After four years of work, the Advanced Water Treatment Operator™ (AWTO™) certification program is now complete and launched by the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association (CA-NV AWWA) and the California Water Environment Association (CWEA). The exam for the highest-grade level, known as AWT5™, launched on July 15th, completing the planned roll-out of exams on-budget and on a fast-tracked schedule.
AWTO certification allows water and wastewater operators to demonstrate their advanced knowledge and qualify for new career opportunities at high-tech water reuse facilities. As California and Nevada expand water reuse, AWT operators are expected to be in high demand.
Prompted by calls in 2014 from water utilities, water professionals and the California State Water Board, planning for the certification program accelerated after CA-NV AWWA and CWEA signed a memorandum of agreement in 2018 to work together. According to a survey by the California Urban Water Association (CUWA), 88% of water professionals supported the development of a new operator certification program.
The California State Water Board’s expert panel on direct potable reuse (DPR) also called for a new operator certification program in their 2016 report. “The certification program should emphasize topics related to the operation of advanced water treatment technologies, such as public health, emergency response, and drinking water regulations.” With the program in place, one more item is crossed off the State Water Board’s list of pre-requisites for drafting DPR regulations.
CA-NV AWWA and CWEA assembled a diverse set of stakeholders and experts to add their perspectives on the development of the certification. They were supported by CWEA and CA-NV AWWA staff and experts in exam development. Observers from the California State Water Board participated throughout.
“The CA-NV Section of AWWA is proud to co-own and collaboratively develop the AWT Operator certification program with CWEA,” said Sue Mosburg, Executive Director for the section. “Uniting the world of water, AWTO is the only treatment operator certification jointly offered by AWWA and CWEA. Through this program skilled operators can advance in their water sector careers by benchmarking their knowledge and competency against standardized criteria.”
“We know how important it is to build public trust in water reuse and the operators who protect clean drinking water. Certification allows those amazing operators to demonstrate to the public and employers their deep knowledge of advanced technologies,” said Jenn Jones, CAE, the Executive Director and CEO for CWEA.
Over 100 volunteers from CA-NV AWWA and CWEA were involved in planning, subject matter expert workshops, exam development, marketing and administering the new program.
To date over 60 water and wastewater operators have taken and passed an AWTO exam.
The voluntary certification program is an add-on for operators currently certified as a water treatment operator or wastewater treatment operator at the grade 3 or higher.
The first step to becoming certified is to visit AWTOperator.org and download the candidate handbook. Next, complete the application for the AWTO grade 3 exam (AWT3™) and submit it to the CA-NV AWWA certification office. The application is checked by a staff to ensure the candidate meets the minimum qualifications.
Exams are conveniently provided at computer-based testing centers available almost everywhere in the nation. Once a candidate’s application is approved, the testing center will help them schedule an exam appointment. Candidates must take the exams in order (AWT3 > 4 > 5) and must successfully pass each exam to move up. Candidates may not skip grades and there is a 90 day waiting period between taking each exam.
There are currently 11 advanced water treatment facilities permitted and operating in California with seven in the State’s permitting process. For example, the City of Los Angeles, City of San Diego, Metropolitan Water District, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, Valley Water in the Santa Clara valley, and Las Virgenes Municipal Water District are all building or expanding advanced water treatment facilities.
AWTO Certification Supporters
The AWTO certification program was steered forward by a diverse leadership team made up of volunteers from CWEA and CA-NV AWWA, as well as representatives from the California State Water Board and other stakeholders. Funding for the program was provided by:
- City of San Diego
- Eastern Municipal Water District
- Inland Empire Utilities Agency
- Irvine Ranch Water District
- Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment
- Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
- Orange County Water District
- San Diego County Water Authority
- San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
- Valley Water
- Ventura Water
- WaterReuse California
- West Basin Municipal Water District
The Future of Water is Now
“Build the future now, become an Advanced Water Treatment Operator and lead the way into sustainability!” said Ms. Mosburg from CA-NV AWWA.
“AWTO certification is an important milestone in California’s water history,” said Ms. Jones. “By expanding water reuse and implementing DPR we are securing a safe and reliable supply of water for today and for future generations. We need this new supply and a new way of thinking about water before the next drought hits.”
The AWTO certification is a reliable way for operators to demonstrate their knowledge and skills when it comes to advanced water treatment technologies used at water and wastewater treatment facilities.
When California’s State Water Board regulators write permits for Advanced Water Treatment Facilities (AWTF), they frequently point to AWTO certification as one way a utility can demonstrate they are meeting the technical capacity requirements of California Title 22 §60320.100 under the General Requirements.
In addition, the demand for highly skilled and certified advanced water treatment operators will continue growing as dozens of advanced treatment facilities come online. Water and wastewater operators can get ready for these new career opportunities by getting AWTO certified today.
About the Associations
The California – Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association (CA-NV AWWA) is a non-profit association, whose mission is to lead, educate and serve the water community. AWWA is the largest worldwide nonprofit, scientific, and educational association dedicated to providing solutions to manage the world’s most important resource: water. Since 1920, CA-NV AWWA members and volunteers have positively impacted the industry with their commitment and dedication. CA-NV AWWA unites and educates the larger community of water systems, consultants, manufacturers, commercial businesses, academia, regulators, etc. who provide safe and reliable water in a manner that ensures public health while also providing safe and sufficient water for all.
CA-NV AWWA is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
CWEA is an association of 10,000+ members that educates and certifies wastewater professionals, disseminates technical information, and promotes sound environmental policies. CWEA is the trusted organization that advocates for and empowers wastewater professionals so they can protect and harness the potential of California’s most critical resource, because all water is essential. CWEA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and proud member association of the Water Environment Federation.
 “Potable Reuse Operator Training and Certification Framework,” CUWA, 2016
 “Evaluation of the Feasibility of Developing Uniform Water Recycling Criteria for Direct Potable Reuse” California State Water Board, 2016