Wastewater Treatment Operator Licences Part 1 – WTF are they and why would I want one?

In order to operate a wastewater treatment plant in the province of Ontario, one must possess the appropriate licence as granted by the Ontario Water Wastewater Certification Office. Yes, that means if you want to press that button Karen, you better be properly certified!

Because it’s the government and nothing is ever simple, I’m going to break down the licencing process into several posts. In this post I will talk about WTF a wastewater licence is and why you might want to get one.

Types of Licences

There are a few categories (“subsystems”) of licences granted by the OWWCO:

  • Water Treatment
  • Water Distribution and Supply
  • Water Distribution
  • Wastewater Treatment
  • Wastewater Collection
  • Limited Surface Water
  • Limited Groundwater

This series will explore the Wastewater Treatment subsystem only, as this is the only subsystem I have personal experience with.

Within the subsystems, there are also a variety of Classes. Sitting comfy? This is where it gets complicated: when Class is referenced with respect to an individuals licence, this is a classification of that individuals experience level as well as what level of exam they passed. An individual can have a Wastewater Treatment licence with the following Classes:

  • Operator in Training (OIT)
  • Class I
  • Class II
  • Class IV
  • Class IV

The licencing scheme is progressive. One can obtain an OIT licence with no experience simply by passing the OIT exam, and then applying for the OIT licence. Class IV is the highest level of certification and generally means the person in possession of the licence has at least four full years of operating experience and has passed the Class IV exam. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but let’s work off this basic understanding for now.

Facilities are also given Classes, based on a points system outlined in O. Reg. 129/04 , the Licencing of Sewage Works Operators. This points system takes into consideration the number of people served, the volume of flow, peaking factors, what kind of lab work the operators do, discharge type, treatment types and solids handling.

What does this have to do with operator licencing? Well, at least one person at each facility needs to have an operating licence of the same class or higher as the class of the facility (O. Reg. 129/04, s. 15 (1)). This is the Overall Responsible Operator (ORO). I’ll get into that concept as well as the Operator in Charge (OIC) in a separate post.

Why would I want to get a Wastewater Operating Licence?

If you are interested in working in the field in the wastewater industry, I would argue that obtaining and maintaining a wastewater operators licence is a good idea, but your mileage may vary.

My employer generally encourages Engineers to get their Class IV licence. There is an exception for Professional Engineers which lets them bypass the experience requirements and challenge the Class IV licence right away (O. Reg. 129/04, Sched. 2). In exchange, we must score 85% on the exam to pass and obviously all of our work is backed by our adherence to the requirements of both the Wastewater Operating Licence as well as our Professional Engineering licence. We really can’t afford to be negligent!

Even with the Class IV licence I can’t just walk into a plant and start pressing buttons and changing settings. As with any other person in the facility, I must act under the direction of the OIC and ultimately the ORO. What it does give me is the ability to operate equipment under their direction. This is very handy for trouble shooting. It makes life a lot easier if you don’t need to call down an operator to physically open a valve or reset a pump!

I find it also earns me some level of respectability with the operations and maintenance staff. Yes, I took the “easy” route and went right for the Class IV, but passing with an 85% is hard. It actually took me two tries, which is not uncommon. It shows them that I value the work they do and that I take it seriously. Having this licence, as well as behaving in an open minded and respectful manner when on site goes a long way to a successful relationship with the staff.

What kind of licence should I get?

If you want to work as an operator in a facility with a certain Facility Classification, it’s a good idea to plan to work up to that level of classification for your individual licence.

Why not aim for a Class IV licence, even if you only work in a Class II facility? Well, unless you are a Professional Engineer, you can’t progress to the higher level licences without four years of experience experience operating a Class IV facility, including two years as the OIC of a Class III or Class IV facility.

If you are already working in the field, chances are there is someone you work with who can give you the run down on what type of licences are valued by your particular section of the industry as well as what your individual employer encourages. There may be monetary support or training available to help you obtain a licence and progress through the levels.

If you are just entering the field and it’s not too much of a burden to pay for the testing and licencing fees I think it’s an asset to have your OIT. It’s valid for 5 years and it shows you are serious and at at least minimally qualified to work in a plant. It’s not a golden ticket or anything particularly rare, but it doesn’t hurt.

Even if you don’t intend to become an operator, I wouldn’t discount that option as a great starting point for your career and the opportunity to gain irreplaceable experience and perspective on the operations and maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities. It’s also a rewarding and generally pretty secure career path in it’s own right.

It goes without saying that this blog post is not professional advice and you should consult the OWWCO with your questions about the licensing process. This information is provided to the best of my ability, but things change and I’m only human!

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