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Critical Operator Training Addressed

Fall 2012 Issue

Professional, resourceful, committed and hardworking - these are just some of the characteristics that describe wastewater treatment plant operators. Operators need these traits to meet the growing and changing requirements and demands of wastewater treatment. Operators must have a wealth of knowledge to successfully run a municipality's largest infrastructure investment. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is grateful to partners, such as the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA), for the support they provide to the wastewater industry.

This is the first anniversary of NYWEA's effort to administer elements of the operator certification program with NYSDEC. In tight fiscal times, NYWEA and NYSDEC made a formal agreement for NYWEA to administer the operator certification applications and certification renewals. The NYWEA receives and processes the applications, while NYSDEC oversees the review and approval of the content of training courses and trainer qualifications. The NYSDEC is also responsible for providing regulatory oversight with the assistance of a governance council created with the agreement. The NYSDEC and NYWEA co-chair the governance council and operators from across New York, representing plants large and small, serve on this council. Among other things, the council is working on improving the passing rate for the certification exams given by the Association of Boards of Certification.

Over the past several years, NYWEA has also taken on a larger role in operator training and improved the frequency and relevance of the training courses. In 2009, NYWEA and NYSDEC conducted a wastewater training needs survey. Since then, NYWEA has assisted in meeting the training demands identified in the survey, developing a more comprehensive training program that brings low-cost instruction to operators across the state. Its efforts have led to more courses that focus on new and emerging technologies and the most current regulatory requirements. These programs help operators meet professional standards and certificate renewal requirements.

Preparing for Operator Succession

The NYSDEC appreciates NYWEA's efforts to address the aging of the operator workforce. For example, the association prepared a white paper on the need for municipalities to develop and implement a well thought out succession plan. (It will soon be available online at Succession planning is of critical importance to keep plants operating correctly as key personnel retire. It can take several years for an operator to gain the experience, training and certification necessary to become an assistant or chief operator.

I want to commend NYWEA for stepping forward to assist New York with the operator certification program. Through NYWEA's efforts, New York is able to develop some of the most highly skilled operators in the nation. The certified operator is able to operate a community's largest investment and serve as a frontline defender of our state's water quality. These professionals operate highly technical facilities that must meet many ongoing challenges - whether it's nutrient limits, aging infrastructure or reduced staff.

We owe operators statewide a sincere "thank you!"

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