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All About Drinking Water: Public Water System Operators

Clean drinking water is a critical resource that Nebraskans depend on every day, and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) is committed to preserving and protecting clean drinking water throughout the state. One of the ways the department achieves that is through the certification and training of public water system operators under the regulations of Title 179 – Public Water Systems.

NDEE’s Operator Certification Program is responsible for ensuring that all of the more than 1,300 public water systems in Nebraska, which serve approximately 80 percent of the state’s population, have a properly licensed operator in charge of the system. There are currently 4,299 licensed water operators working in drinking water facilities across the state. To obtain these licenses, prospective operators are required to undergo NDEE-developed licensure training programs and pass an examination.

In addition to passing an exam, prospective operators are required by NDEE to meet education and experience thresholds that vary based on the size and complexity of the public water system they intend to serve. Certification for the state’s largest systems, for example, can require a bachelor’s degree with special courses in sanitary sciences plus three years of experience. Up to eight years of experience can be required for the state’s largest systems if the applicant does not possess a degree.

Beyond initial certification, NDEE also reviews and approves continuing education requirements for license renewal. Water operator licenses expire on December 31 of each odd-numbered year and require a minimum of 10 hours of continuing education to be renewed.

The Operator Certification Program collaborates with the Nebraska Water Operator Training Coalition to ensure that operators have access to training opportunities provided by coalition members.

Once properly trained and certified, water operators are vital to the production of clean drinking water. These operators ensure that the drinking water produced in their facility meets all federal and state drinking water standards. Treatment techniques can vary from facility to facility depending on the makeup of the water entering the plant, and operators must identify the best available technology to ensure those standards are met.

Public water system operators must also submit regular sampling to NDEE. The department then reviews the analysis of these samples to ensure there are no violations of maximum contaminant levels.

NDEE also performs regular, in-person inspections of public water systems, which verify that operators are maintaining compliance of their system with Title 179.