State Water Board Moving Operator Certification Exams to Computerized Based Testing


The pandemic caused the State Water Board to suspend their certification exams for drinking water and wastewater operators, and both the spring and fall exam cycles in 2020 were  cancelled. The exams are typically held in large conference facilities and meeting rooms, with some locations attracting hundreds of attendees.

The State’s Office of Operator Certification said there was no way to provide statewide, in-person exams and comply with local and State health requirements. The state is focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone involved – exam participants, proctors and State Water Board staff.

On November 5th, representatives from the Office of Operator Certification provided a public update via conference call to the SWRCB’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Certification Advisory Committee.

CWEA’s representatives on the Advisory Committee noted the following certification exam updates:

  • State Water Board staff are working on implementing computerized based testing (CBT)
    • As an example, CBT is the way CWEA and CA-NV AWWA offer their certification exams
  • Staff brought a proposal to the State Water Board and the directors approved an emergency contract
  • Staff is now working with the CBT contractor to implement the program
  • Staff gave a rough estimate that State Water Board exams will roll-out at testing centers across California in the first half of 2021
  • A demo of the computerized exam will be given to the exam applicants ahead of time so they are used to the format
  • The testing center will provide a detailed list of instructions for the test taker on items that can be brought into the exam and whether items such as scratch paper or a dry erase board is provided
  • Exam scores will be instantaneous and provided to the test taker
  • Math portions of the exam are being converted to multiple choice questions
  • The Grade V wastewater exam’s written essays are being converted by OOC staff into multiple choice questions

Possible Spring Launch?

Based on the State’s estimate and their current level of confidence, CWEA’s advisory committee members Jeff Carson and Kody Thompkins hope to see the computerized version of the wastewater certification exam launch around March or April, 2021.

What Happens to Applications Submitted in 2020?

The State tells CWEA all applications received for the now cancelled in-person exams will automatically roll-over as applications for the new computerized based test.

The applicant will be notified via email by the Computer Based Testing provider or the State Water Board about the status of their exam application and the next steps.

At this time, there are no additional steps applicants with submitted exam apps need to take. Watch for those emails from the State Water Board or the CBT provider.

Emergency Exams

For wastewater treatment plant managers and agencies who need emergency operator certification exams to comply with regulatory requirements, you can make your case to the OOC. On a case-by-case basis the OOC can provide permission and support for small group or individual certification exams. Learn more about emergency certification exams here.

Stay Informed

The OOC will also be providing frequent updates for applicants. Sign-up for OOC’s operator certification email list by visiting the State Water Board Site and their email list page.

Once there enter your name and email address and further down choose “Financial Assistance (Grants & Loans)”, look for “Operator Certification Programs” and check on “Wastewater Operator Certification.”

Feel free to contact the OOC if you need information about your exam application.

As updates become available on the State’s operator certification exams, CWEA will share them with members right away.

CWEA Certification Exams

CWEA’s computerized based exams have remained open and available during the pandemic. Testing centers have reduced capacity so it can sometimes take extra time to make an appointment. Learn more and apply for a CWEA certification.