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Small Water System Operator FAQs

Question 1: Who is required to have a Small Water System Operator certification?

  • Any community or non-transient non-community water system which has fewer than 150 service connections and uses only groundwater as its source or a system that purchases all its water from a public water system but does not treat it any further.

Question 2: Am I an operator?

  • You are an operator if you are designated by the owner of the system to perform or be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the system which might include any of the following duties:
    • Operation and maintenance of pumps, tanks, or water mains;
    • Testing and sampling;
    • Leak detection and repairs; and
    • Installation of taps, pipelines, service connections, etc.
Question 3: How much does it cost to obtain a certificate?
  • There is no cost for the Small Water System Operator Certification.

Question 4: How does a system get the operator certified?

  • The legal owner (or person authorized to speak on behalf of the system) needs to decide who to designate as Direct Responsible Charge (DRC) operator. To appoint a DRC operator, a legal owner must complete and sign a PDF iconSmall Water System Operator Designation (SWSOD) application and return it to Drinking Water Services (DWS) along with proof of having attended the SWS basics training course within the past three years.

Question 5: What counts toward SWSO Certification?

  • The only training, that will be accepted for initial certification is DWS’s Basics for SWS Operator Training. This free class is offered around the state from January through November. Training is provided and scheduled by the Oregon Association of Water Utilities (OAWU). OAWU sends training information to all water systems in the county where a class will be held. Call OAWU at ph. 503-837-1212 to secure your place in the training as seats will usually fill up quickly. The classroom schedule and registration information is listed on the DWS’s Basics course page and OAWU’s website. OAWU handles all registration activities for this course.

Question 6: How difficult is the training?

  • The training is very basic, need-to-know information designed specifically for small water systems. There is no test - only attendance is required. You’ll receive a manual and have the opportunity to ask questions of experts and other operators.

Question 7: How long is the certificate valid?

  • Certificates are valid for a period of 3 years, expiring July 31 of the third year.

Question 8: How do I renew?

  • We’ll send a renewal notice to all those certificates expiring July 31. You'll need to plan to attend a training course before your certificate expires.

Question 9: What happens if I don't send in a SWSO application to renew?

  • You won't be certified and your system will be considered out of compliance, which may result in a fine or cause difficulty in mortgage loan transactions for any properties on the system.

Question 10: How many people can be certified as operators for my system?

  • Only one is required and is tracked by OHA, but you can have as many as you want. It is a good idea to have more than one person who has taken the Basics for SWS Operator training.

Question 11: Our people rotate, whom do I certify?

  • Designate whoever has rotated to the operator in Direct Responsible Charge (DRC) position by completing a PDF iconSWSO application.

Question 12: If I move on to another system, is my certificate transferable?

  • No. The certificate is site-specific and is not transferable. You can re-apply for certification at the new system.

Question 13: Can I operate several small systems and still be certified at all of them?

Question 14: We have a lab do all our work. I only make repairs. Can the lab be certified?

  • A lab (i.e., a business entity) cannot be certified as an operator. Only a person can be certified.

Question 15: I took the training but can't find my certificate. What can I do?

  • Complete the PDF iconSWSO application by checking the "Water Operator Training" box and fill in the date and the location where you attended. When we receive the application, we will try to verify attendance with the class registration.

Question 16: Can we use a contract operator?

  • Yes, contracting with a certified operator is an acceptable way to achieve compliance. Complete the information requested on the PDF iconSWSO application. The contract operator must have a current Oregon certificate in Water Distribution or Water Treatment. Mail a copy of the contract signed by you and the operator before work is started. See the Contracting for Services rule (OAR 333-061-0230) for contract language. A contract template is available MS Word iconMS Word -or- PDF iconPDF

Question 17: My operator passed away. Can I take the training class now and get certified?

  • Certainly. This is a good example of why you should have listed more than one operator for the system.

Question 18: What if the owner has a property management company in charge?

  • If a property management company operates the system, the owner still needs to designate someone for certification.

Question 19: Can I get a list of certified operators?

  • Check with your local community water systems for a list of available operators, or advertise for a certified operator in your area. You may go to the Drinking Water Data Online and follow instructions for a list of Oregon operators. You can query by certification type, County, or the enter State. An operator should be able to show you a card indicating name, certification number, certification level and date of expiration.

Question 20: Where do I find the SWSO application?

Question 21: Where do I send my forms?

  • Mail your forms to the address below:
    DWS - Operator Certification
    PO Box 14450
    Portland, OR 97293

    or Email to, or Fax to 971-673-0694

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