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Building the Capacity of Drinking Water Systems

About Operator Certification

Operator certification is an important step in promoting Safe Drinking Water Act compliance. It establishes minimum professional standards for the operation and maintenance of public water systems.

Operator Certification Program Management

Implementation of the Operator Certification guidelines happens through state operator certification programs. Although specific requirements vary from state to state, the program’s goal is the treatment and distribution of safe drinking water. The documents and memos below contain information for state program management.

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History of the Operator Certification Program

The 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) directed EPA to develop information on recommended operator certification requirements. As a result, EPA created partnerships with states, water systems, and the public. The state-EPA work group had to provide guidelines on minimum standards for certification and recertification of operators for:

The Amendments also directed EPA to reimburse training and certification costs for operators of CWS and NTNCWS systems serving 3,300 persons or fewer.

EPA created two workgroups to address issues related to operator certification and to develop specific program guidelines.

  • A State-EPA Work Group was composed of seven state and ten EPA representatives.
  • National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) Operator Certification Working Group. Known as the Partnership, composed of approximately 20 members representing:
    • Public water systems;
    • Environmental and public interest advocacy groups;
    • State drinking water programs;
    • EPA; and
    • Other interest groups.

The two groups worked together to develop nine baseline standards, creating guidelines.  The guidelines were published by EPA in February 1999.

Final Guidelines for the Certification and Recertification of Operators of Community and Nontransient Noncommunity Public Water Systems (PDF)

Under the final guidelines, EPA must withhold 20 percent of a state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) capitalization grant if the state does not have an operator certification program. The program must meet the requirements of the final guidelines, or submit an existing program substantially equivalent to the guidelines.

Final additions to the guidelines were published in April 2001 and include:

  • a process and schedule for reviewing state operator certification programs and making DWSRF withholding determinations;
  • a clarification regarding the validation of certification exams; and
  • final allocation methodology for grants to states to support the Operator Certification Expense Reimbursement Grants (ERG) program. (NOTE:The ERG program ended on December 31, 2012).

Final Addition to Final Guidelines (PDF)

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