding a measure of polyelectrolyte, a chemical which helps clear the untreated water. The dosed water is then pumped to this tank, the clarifier.
Harriet: So why does it look so gross when it’s clean water and it looks so scungy?
Steve: So scungy?! Oh no, no, no. What you see at the bottom is that live flock blanket, what we’ve added the chemicals in to create, and what it’s doing is it’s making small particles of dirt join together to make large particles of dirt, and all you get coming out the top is crystal-clean water.
Steve: This is where you’re looking for things that might indicate you’re either over-dosing or under-dosing the chemicals inside that we were just doing. And at the moment that’s absolutely stunning. Stunning!
Clinton: The cleaned water is then dosed with chlorine to disinfect it, and the alkalinity is adjusted so any corrosive effect on pipes and taps is minimised.
Harriet: I think Steve explained it really well, I managed to follow all the chemistry stuff. It was really well done. I really liked that, it was good.
Clinton: Steve has to check that the water at the end of the pipe is as good as when it left the plant. Here at Matarangi the end of the line is the beach, with its public loo. Harriet’s going to test the FAC, or free available chlorine.
Steve: We take a sample. We add a certain tablet depending on why we’re actually trying to find out the value of, it changes colour and obviously it gives us a reading at the top here.
Clinton: Within seconds the reading is there.
Steve: To me, it’s a little bit lower than what I would have expected at this point of time, so what we’ll do now is we’ll go and flush the line properly.
Clinton: Flushing the line introduces fresh chlorine, and fixes the problem. So is Harriet home and hosed?
Steve: She’s showing enthusiasm, she certainly likes the outdoors, she’s very accurate in the details that she looks for. Yeah, I could see a future for her in the water treatment industry.
Harriet: You turn the tap on and it’s clean water and you don’t think about it, but there’s so much process involved, and chemicals. You can control what happens with the water. It’s quite cool.
Harriet & Steve: Cheers!
Clinton: There is a National Certificate in Water Treatment and skills are learned on the job. Anyone with a practical bent and strong initiative can be a water treatment operator. Good results in NCEA maths and science is often enough to secure a place. Water treatment is a very strongly compliance-based industry. The health of New Zealanders depends on it. Water Industry Training are the only industry-recognised training programme. To study you need to be employed in the industry. The water industry is short of skilled operators and employers like United Water welcome job applications. This represents a great chance for all sorts of people to train for a new career.
To become a water/waste water treatment operator you need to complete an traineeship or apprenticeship and gain a National Certificate in Water Treatment (Level 4) or a National Certificate in Waste/Water Treatment (Level 4).
Water/waste water treatment operator apprenticeships can be done through the primary industry training organisation. They can also be done as part of the New Zealand Apprenticeships scheme. This scheme is for people aged over 16 years old.
Additional requirements preferred by some employers
Besides the National Certificate in Water or Waste Water Treatment, some employers prefer you to have one of the following:
- a degree in science or engineering
- a trade qualification in fitting and turning or electrical.
- Primary ITO website - information about industry training
- Information on New Zealand Apprenticeships
NCEA Level 1 maths, science and biology are useful.
Water/waste water treatment operators need to be:
- responsible and safety-conscious
- reliable, punctual and motivated
- good at basic maths.
Useful experience for water/waste water treatment operators includes laboratory work, and work in a trade such as:
- maintenance diagnostics
Find out more about trainingCheck out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates that the number of water/waste water treatment operators fell slightly between March 2010 and March 2012, going from about 600 to about 575.
Though many water/waste water treatment plants are becoming more automated, demand for operators is expected to improve in the long term because:
- of a growing population that is using greater amounts of water
- of stricter requirements concerning water quality and discharge contaminant levels (to make sure water is not polluted)
- many water/waste water treatment operators are approaching retirement age
- not enough trainees are coming through to replace those leaving the role.
Opportunities best in rural areas
Although jobs can be hard to find in major cities, there is a shortage of water/waste water treatment operators in small towns and rural areas. This is because:
- many small-town water authorities have trouble attracting both qualified staff and trainees
- the dairy and meat processing industries are growing, creating more jobs at factories in these areas.
Types of employers
Water/waste water treatment operators work for:
- district health boards
- engineering consultants
- dairy and meat processing factories.
- Fox, A, '$10b for NZ in Top Fonterra Payout', The Dominion Post, 23 Feb 2011.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
- Simpson, M, water industry training adviser, Water Industry Training, Careers New Zealand interview, March 2011.
- Williams, D, 'Dairying Told: Produce More', The Waikato Times, 14 Sep 2010.
Progression and specialisations
Water/waste water treatment operators may progress to work as:
- site technicians
- maintenance co-ordinators
- health and safety representatives
- senior operators
Operators can also progress to do jobs in related parts of the industry, such as drinking water assessment and maintenance of reticulation networks (the pipes, manholes and pumps that distribute clean water and collect dirty water).
Water/waste water operators specialise as either:
- Water treatment operators
- Water treatment operators treat water to be used for household consumption.
- Waste water treatment operators
- Waste water treatment operators treat waste water.
Last updated 11 January 2018