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Drinking Water Operator Certification and Capacity Development

Drinking Water Capacity Development, Operator Certification, Permits, and Backflow Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program

It is important that all water facilities are planned, constructed, operated, and maintained appropriately such that they are a viable infrastructure. The Capacity Development, Operator Certification, and Permits Section safeguards public health by requiring new and current public water systems to demonstrate whether or not they have the technical, financial, and managerial capacity to sufficiently operate the plant.

Once a public water system meets these requirements, then the system can submit a construction permit, which is analyzed by IDEM Drinking Water Engineers and is either accepted, or rejected due to not meeting sufficient construction requirements. Once the facility is built and going to be in operation, IDEM requires the facility to be classified and operated by a certified operator in responsible charge with (an) appropriate license(s) at all times of water production as well as their own Backflow.

Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program

The Prevention and Cross Connection Control Program makes sure that there is proper planning and resources to operate the water treatment system, that the system will be constructed in a way that meets our requirements, and that the system is operated by qualified individuals with the proper certifications, and that new connections to system do not negatively impact the water quality.

Capacity Development Program

The Capacity Development Program is instrumental in assisting systems with technical, financial, and managerial capacity issues. This program utilizes fact sheets, education materials, onsite evaluations, and operator training in order to help keep operators and systems in staying up-to-date with regulatory changes and acknowledge the developing concerns in the water industry. The staff assist certified operators by tracking continuing education hours and by providing a list of training courses and materials upon operator’s request. This program supports operators’ needs to stay on target with their continuing education hours requirement as stated in 327 IAC 8-12 [PDF] as well as facilitating a list of operators looking for employment for systems. Each year, IDEM submits a Capacity Development Annual Report to the U.S. EPA addressing the continued efforts of the state to meet federal regulation. Every five years, IDEM sends a revised report to the Indiana Governor.

New System Requirements – Water System Management Plan

All new community and nontransient noncommunity public water systems in Indiana must submit a water system management plan (WSMP) to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM); which will demonstrate the technical, managerial, and financial capacity of the proposed water system. All new community and nontransient noncommunity public water systems must understand the requirements [PDF] of the Safe Drinking Water Act and have the capability to meet those requirements prior to any operation. The WSMP must be approved before the submission of any construction permit application by the proposed water system. If there are any discrepancies found in the WSMP, IDEM will notify the facility and request updates. This program can reject any proposal not meeting state requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions for WSMP’s
  1. Who needs to submit a Water System Management Plan (WSMP)?
    • Anyone who is planning to develop a community water system or a nontransient noncommunity water system must submit a plan.
  2. To whom do I submit the WSMP?
    • Four (4) copies of the WSMP must be submitted to IDEM.
  3. When do I submit the WSMP?
    • The WSMP must be submitted and approved and certification of capacity must be granted before an application for a construction permit can even be submitted. At least one hundred twenty (120) days must be allowed for IDEM to review the plan. An incomplete or inadequate plan can stop the one hundred twenty (120) day clock.
  4. What must be included in the WSMP?
    • The WSMP must include a comprehensive discussion of the technical, financial, and managerial aspects of your proposed water system, demonstrating adequate capability in each of these three areas. The Information Handbook [PDF] identifies specific information and planning horizons to be included.
  5. Will I need professional help in preparing the WSMP?
    • Yes. The technical capacity section of the WSMP must be prepared by a professional engineer who is registered in Indiana or a licensed professional geologist who is registered in Indiana or by a qualified person under the direct supervision of said professional engineer or licensed professional geologist. The financial capacity section of the WSMP must be prepared by a certified public accountant. The cost-benefit analysis in the managerial capacity section of the WSMP must be prepared by or under the direct supervision of a professional engineer. Who should sign and submit the WSMP? The party with ultimate responsibility for owning and operating the proposed public water supply system should sign, attest, and submit the WSMP to IDEM.
  6. Who should sign and submit the WSMP?
    • The party with ultimate responsibility for owning and operating the proposed public water supply system should sign, attest, and submit the WSMP to IDEM.
  7. What happens after I submit the WSMP?
    • IDEM has 120 days to review the WSMP for a proposed public water supply system. IDEM may require the applicant to submit additional information before either issuing a letter of certification or recommending an alternative to the approval of the proposed public water supply system.
Tracking and Prioritizing Public Water Systems

The Capacity Development Program utilizes the Federal Enforcement Response Policy (ERP) and the Enforcement Tracking Tool (ETT) to prioritize public water systems in order to protect public health. These tools increase the effectiveness of our program in identifying and assisting systems that have contamination violations, and returning public water systems to compliance. Depending on the severity of a water system’s noncompliance, systems can be categorized as Low Risk, Marginal or Medium Risk, or At Risk systems. We use these imperative tools and classifications to determine where compliance assistance is best utilized for resolving system violations. It is important that this program assists all systems prior to them having an issue that can seriously affect public health.

Additional Approaches and Activities This Program Provides
  • Financial Evaluation Assistance for Water Rate Analysis
  • Town and Utility Board Training Materials
  • Asset Management and budgeting for short-term and long-term infrastructure replacement goals
  • Water Quality Assistance
  • Site Specific Operator Training
Capacity Development Guidance

Operator Certification Program

The Indiana Operator Certification Program provides training and certifies individuals who engage in and oversees the operations of a public water system. This program requires all Community and NonTransient Noncommunity systems to be managed by a certified water operator holding appropriate license(s). All water operators are tracked for continuing education hours they submit to IDEM and their license(s) expiration date(s). If we come across a system that does not have an operator or a correctly licensed operator, we track these systems and provide a variety of assistance for them to comply with 327 IAC 8-12 [PDF]. Additionally, we can provide a list of operators looking for a job; and if the system qualifies, a Facility Specific Operator Application or elect an individual with a provisional status. Each year, IDEM submits an Operator Certification Annual report to the U.S. EPA addressing the continued efforts of the state to meet federal regulation.

Operator Requirements and Qualifications

In order to become a certified operator for a water treatment plant or a water distribution system, the candidate must meet certain educational requirements, provide documentation of acceptable technical hands-on experience in the operation of a treatment plant and/or distribution system, as well as pass a state certification exam. Once certified, an operator must get their required continuing education hours and renew their license(s) triennially (every three years). Additionally, a water operator in responsible charge is required to make a number of system visits per week depending on the public water system classification. If an operator has been certified by passing a state exam, these individuals do have an allotted grace period of one year to meet their education requirements and to pay for their renewal fee. This time takes away from the next renewal period. During this time, this individual cannot be a certified operator in responsible charge at a facility due to not having a current and valid license(s). Additionally, the amount of time the individual spends in their grace period, it will take away an equal amount of time away from their next triennial cycle. Grandparent operator licenses and Facility Specific Operator (FSO) licenses are not allowed to have a grace period. The operator rule and requirements can be found at 327 IAC 8-12 [PDF].

Indiana State Drinking Water Operator Exams and Stakeholders

IDEM completed the development of our own peer-reviewed operator certification exams in April 2016. An exam stakeholder workgroup was established to help in the development and validation of the test questions. The Stakeholder workgroup consist of IDEM employees, certified operators, members of water associations, and other individuals in the drinking water industry. Staff and the workgroup continue to modify, add, and remove questions to make sure that the exams have appropriate questions exam class, which covers various topics that a water operator must have knowledge about. There are three distribution type exams with corresponding licenses as well as five water treatment exams with corresponding licenses.

Get Certified as a Water Operator

A water operator has many responsibilities ranging from monitoring water usage, monitoring water quality, and chemically treating water. We have many resources that will guide you in your pursuit of a career in drinking water. Information varies depending on your interests such as; types of certifications required to operate a water plant, continuing education hours needing to stay current with the water industry challenges of today, paper and online exams, and more. If you have an interest in becoming a certified operator, contact your local utilities to find out about entry level jobs at their drinking water facilities. This is where you can be mentored to take the exam and learn how to operate a water plant.

IDEMs Drinking Water Watch provides contact information for public water supplies to help you find a plant that is willing to mentor you into becoming a water operator.

If you are currently a water operator, a new public water system, or wanting to become a public water system and need help meeting state and federal laws here are several resources that may assist you./p>

  • Certified Operator in Responsible Charge (CORC) Request for Information – Operator of Multiple Public Water Systems - 53249 (available on the IDEM Forms page)
  • Facility Specific Operator (FSO): Application for Water Treatment Plan and Water Distribution System Operator Certification - 53210 (available on the IDEM Forms page)
  • Public Water Supply: Certified Operator in Responsible Charge (CORC) Request for Information – Operator of Multiple Public Water Systems (available on the IDEM Forms page)
Operator Exam Application Process

Once an individual has their technical hands on experience, they can sit to take the state water operator exam. The certification examination application can be found at IDEM Forms under “Public Water Supply: Application For Water Treatment Plant and Water Distribution System Operator Certification – 12094.” These applications must be filled out completely and accurately in order to process them. The application process begins when IDEM receives an application with the required fee of thirty dollars ($30). There is a thirty dollar ($30) fee per exam application. A new exam application and fee must be submitted each time before an exam can be attempted. The fee does not change with the grade of certification exam being requested. Applicants who qualify, will receive an approval letter with instructions on how to schedule their exam appointment with one of Ivy Tech’s twenty-five (25) testing sites around the state. There is an additional thirty dollar ($30) testing site fee per exam and grade of certification examination that must be paid to Ivy Tech. Through these Ivy Tech test sites, the exams are available six (6) days a week with both day and evening times. Here is a list of all the Ivy Tech Testing locations throughout Indiana. A testing site fee will not be charged to applicants who take the exam in November at the Indiana Government Center North building in Indianapolis.

Succession Plan – Are you ready for what lies ahead?

A succession plan is not required by the state or federal law. However, it is highly recommended that public water systems put in place a succession plan so that there is a backup operator that can take on the duties of the Certified Operator in Responsible Charge (CORC). A succession plan and a mentorship program are both highly sought after programs that water systems should be preparing. With the Baby Boomer Generation reaching retirement age, does your public water system have a replacement operator and is it in good hands?

Continuing Education Providers and Courses

The Capacity Development and Operator Certification Staff meet quarterly with the Small Systems Education Committee derived of IDEM employees, drinking water operators, continuing education providers, and other third party companies to discuss current topics that need to be covered throughout the state of Indiana. Topics and courses that are discussed range from technical to general classes. 327 IAC 8-12 [PDF] can be used as a guide to determining whether or not a course can be approved for technical or general hours.

If you have an interest in getting continuing education hours for a course not approved currently or want to provide a course for continuing education hours to certified water operators, you can use the “Drinking Water Certification: Application for Approval of Training for Continuing Education – 45675” state form found (available on the IDEM Forms page). In order to get a course approved, you must fill the form out completely, provide a biography of all instructors, course information, an outline of the course, and note how many hours the course should be approved for.

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