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Water: Drinking Water Operator Certification

Basic Information

Why is operator certification important?
Drinking water operator certification is critical for the protection of public health and the maintenance of safe, optimal, and reliable operations of water treatment and distribution facilities.

What is EPA’s role in operator certification?
The 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) directed EPA to:

  • Initiate a partnership with states, water systems, and the public to develop information on recommended operator certification requirements;
  • Issue guidelines specifying minimum standards for certification and recertification of operators of community water systems (CWSs) and nontransient, noncommunity public water systems (NTNCWSs);
  • Reimburse, through grants to the states, training and certification costs for operators of CWS and NTNCWS systems serving 3,300 persons or fewer.


Who was involved in helping EPA issue federal operator certification guidelines?
EPA convened two workgroups to address issues related to operator certification and to formulate specific program guidelines.

  • A State-EPA Work Group was composed of seven state and ten EPA representatives.
  • A National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) Operator Certification Working Group, also known as the Partnership, was composed of 23 members representing public water systems, environmental and public interest advocacy groups, state drinking water programs, EPA, and other interest groups. The roster of NDWAC Operator Certification Working Group members and summaries of the Working Group meetings are also available.

The two groups worked together to develop nine baseline standards, published by EPA in February 1999 in Final Guidelines for the Certification and Recertification of Operators of Community and Nontransient Noncommunity Public Water Systems.Exit EPA Disclaimer

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Is there funding available to help small system operators receive training and certification?
To promote operator certification, EPA has implemented the Expense Reimbursement Grant (ERG) program. The ERG program provides grants to states so that operators of systems serving 3,300 or fewer persons can be reimbursed the costs of training and certification, including per diem for unsalaried operators. EPA’s goal for the ERG program is the protection of public health through properly trained and certified small system operators. Details regarding the distribution of ERG grant monies are outlined in Final Additions to the Final Guidelines for the Certification and Recertification of the Operators of Community and Nontransient Noncommunity Public Water Systems; Final Allocation Methodology for Funding to States for the Operator Certification Expense Reimbursement Grants Program.Exit EPA Disclaimer

Are there ramifications if states don’t implement the federal operator certification guidelines?
Under the final guidelines, EPA must withhold 20 percent of a state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) capitalization grant unless the state has adopted and is implementing an operator certification program that meets the requirements of the final guidelines, or submits an existing program that is substantially equivalent to the guidelines. For more information, see:

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