Water Protection Program

fact sheet

Division of Environmental Quality

Director: Kyra Moore

Finding the Right Certified Operator for a Drinking Water System

Certified operators, also called Water Specialists or Professional Operators, possess the knowledge and experience necessary to operate drinking water systems. Their actions are important to the protection of public health and the environment. They are responsible for making day-to-day operational decisions that affect the quality and quantity of drinking water for the customers of public water systems. This document outlines a list of general topics for administrators and operators to discuss in order to build a basic understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. The document concludes with an example of a contract operator agreement. Contracts can be in other formats, but the sample includes the minimum information necessary to meet state regulation 10 CSR 60-14.010(4)(F).

The Department of Natural Resources provides additional information and resources online on the Missouri operator certification webpage. You can select certain counties and search for certified operators in those areas, verify what level of certified operator is required for a particular water system, and more.

PART I – Considerations When Hiring a Certified Operator

Water system owners are responsible for complying with regulations and obtaining the services of a properly certified operator, regardless of whether the certified operator is a full time employee, under contract or a volunteer. It is important to make sure the operator hired is a good match for the public water system, and they have the knowledge and ability to provide customers with safe drinking water. Here are some suggestions to help facilitate conversations.

What a system should consider before hiring an operator

  • Make a copy of the emergency operations plan to provide to the new operator. Consider having the operator review the plan for possible updates.
  • How will the operator document their site visits? Will the operator complete operational log sheets with dates and initials that stay on site?
  • Who will provide the necessary testing equipment and reagents? Will there be a local uncertified person who will be responsible for collecting samples under the operator’s supervision and direction?
  • How will the operator and the system administration keep each other informed about things that affect the water system? The operator should provide technical reports, notices and applicable invoices to the administrator. Likewise, the administrator should provide copies of correspondence, including inspection reports, related to the operation of the water system to the operator.
  • Chief operators are usually present during system compliance inspections. Does the system administrator expect the operator to be available for inspections?

Questions to ask a potential operator

  • What certification does the operator hold and does it meet the system requirements?
  • How often will the operator be on-site at the water system, and what is the minimum time the operator will stay per visit?
  • How quickly will the operator respond during an emergency?
  • What types and sizes of systems has the operator worked? Was it chief operator experience or did they work under the direction of a chief operator?
  • Does the certified operator have other certified operators on staff?
  • How does the certified operator prefer to obtain continuing education hours?
  • What experience does the operator have with issuing a boil advisory and response to exceeding parameters like lead and copper?
  • How many systems is the operator currently responsible for, and is the travel distance reasonable?
  • If the operator serves more than one system, what approach will they take for regional-wide concerns that could affect multiple systems (wide spread power outage, drought, ice, floods, etc.)?

Things to do before signing a contract

  • Check references.
  • Discuss and agree upon an operation and maintenance strategy with minimum duties (both required and expected).
  • Do hourly fees cover travel or only time spent on-site? What fees apply for after hours or emergency visits?
  • Consider including termination information in the contract by either party, by advanced, written notice of specified number of days.
  • Agree on payment amounts and methods including who will make the payments and whether or not the operator will submit routine invoices.
  • Discuss chemicals and other necessary supplies. What quantity is generally on site and what is the procedure to order supplies?
  • Who will review paperwork that the operator completes (operational logs, for example) and at what frequency?
  • Even the best-operated systems may experience occasional concerns. Who will notify the operator of any problems or emergencies that arise?

In addition to requiring a certified chief operator, the regulations also require owners of public drinking water systems to also have a contingency plan for a standby replacement chief operator to be available at all times. This may be, for example, a second employee certified at the chief operator level, a mutual assistance agreement with a neighboring system or a pre-arrangement with a contract operator. The backup plan can be brief, but must include sufficient detail to demonstrate there is a reasonable plan in place to prevent situations where there would not be a properly certified operator in responsible charge of the system. 

PART II – How to Notify the Department of a Change in Operator

Missouri state regulation 10 CSR 60-14.010(4) requires that system owners shall notify the department in writing within 15 calendar days after the chief operator is replaced. System representatives can update contact information online at or by visiting Operator Certification Database to print, and mail or fax corrections.  

PART III –Contract Operations

For those water systems that decide to hire a contract operator, a written agreement that indicates the responsibilities of the operator is required. Agreements must include the following minimum information required under 10 CSR 14.010(4)(F).

  • The minimum frequency of routine visits to the water treatment facility or distribution system. Example – once/week, twice/month, etc. If the frequency is more spread out than the minimum monitoring frequency required, include detail on who locally will perform monitoring under the direction of the certified operator and the frequency the operator will review the monitoring information.
  • The operator’s duties and responsibilities.
  • The minimum hours the operator will be present for each routine visit.
  • The certification level required for the treatment facility and/or distribution system.
  • The level of certification held by the contract operator.
  • The minimum response time for the operator to be at the water system in the event of an emergency.
  • The number of employees, if any, hired to assist.

Public drinking water systems vary widely in their size, complexity and operational needs. As a result, the regulations do not set detailed minimums for the items listed above. This provides flexibility for each system to tailor their own agreement. The sample contract provided includes language related to each of the required elements. It includes a list of routine operational duties, but is not all-inclusive. Owners and operators can modify the agreement but the agreement includes details related to the each of the elements listed above.

Contract Operator Agreement Template – modify as needed

Agreements must include minimum information required under 10 CSR 14.010(4)(F).

Public Water System Name


System Classification

          Water Treatment   A  B  C  D

          Water Distribution 3  2  1

System ID



System Address







Local Contact Name

Local Contact’s Daytime Phone Number


Local Contact’s Emergency Phone Number

Email Address




Operator Name


Certificate Type(s) and Level(s)

          Water Treatment   A  B  C  D

          Water Distribution 3  2  1

Certificate Number

Expiration Date


Operator Address







Daytime Phone Number


Emergency Phone Number


Email Address



The certified chief operator (Operator), will operate the Public Water System (System) and be responsible for all operational decisions that affect quality and quantity of water delivered to customers. The Operator will maintain operator certification(s) that meets the minimum requirements for the System, and notify the System in the event such certification expires or is suspended or revoked. The Operator shall be the chief operator for only one surface water treatment facility, unless otherwise approved by the department in writing.

The Operator shall be present at the System a minimum of _________ (Number) times per ________ (month, week, or day) for a duration of __________ (Number) hours each visit. The Operator’s duties and responsibilities will include, but not be limited to:

  1. Review records or reports submitted to the department for regulatory purposes.
  2. Be in responsible charge of the day-to-day system and all decisions that affect the quality & quantity of water delivered to customers.
  3. Collect and submit all required monthly bacteriological routine, repeat, replacement and/or special samples, or provide guidance to local sample collectors who may be uncertified.
  4. Conduct operational monitoring as required by state regulations 10 CSR 60-4.080 or be responsible for ensuring that a local individual is performing operational monitoring as directed by the certified operator.
  5. Perform routine visits to water system that meets the minimum frequency and document each visit (examples - daily hardness, chlorine residuals, master meter readings, storage tank levels, work performed by any special contractors).
  6. Communicate immediate operational needs and recommend future maintenance needs to the system administration. Perform routine maintenance for the distribution system including main repairs and addressing problems with pressure loss. Investigate customer complaints/maintain complaint log book.
  7. Check master meters, calculate water loss and maintain pump stations and water towers.
  8. Clean, flush, disinfect and test the distribution system and storage tanks as needed.
  9. Communicate with the System the need for tank inspections and cleanings. Schedule and coordinate with tank inspection and cleaning company.
  10. Exercise all hydrants and valves on a regular basis.
  11. Maintain and revise the system’s emergency operations plan and site sampling plan as needed.
  12. Enforce backflow prevention, lead ordinances, and disconnect service for non-payment, as appropriate.
  13. Deliver or coordinate the delivery of Consumer Confidence Reports to customers and submit certification of completion to the department.
  14. Report all violations to the department as required by law and regulation.
  15. Inform the System, in advance if possible, of any duties performed by a subcontractor at the system.
  16. Maintain valid operator certification that meets the minimum requirements of the system while agreement is in effect.
  17. Be on-site for repairs required by the system and responsible for ensuring all main breaks and new mains are flushed, pressure tested, disinfected and sampled for bacteriological quality prior to being placed in service or returned to service.
  18. Monitor the distribution system pressure and take action if pressure drops or falls below 20 psi during normal operating conditions.
  19. Operator shall be available in case of emergency to arrive at the place of emergency within ________ (Time) minutes.
  20. Operator shall be paid the sum of $________________ annually, in ________ installments of $________each. The fee for emergencies will be $________per hour.
  21. Operator shall furnish his/her own transportation. Operator has _____________ (Number) employee(s) able to assist in the event of an emergency.
  22. In the event Operator cannot be available, he/she will notify the System at least ______ days in advance and System will provide a substitute operator to assume operational duties. In the event of illness or family emergency that prevents Operator from performing his/her duties, he/she will notify the System as quickly as possible.
  23. In the event either Operator or System wish to terminate this contract, the terminating party shall notify the other party within ___________ (Number) days. The System will notify the department within 15 calendar days of termination.
  24. The System will keep a copy of this agreement and make it available to the department upon request.

Effective Date of Contract

Signature of System Representative




Signature of Operator




Nothing in this document may be used to implement any enforcement action or levy any penalty unless promulgated by rule under chapter 536 or authorized by statute.

For more information