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Article: Water Industry


This article covers the following jobs:

  • Analytical Scientist
  • Microbiologist
  • Waste Water Process Plant Operator
  • Water Keeper/Water Bailiff
  • Water Treatment Plant Operator.

The job descriptions are only a brief summary. It is recommended that you do further research on jobs that interest you.


We all take it for granted that when we turn on the tap, clean, safe water will come out. We also know that waste water drains away when we empty the bath or flush the toilet. But have you ever thought about where the water comes from and goes to, and how it is cleaned?

Water is stored and then cleaned before use

The water we use is pumped from underground and from rivers and lakes. It is then stored in reservoirs which are large, human-made lakes. When it is needed, it's pumped to a water treatment plant where it is cleaned and made safe to use.

Water Treatment Plant Operator

Water treatment plant operators work at plants that treat water to make it fit to drink. They monitor and control the whole process, from taking untreated water into the plant to releasing clean water ready for supply to customers.

They operate pumping equipment to get water from reservoirs. They then test the water, for example, to check the acidity or alkalinity (pH) levels and the presence of minerals and bacteria and algae. Much of the process involves treating the water with chemicals.

There can be some outdoor work such as visual inspections of the reservoir and its overflow outlets, taking delivery of chemicals, and moving materials around the site. Operators need to maintain plant regularly, for example, they wash filters.

You do not usually need educational qualifications to enter this type of work, but numeracy and literacy are important.

Some people enter this job after a Water Industry Intermediate Level Apprenticeship.

A driving licence is very useful in this job, as you will often be working in quite remote areas.

Analytical Scientist

In the water industry, analytical scientists test and analyse water samples to ensure that they are not polluted by things such as sewage, pesticides and heavy metals.

They usually work on samples that have been collected and brought to the laboratory by a team of samplers, although some analytical scientists leave the laboratory to collect samples themselves.

Analytical scientists use a wide variety of methods and technologies in their analyses. For some tests, they can use automated testing machines to analyse hundreds of samples at once. Other tests are more time-consuming, such as using gas chromatography to separate compounds in a sample.

Apart from the water industry, analytical scientists can be found in many other places, including the food and drink industry, Civil Service agencies and departments, the NHS and manufacturing industries, including chemicals and polymers.

Usual entry is with a relevant degree. There are specialist degrees in analytical chemistry/analytical science.

Clean water is used and waste water is treated

The clean water that leaves the water treatment plant is then piped to homes and businesses. Water is not only used in households but also by industry - particularly companies that manufacture things. After it has been used, it must be cleaned up again to make it safe enough to be pumped back into rivers and lakes.

Waste Water Process Plant Operator

Waste water process plant operators work at treatment plants that deal with waste water and sewage. Modern plants contain automatic equipment so a lot of the operator's work takes place in control rooms.

Waste water undergoes a gradual cleaning process. Waste water process plant operators monitor the progress of waste water by looking at information on computer screens, including warning messages when conditions are not right.

They also visit different areas of the plant to check the treatment process. This includes working outdoors. They check that pumps and other equipment work correctly and they monitor oxygen levels. They identify and report problems they cannot deal with to technicians and managers. They also take samples for analysis and operate controls to add chemicals.

You do not usually need educational qualifications to enter this work but numeracy and literacy are important.

Some people enter this job after a Water Industry Intermediate Level Apprenticeship.


Microbiologists study life forms such as bacteria and viruses that are too small to be seen without using a microscope. These are called microbes or micro-organisms.

Some microbes cause disease but most are harmless, and some can be used to benefit humans.

Microbiologists working in the water industry deal with both types of microbe. Harmful microbes are present in waste water and sewage, but other types can be used to clean the water.

Sewage treatment relies on bacteria and protozoa that break down the waste material. Microbiologists help to manage this process. They also collect and analyse water samples, testing for harmful microbes.

To become a microbiologist, you usually need to complete a relevant degree course.

Water returns to lakes and rivers

The clean water is then discharged into rivers and lakes until it is needed again. Rivers and lakes are a popular place for leisure activities such as boating and fishing. Water companies employ people to look after lakes and rivers so that they don't get polluted and can be enjoyed by everybody.

Water Keeper/Water Bailiff

Water keepers and water bailiffs make sure that rivers and lakes are of a suitable environmental standard to be used for recreation. They also encourage the growth and development of wildlife, and protect the water environment.

Typical duties include checking fish for disease, restocking lakes and rivers with fish for angling, and taking water samples to test for pollution. They also enforce the laws that protect rivers and lakes, and issue licences to anglers.

The work involves contact with people such as scientists, farmers, landowners and members of the public.

You don't usually need any qualifications to enter this job. It's useful to have gained skills and knowledge through relevant experience, for example, of fish farming, other farm work, gamekeeping or environmental conservation.

Further Information

Utility Week

Publisher: Faversham House


Energy & Utility Skills

Skills for the gas, power, waste management and water industries

Address: Friars Gate, 1011 Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull B90 4BN

Tel: 0845 0779922



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