John Carroll (R) receiving the Outstanding Young Professional Award from the CWEA San Diego Section, pictured with CWEA Past President Kevin Calderwood

Advanced Water Treatment Operator Profile – John Carroll

Certifications, Members in the News

The Advanced Water Treatment Operator Certification was developed by water professionals, for water professionals and jointly administered by CA-NV AWWA and CWEA.

Professional certification is different than a training or educational program. Training programs offer a certificate of attendance when an individual completes the coursework, but they do not generally award a credential or require ongoing recertification.

The AWTO® certification program was developed using a nationally recognized process to define the roles and responsibilities for water treatment. Individuals who meet the eligibility requirements and pass the exam are granted use of the AWTO credential.

CWEA interviewed John Carroll, Sr. Wastewater Operations Supervisor, City of San Diego, who holds an AWTO Grade 5 certification. Learn how you can get certified at awtoperator.org.

What / who inspired you to work in water?
My mother, Edna Carroll, is the biggest inspiration for my water career. Her own career at water treatment plants introduced me to the field, and my ever-growing appreciation for her commitment to family and community drives me to this day. I would also attribute inspiration from Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi classic Dune. I can vividly remember the moment I consciously dedicated myself to this path. I was on a lake, surrounded by water, holding my mother’s old paperback copy of Dune that was printed 12 years before I was born, reflecting on an imaginary world of water scarcity. I came to the realization that despite the expanse of water in front of me, and the ease of access to water which I took for granted growing up, water scarcity was not a work of fiction.

What fuels your passion for your work?
A myriad of influences fuel my passion for this work; a pride in public service, a team of enthusiastic co-workers (private, public and volunteer), big picture ideas to provide water and sanitation to all like United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, and a desire for a brighter future for my community.

Are you certified in water and wastewater? 
Yes, I hold a Grade V certification in wastewater, a T2 certification in water, and a D2 certification in distribution from the State. I appreciate my AWTO Grade 5 certification the most because it represents the growing interdependency between water and sanitation.

Does your agency require AWTO certification?
Currently, no agency that I am aware of, including my own, has AWTO certification as a job requirement. I think a financial incentive at local levels would be a good first step to encourage the available pool of AWTO certification holders. Ultimately, only the State holds the power of enforcement to make AWTO certification a true requirement.

Why did you pursue AWTO certification?
I am extremely fortunate to be working on an AWT project for the City of San Diego.  Due to the importance of these projects, I was inspired to get the highest AWTO certification I could achieve. Projects like the City’s Pure Water Program will require knowledgeable and trained staff, and this is one of the many safeguards to protect the public. Operators are a part of our community. We protect the environment, and the health of our families, friends, and neighbors – we take these responsibilities very seriously.

Describe the training you acquired.
The San Diego region has access to great industry resources for operators, such as the Cuyamaca and Palomar Community Colleges. I received AS degrees from Palomar in both Water and Wastewater Technologies. I took WasteWater Technology Trainers courses with Eric Wahlberg in preparation for higher certification. More recently, to help get exposure to alternative AWT types of training, I took a couple Southwest Membrane Operator Association (SWMOA) courses. The best training I have received has been in-the-field training with Trussell Technologies contractors in preparation for when the City taking operational control of our pilot project in 2017, which included reviewing the development of the City’s own AWT training program. This gave me more time with knowledge staff, course work material, and more hands-on experience than most individuals could hope for, and for this I feel very lucky.

What tips can you provide for someone interested in pursuing their AWTO?
Since there is not yet a “one-stop-shop” for AWT resources, operators have to be self motivated and very resourceful. As individuals, operators each have a unique background that has exposed to them different types and levels of training and job experiences. I would recommend doing an assessment of what materials operators already have at their disposal, and then comparing that to AWTO knowledge requirements, so that they may determine their own knowledge gaps. Do not be afraid to review AWT related studies from reputable sources, many of which can be found online. Manufacturers of specific types of treatment processes/technologies can also be a great resource.


AWT Operators protect public health by ensuring a supply of safe and high-quality drinking water from advanced water reuse facilities.

The minimum qualifications to apply for the exam are:

  • AWT3™ – Currently hold a Grade 3 certification for Wastewater Treatment Operator or Water Treatment Operator in California or Nevada
  • AWT4™ – pass the Grade 3 exam and 2 years of experience with one or more AWT processes
  • AWT5™ – pass the Grade 4 exam and 3 years of experience (2 years experience with one AWT process and 1 additional year with a least 2 AWT processes)

There are currently three AWTO grade levels and a typical career ladder:

  • AWT1™ – not in use by the program right now
  • AWT2™ – not in use by the program right now
  • AWT3– Journey level
  • AWT4– Advanced Journey level or Lead
  • AWT5– Supervisor or Manager

We offer a voluntary certification for water professionals that is in addition to your California or Nevada Water Treatment or Wastewater Treatment Operator certification.

Learn more on our website: Advanced Water Treatment Operator Certification