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1.1: Introduction To The Operator Certification

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    This textbook is designed to provide the reader with a general understanding of many of the drinking water distribution systems topics. It will also help prepare you for the California Certification Examinations. This chapter will introduce distribution systems and provide information related to becoming a certified operator and the associated regulations.

    Student Learning Outcomes

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    • Explain the general concept of water distribution
    • Identify the topics of the other chapters within this textbook
    • State three main goals of a water professional
    • List the various certification levels of both distribution and treatment operators
    • Discuss the criteria associated with becoming and working as a certified operator
    • Explain the content associated with taking a certification examination

    Introduction to Water Distribution

    A water distribution system is nothing more than a network of components designed to deliver water from a source to a user. It can be thought of as an array of piping networks and various pieces of equipment taking water from one location and delivering it to another.

    As a comparison, the human body has a number of different “distribution” systems. The circulatory system, for example, distributes blood throughout the body through a series of organs. You can also look at our roadways as a “distribution system”. You leave your house and follow a path to a destination. In between are turns, signals, signs, etc. Understanding this general description of water distribution systems by no means undermines the complexity of delivering safe and reliable drinking water to consumers. It is merely a broad perspective of the water distribution goal. Take water from one point and deliver it to another.

    Urban Water Cycle - EPA 2004
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image from the Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems by the EPA is in the public domain

    Many people put little thought into the water treatment and distribution processes. The same might be said with electricity. As long as water comes out of the faucet (tap) when you turn it on or lights turn on when you flip a switch, most people seem content and don’t give the delivery process much thought. However, when the water stops flowing, customers take notice of their water service. Even then, the question is “Why is my water off?” and “When will it be back on?” There still isn’t much thought put into the why? Or, very rarely are people interested in the process of water distribution when water service is uninterrupted. The complexities of getting water from its source to the “tap” often go unnoticed.

    Drinking water originates from various places, but the largest amount of water on the planet can be found in the oceans. Approximately seventy percent (70%) of the surface of the earth is covered by ocean. This corresponds to approximately ninety-six percent (96%) of all the water on earth. There is just one problem.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 7.43.35 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Photo by Marianne Heino on Unsplash; Photo by insightzaoya is licensed under CC0

    …this water is salty and not suitable for human consumption. There is only a small portion of freshwater (not having salt) that is accessible for sustaining human life. This topic will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 2.

    Once “fresh” water is accessible, for example diverting water from lakes and rivers or pumping groundwater to the surface, it needs to be transported to communities. A simple description of this process can be broken down into four simple terms, conveyance, treatment, distribution, and customer tap. This may seem like a relatively straightforward and easy process, but there are complexities to this system. These processes (except water treatment) will be discussed in detail in this text.

    This text is designed to cover these specific aspects of water distribution. They include:

    • Operator Certification
    • Sources of Supply
    • Water Characteristics
    • Water Quality and Regulatory Compliance
    • Distribution System Design
    • Water Main Pipes
    • Water Valves
    • Fire Hydrants
    • Water Meters and Services
    • Pumping
    • Water Wells
    • Water Storage
    • Cross Connection Control
    • Safety

    Water is essential to life. Therefore, water utility employees should always remember the following goals:

    1. Provide a safe and potable water supply to the customer
    2. Provide a reliable water supply to the customer
    3. Provide this water supply at a reasonable cost with excellent service to the customer

    If you haven’t noticed, the common thread in each of these objectives is the “customer”. It is important for water professionals to understand and realize they are providing a critical service to millions of people throughout the world. Having an understanding of these main objectives helps each employee put into perspective the responsibility associated with being a water utility professional. We are providing a vital service to society.

    Each chapter in this text will delve into various topics ranging from where our water originates and how it gets to our taps in a safe, reliable, and cost-effective manner. It will focus on the distribution of potable drinking water and the work required to deliver this vital resource.

    This chapter introduces a general background of how water is delivered and the regulatory framework of ensuring the workforce behind the distribution process is properly trained and certified. Chapter 2 focuses on the source of water, where our water comes from, and the physical, chemical, and biological properties of one of our most precious resources. Chapter 3 enters into the regulatory framework of making our water safe to drink. The discussion will involve how and why drinking water regulations are created and the importance of complying with these ever-changing regulations. Chapter 4 begins the concepts of water distribution network systems. Chapters 5 through 11 build on this concept and begin describing the underground and above ground distribution system components. The distribution system is comprised of pipes, pumps, storage facilities, valves, hydrants, meters, and a vast array of appurtenances (general term for other components), which are interconnected to bring water from the source to the tap.

    The transportation of water for human consumption has been around for over 3,500 years. The Minoan civilization used tubular conduits to convey water and the Romans used intricate stone aqueduct systems to bring water great distances. In the early 1400s, cast iron pipes were introduced and in the mid-1600s, water flowed through pipes in Boston bringing spring water to what is now known as the Quincy Market area. In the U.S in the 1700s many of the early piping systems were made of bored logs.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 7.48.36 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Image by kim traynor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; Image by caitriana is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Advances in technology brought about various advancements in flow technologies and an understanding of how to efficiently and economically treat and distribute drinking water. In 1914, the first drinking water standards were established in the U.S. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s when the United States Environmental Protection Agency was formed that drinking water quality standards really started to take form. Details regarding drinking water quality will be discussed in Chapter 4 of this text.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 7.54.11 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): EPA Seal is in the public domain

    Although modern water distribution systems in the U.S. are relatively young, the components both under and above ground need maintenance and over time, replacement. In 2014, one of the oldest water systems in the U.S. had a major failure. A 100-year-old pipe in Philadelphia burst, releasing millions of gallons of water.

    Mill Creek Sewer
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Photo of Mill Creek Sewer is in the public domain

    According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has over 6,730 miles of water main pipes in their distribution network and it is estimated it will cost $1.34 billion to replace what are considered “at-risk” mains by 2025.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 8.00.34 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Image by Los Angeles Fire Department is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0; Image by Los Angeles Fire Department is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    What does this mean? It means a few things. First of all, it means there will be plenty of work (jobs) for the foreseeable future in the water utility industry. Second, it means we can expect more frequent and large water main breaks, causing at times severe damage. Lastly, it means the water utility needs to increase the amount of money spent on large improvement and replacement projects, which directly correlates to higher water rates for the consumer. Water treatment and distribution are critical industries for the sustainability of modern civilization. Drinking water treatment and distribution are not the only areas within the world of water, which needs attention. Water is becoming scarcer; therefore conservation efforts will be a way of life, especially in California. We also need to focus our efforts on the wastewater industry. As you will see in Chapter 2, water follows the hydrologic cycle, which means water passes through a continuous cycle from one phase to another. Wastewater is a process within this cycle. Humans consume and use potable water and some of it becomes wastewater. This wastewater must also go through conveyance systems, treatment, and then is discharged back into the environment. The infrastructure associated with conveying and treating wastewater must also be maintained and replaced from time to time. Throughout this text “water companies” will be referred to in a number of different ways. Here are some of the more common terms used:

    • Water Utility
    • Water Agency
    • Water District
    • Water Company
    • Public Water Supplier
    • Urban Water Supplier
    • Water Retailer
    • Water Purveyor
    • Public Drinking Water System

    Do not get confused with all these different terms. In essence, they all mean the same thing. The reason there is a variety of ways to identify a company that delivers water has to do with how they are governed and how they are identified in various regulations. Just understand in this text if you read any of these terms (or possibly others), realize we are discussing the same thing.

    State Water Resources Control Board

    In California, regulations governing water distribution and treatment fall under the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) within the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The reason both agencies are identified separately is that the breadth of authority expands beyond drinking water for SWRCB. DDW regulates public water systems and is broken into three branches, the Southern California Field Operation Branch, the Northern California Field Operation Branch, and the Program Management Branch. Each branch has its own set of responsibilities and authority. In addition to drinking water, the SWRCB is also responsible for the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB) and functions as the regulatory authority for surface water quality and surface water rights.

    Field Operations Branches

    The Southern and Northern Field Operations Branches (FOB) within DDW are responsible for the enforcement of the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Acts (SDWA). They have oversight of approximately 7,500 public water systems. Their primary responsibility is assuring the delivery of safe drinking water to Californians. The following is a list of some of the main functions of FOB staff:

    • Issue operating permits
    • Review plans and specifications for new facilities
    • Review water quality monitoring results
    • Issue enforcement actions for non-compliance
    • Conduct field inspections
    • Promote water system security

    FOB staff also work on recycled water projects, conservation efforts, and source water assessments. Although each FOB is empowered with the regulatory and enforcement authority over public water systems they carry the same goal and typically work closely with water industry professionals on providing safe and reliable drinking water. They provide review and oversight of water-related infrastructure plans and they conduct field inspections giving guidance of how a proper distribution system should be operated.

    Program Management Branch

    The Program Management Branch (PMB) within DDW works separately from the FOBs. Typically PMB staff do not work as routinely with public water system staff as the FOBs. They are charged with collecting, compiling, evaluating, and reporting water quality data from laboratories that monitor drinking water for public water systems. The PMB also coordinates emergency response and associated training and provides advice on technical matters associated with drinking water contaminants. There are two additional sections under the PMB, the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program Section (ELAP) and the Technical Operations Section (TO). ELAP is responsible for evaluating and accrediting water quality testing laboratories to ensure the quality of the analytical data used for regulatory purposes to meet the requirements of the State’s drinking water. TO prepares the Annual Compliance Report for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), analyzes proposed drinking water-related legislation, provides information and reports on fluoridation by public water systems and oversees the Drinking Water Additives Program. The above descriptions and tasks associated with DDW are in no way an exhaustive list. However, it should provide the reader with a basic understanding of the overarching regulatory framework governing public water systems. In addition, to the jurisdictional authority of DDW and SWRCB, other applicable laws and standards within California legislation covering public water systems will not be discussed in this text.

    Operator Certification

    Another function of DDW is of operator certification. Although the USEPA SDWA was not promulgated until 1974, laws and regulations governing the certification of potable water treatment facility operation were enacted in 1971. These rules established the level the water treatment facilities should be manned, the minimum qualifications for testing at each of the five grade levels, and the criteria for the renewal and revocation of operator certificates. However, it wasn’t until 1996, as part of the SDWA Amendments, that regulations pertaining to operator certification were enacted. In 1998, the USEPA used these amendments to establish guidelines for the certification and re-certification of operators of public water systems. These guidelines established five (5) different certification levels for both water distribution and water treatment operators. This section of the text will focus on distribution operator certification. However, the drinking water treatment certification criteria are similar. In addition, there are certifications for wastewater as well. In drinking water, there are five (5) certification levels for both distribution and treatment (1 – 5). A level one (1) certification is the lowest and level five (5) the highest. The distribution certification levels are as follows:


    D1, D2, D3, D4, D5

    The operator certification regulations provide specific requirements that water utilities and their employees must follow. Title 22 regulations state “all suppliers of domestic water to the public are subject to regulations adopted by the USEPA under the SDWA as well as by the SWRCB DDW under the California Safe Drinking Water Act (CSDWA).” Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 13 identifies these requirements. Each water utility is designated a certain distribution and/or treatment classification. This classification is based on a variety of different parameters. For example, a distribution system has a classification based on things such as:

    • Number of service connections
    • Number of sources and types of supply
    • Number of storage facilities
    • Type(s) of disinfection processes and chemicals used

    There are other criteria, but these are the main benchmarks used to set the classification. Once the system has its classification, it determines the level of certification the operators must obtain. There are two types of operators; Chief and Shift. Article 1, Section 63750.25 of the above-referenced chapter in Title 22, defines a Chief Operator as “the person who has overall responsibility for the day-to-day, hands-on, operation of a water treatment facility or the person who has the overall responsibility for the day-to-day, hands-on, operation of a distribution system.” Section 63750.70 defines a Shift Operator as “a person in direct charge of the operation of a water treatment facility or distribution system for a specified period of the day.” There are specific requirements in order to become certified, which will be discussed later in this Chapter. Below is a table showing the minimum certification requirements for Chief and Shift Operators based on the classification of a distribution system.

    Distribution System Classification Minimum Certification of Chief Operator Minimum Certification of Shift Operator
    D1 D1 D1
    D2 D2 D1
    D3 D3 D2
    D4 D4 D3
    D5 D5 D4

    In addition to a Chief and Shift Operator, there are day-to-day operators who work for water utilities, but do not have any authority or decision-making responsibilities. These operators are still required to become certified, but they can hold any level based on their agency's requirements. For example, if a water utility is classified as a D5 distribution system, the employees can become D5 Distribution Operators, but may not necessarily be listed by the utility as the Chief Operator. There are specific requirements in the regulations stating what types of activities must be performed by a certified operator. A distribution water system must use only certified operators to make decisions addressing:

    • Installing, tapping, re-lining, disinfecting, testing, and connecting water mains and appurtenances
    • Shutdowns, repairs, disinfecting, and testing broken water mains
    • Flushing, cleaning, and pigging existing water mains
    • Stand-by emergency response duties for after-hours distribution system operational emergencies
    • Draining, cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining distribution reservoirs
    • Determining and controlling proper chemical dosage rates for wellhead distribution residual maintenance
    • Investigating water quality problems in the distribution system

    While reading the above activities, some of you may be wondering what some of these terms mean. Don’t worry; they will all be addressed later in this text.

    Examination Certification Eligibility Criteria

    Not just anyone can become a certified operator. There are eligibility criteria for taking operator certification examinations. These criteria include completion of approved courses related to distribution and/or treatment topics, experience working in the industry with a distribution system and/or treatment plant, and holding a high school diploma or GED. A general description of the criteria for each certification level is as follows:

    D1 Certification – You must have a high school diploma or GED. Although no experience is required, specific experience can be substituted for a high school diploma or GED. If you do not hold a high school diploma or GED equivalent, you must successfully complete the “Basic Small Water Systems Operations” course provided by DDW, or have one year or more experience as an operator of a facility that required an understanding of chemical feeds, hydraulic systems, and pumps.

    D2 Certification – You must meet the requirements of a D1 certification exam plus at least one course of specialized training covering the fundamentals of drinking water distribution or treatment.

    D3 Certification – You must meet the requirements of a D1 certification exam plus at least two courses of specialized training. At least one of the courses must cover the fundamentals of drinking water distribution or treatment.

    D4 Certification – You must have a valid D3 operator certificate plus at least three courses of specialized training. At least two of the courses must cover the fundamentals of drinking water distribution or treatment.

    D5 Certification – You must have a valid D4 operator certificate plus at least four courses of specialized training. At least two of the courses must cover the fundamentals of drinking water distribution or treatment.

    In some instances, advanced degrees such as an Associate or Bachelor’s degree can be used to fulfill operator experience. The degrees must be in specific disciplines and they only fulfill a certain amount of operator experience.

    Operator Certification Examination Content

    Anyone who wishes to take an operator certification examination must meet the criteria explained above and complete the required application. This sounds easy enough. The trick is you must pass an exam in order to become certified. DDW provides the expected range of knowledge for each certification examination level. These include the following and can also be found here:

    • Disinfection
    • Distribution System Design and Hydraulics
    • Equipment Operation, Maintenance, and Inspections
    • Drinking Water Regulations, Management, and Safety
    • Water Mains and Piping
    • Water Quality and Water Sources
    • Water Treatment Processes
    • Laboratory Procedures
    • Regulations and Administration Duties

    Each one of these categories includes an array of information and topics. Textbooks like this one and courses offered at colleges, water-related organizations, and private companies provide the information needed to pass certification examinations. The operator certification information provided in this Chapter should provide you a general understanding of the operator certification guidelines and regulations. However, there is much more detail available regarding this topic. The following uniform resource locator (URL) will take you to the SWRCB website regarding Operator Certification. There you will find specific information regarding the regulations, expected range of knowledge, examinations, schedules, applications, fees, renewals, frequently asked questions, and more. While each type of certification exam will focus primarily on the main discipline (distribution or treatment), there are overlapping topics.

    Drinking Water Distribution & Treatment System Operators

    The following link is a source of guidelines for Drinking Water Treatment & Distribution System Operators.

    Sample Questions

    1. In order to take the D1 exam, you must ___________.
      1. Have successfully completed one 3 unit course
      2. Have a high school diploma or equivalent
      3. Successfully completed two 3 unit courses
      4. Both 1 and 2
    2. SWRCB stands for ___________.
      1. Safe Water Regional Control Board
      2. State Water Regional Control Board
      3. State Water Resources Control Board
      4. Safe Water Resources Conservation Bureau
    3. A utility worker who is in direct charge of the operation of a water distribution facility for a specified period of a day is considered a ___________.
      1. Chief Operator
      2. Shift Operator
      3. Distribution Operator
      4. All of the above
    4. There are ___________ levels in water distribution certification.
      1. 2
      2. 3
      3. 4
      4. 5
    5. The transportation of water for human consumption dates back to ___________.
      1. 500 years
      2. 1,500 years
      3. 2,500 years
      4. 3,500 years
    6. A common element in the delivery of water to customers is the distribution framework.
      1. True
      2. False
    7. The Division of Distribution Water is the governing body for water utilities in California.
      1. True
      2. False
    8. Advanced degrees such as Associate and Bachelor’s can be sometimes used to fulfill experience requirements.
      1. True
      2. False
    9. Which one of the following regulations encompasses the California State Drinking Water Act?
      1. Title 11
      2. Title 22
      3. Title 33
      4. Title 44
    10. Which one of the following would not be considered a main goal of a water professional?
      1. Provide a safe and potable water supply to the customer
      2. Provide a reliable water supply to the customer
      3. Provide this water supply at a reasonable cost with excellent service to the customer
      4. Ensure your public retirement pension is fully funded

    This page titled 1.1: Introduction To The Operator Certification is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mike Alvord (ZTC Textbooks) .

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