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NR114 code revision for wastewater operators


In 2010, the Department established a workgroup consisting of operators, training providers, DNR staff and WWOA and WRWA representatives with the goal of improving our wastewater operator certification program.

After several years of hard work, the revised Chapter NR 114, Wisconsin Administrative Code [Exit DNR] took effect on July 1, 2015.

Major Changes

First: What did not change

  • Fees did not increase; the code revision was specifically revenue neutral.
  • The number of continuing education credits required to renew remains the same.
  • One year of subclass specific experience is still required to advance above Operator-in-Training.

Revised operator and facility subclasses

Many subclasses were re-grouped and revised and are now called a new name. In addition, four completely new subclasses were created: Recirculating Media Filters, Anaerobic (Liquids) Systems Treatment, Nutrient Removal - Total Nitrogen, and Sanitary Sewer Collection Systems. This chart shows all the subclasses under the revised code.

Category Subclass Letter Subclass Name Description
Biological Treatment A1 Suspended Growth Processes Activated Sludge and variants
A2 Attached Growth Processes Trickling filters, RBCs and biotowers
A3 Recirculating Media Filters
A4 Ponds, Lagoons, and Natural Systems
A5 Anaerobic Treatment of Liquid Waste High strength liquid waste treatment system
Solids Separation B Solids Separation Clarifiers, membranes, filters, tertiary phosphorus removal, etc.
Solids Treatment C Biological Solids/Sludge Handling, Processing, and Re-use Aerobic and anaerobic digestion, thickening, dewatering, land application
Nutrient Removal P Total Phosphorus
N Total Nitrogen
Disinfection D Disinfection Chlorination, ultraviolet radiation, ozone
Laboratory L Laboratory Registered or certified on-site laboratories
Special U Unique Treatment Systems Unique, special treatment plants that use biological, chemical or physical methods
Collection System SS Sanitary Sewage Collection System

Grade levels simplified

Certification categories for both operators and wastewater facilities changed from having four levels (Grades 1-4) to only two levels (basic and advanced). There remains a Grade T level, or Operator-in-Training.

  • Operator-in-Training: Pass Basic General Wastewater Exam and Basic Subclass Exam
  • Basic: One year of subclass specific experience
  • Advanced: Obtain 10 advanced points (see below for more information)

Note: The Basic General Wastewater Exam is not required for the Special U or Collection System certification.

Advanced certification point system

A point system is established for advanced level certification to allow for more flexibility beyond just taking an exam.

Type Point Method Points Minimum Hours
Experience 4 years hands-on 4 4,000
5 years hands-on 5 5,000
6 years hands-on 6 6,000
Degree Undergrad or Graduate Degree 6 At least 240 hours wastewater related courses
Water/Wastewater Associates Degree 6 N/A
Apprenticeship Completion of State Approved Apprenticeship Program 6 N/A
Exam 100 Question Multiple Course Exam 4 N/A
Advanced Coursework Pre-approved by the DNR and on list of approved courses 2 80
1.5 60
1 40
0.5 20

10 points total is required to obtain advanced certification. There will be an application and $100 application fee. At least 4 of the points must be obtained through hands on experience; the operator must have at least 4 years of hands on experience in order to apply for advanced certification.

Revised criteria for facility advanced level classification

An advanced level wastewater treatment plant is one that meets any one of the following criteria:

  • Is a mechanical plant with an annual average design flow greater than 1.0 MGD.
  • Has a biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) limit of 10 mg/L or less.
  • Has surface water limits for total phosphorus or total nitrogen and utilizes a biological nutrient removal process.
  • Uses a tertiary phosphorus removal process to achieve ultralow phosphorus limits.
  • Is a municipal treatment plant that receives wastewater from a major contributing industry.
  • Is a municipal treatment plant that produces Class A biosolids.

Wastewater treatment plants that do not meet any of the above criteria are classified as basic level.

For a printable summary of these changes, see the NR114 Fact Sheet [PDF] or view the Powerpoint Slides [PDF] from our presentation at WRWA's conference.

Conversion Information

Operator subclasses

All operator subclasses converted as follows. Note that Activated Sludge and Trickling Filters/RBCs converted into three of the new subclasses.

Old Subclass Name Old Subclass Letter New Subclass Name New Subclass Letter
Primary Treatment A Solids Separation B
Trickling Filters and RBCs B Biological Treatment - Attached Growth A2
Solids Separation B
Biological Solids/Sludge Handling and Processing C
Activated Sludge C Biological Treatment - Suspended Growth A1
Solids Separation B
Biological Solids/Sludge Handling and Processing C
Stabilization Ponds and Aerated Lagoons D Ponds, Lagoons, and Natural Systems A4
Disinfection E Disinfection D
Anaerobic Digestion F Biological Solids/Sludge Handling and Processing C
Mechanical Sludge G Biological Solids/Sludge Handling and Processing C
Filtration H Solids Separation B
Phosphorus Removal I Nutrient Removal - Total Phosphorus P
Laboratory J Laboratory L
Special K K Unique Treatment Process or Recirculating Media Filters U or A3
Electroplating/Metal Finishing L Unique Treatment Process U

Operator grade levels

Grade T subclasses converted to Operator-in-Training. One year of subclass specific experience is still required to move above Operator-in-Training.

Grade 1 and Grade 2 subclasses converted to the Basic Level, except if one or more other subclasses were at Grade 3 or Grade 4.

Grade 3 and Grade 4 subclasses: If an operator had Grade 3 or Grade 4 in any subclass, except Special K and Electroplating/Metal Finishing, all subclasses Grade 1 and higher converted to the Advanced Level.

All operator certifications converted into the new system based on the grade level and subclasses of the certification at the time the new code takes effect (July 1, 2015).

If an operator's certification did not convert to the advanced level, they can apply for advanced certification by obtaining 10 points.

Operators not at Grade 3 or 4 at the time the code took effect, but who have passed the former advanced general wastewater examination and at least 4 advanced subclass examinations, were granted 4 points for passing the new advanced general examination.

Example conversions

If an operator has the following subclasses/grades... ...they will be converted as follows

Ponds/Aerated Lagoons - Grade T

Ponds, Lagoons, & Natural Systems - OIT

Activated Sludge - Grade 4

Biological Treatment Suspended Growth- Advanced

Solids Separation - Advanced

Biological Solids/Sludge Handling & Processing - Advanced

Mechanical Sludge - Grade 4

Biological Solids/Sludge Handling & Processing - Advanced

Laboratory - Grade 2

Laboratory - Advanced

If an operator has the following subclasses/grades... ...they will be converted as follows

Primary Treatment - Grade 2

Solids Separation - Basic

Mechanical Sludge - Grade 2

Biological Solids/Sludge Handling & Processing  - Basic

Disinfection - Grade T

Disinfection - OIT

For a printable summary of this information, view the Conversion Document [PDF].

FAQs

General
Why were these changes made?
To reflect advancements in treatment technologies, the subclasses were re-grouped and revised.  A new advanced point system was established in order to allow more flexibility for obtaining advanced level certification beyond passing exams, such as completing the state apprenticeship program, completing a college degree, or completing advanced level coursework. 

Advanced Certification
Why are there no longer Advanced level subclass exams? 
Removing the advanced level exams reduces the number of exams that the DNR needs to keep up to date and streamlines the operator certification program so that we can focus on other areas of improvement such as the new collection systems and nutrient removal subclasses.  There is a new 100 question Advanced exam that encompasses all the subclasses. 

If I already passed Advanced level exams, will I still get credit for passing those exams?
Operators at Grade 3 or 4 converted into advanced level certification.  Those operators who did not have enough experience by July 1, 2015 to be converted into the Advanced level, but who have passed the former advanced general wastewater examination and at least 4 advanced subclass examinations, were granted credit for passing the new 100 question advanced examination (worth 4 points towards advanced certification).

What courses are considered "Advanced" and can be used towards advanced certification points?
The DNR will publish a list of courses approved for advanced certification points on September 1st of every year.  The first list will be published on September 1, 2015.  Advanced coursework is defined as education that is beyond the basic knowledge of a particular aspect of wastewater treatment and is concentrated into only a few subjects.  Approved courses will be a least 20 hours in length.

What is considered "wastewater related" courses in regards to the 240 hour requirement to use a bachelor's degree for advanced points?
The following is a list of courses considered to be "wastewater related" topics.  This list is not all inclusive:  Aquatic Toxicology, General Chemistry, Water Chemistry, Fluid Mechanics, Hydraulics, Hydrology, Microbiology, Soil Science, Water Resources, and Water Quality Modeling

How many classes is 240 hours?
240 contact hours is equivalent to 15-16 college semester credits.

Certification Conversions
If an operator was at Grade 3 or Grade 4 in one or more subclasses (except Special K or Electroplating/Metal Finishing) on July 1, 2015, were all of their subclasses Grade 1 or higher converted into the Advanced level?
Yes, an operator at Grade 3 or Grade 4, has at least 3 - 4 years of experience documented, has passed the general advanced exam, and at least one advanced subclass exam. Given these operators’ cumulative credentials, and with advanced level subclasses exams discontinued after July 1, 2015, operators that fall in this category will be considered Advanced. Conversion policies are typically generous with major code revisions to accommodate such unique circumstances.

I just started as a new operator and did not have the necessary experience to obtain Grade 3 or Grade 4 certification by the time the new code goes into effect. How did the conversion effect me?
Your certification converted into either Operator-in-Training or Basic level certification. You can apply for advanced level certification at a later date by obtaining 10 points with the new advanced point system.

I have passed a wastewater operator certification exam but I am not a certified operator (i.e. I passed the general exam but not a subclass exam, or vice versa). Do I get credit for one of the new exams?
You received credit for one of the new exams. Refer to this Exam Conversion Chart [PDF].

Collection System Certification
Do I need to take the new collection system exam?
If the treatment plant owns the sanitary sewer collection systems associated with it, then at least one person will need to be certified in the collection system subclass.  For satellite sewerage collection systems, this certification will be voluntary.  However, the Department highly recommends that satellite systems have a certified operator in collection systems.
To become certified, the person will need to take the 50 question multiple choice collection systems exam.  No operator certification will be converted into the collections system subclass, since it is a completely new certification type.

Do I need to pass the basic general wastewater exam too, in order to become certified in collection systems?
The basic general wastewater exam is not required for collection system certification.

By when does the collection system certification need to be obtained?
The collection system study guide and exam has not yet been developed and will tentatively be complete in 2018.  Once the collection system study guide and exam have been developed by the department, and at the time of WPDES permit reissuance, collection system operators will have a permit term of 5 years to obtain collection system certification.

If the treatment plant is classified as advanced, does the collection system operator need advanced certification?
No, basic level certification is the only level required for all collection systems.

New Subclasses: Nutrient Removal- Total Nitrogen and Anaerobic Treatment of Liquid Waste
I operate a treatment plant that has total nitrogen limits and operates to remove total nitrogen. Will I need to take the new Nutrient Removal - Total Nitrogen exam?
The designated operator-in-charge will need to pass the new Nutrient Removal - Total Nitrogen exam. This exam will be 25 questions, multiple choice. There is a grace period of 12 months to obtain this new certification once the subclass is added to a facility's classification.

I operate a treatment plant that has an anaerobic treatment of liquid waste. Will I need to take the new Anaerobic Treatment of Liquid Waste exam?
The designated operator-in-charge will need to pass the new Anaerobic Treatment of Liquid Waste exam. This exam will be 25 questions, multiple choice. There is a grace period of 12 months to obtain this new certification once the subclass is added to a facility's classification.

Contacts

Certification questions:  Contact Lisa Bushby, operator certification coordinator, 608-266-0498, Lisa.Bushby@Wisconsin.gov

Facility classification and subclass questions:  Contact Jack Saltes, wastewater operations engineer, 608-264-6045, Jack.Saltes@Wisconsin.gov or contact the DNR wastewater engineer assigned to your facility.

Advanced point system questions:  Contact Jack Saltes, wastewater operations engineer, 608-264-6045, Jack.Saltes@Wisconsin.gov

Last revised: Tuesday May 17 2016