Drinking Water Operator

Licensing-Related Information

How to Get Certified/Certification Schedule


Renewal applications are sent out 60 days before your expiration date. If you have lost your renewal application or did not receive one contact us for a new copy.


Drinking Water Operator Certification Schedule

Examinations are held at least three times per year at a time and place designated by the Board.

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How to Get Certified

The daily operations of all community and non-transient non-community public water systems are required to be under the supervision of an individual who has obtained the appropriate certification from the Rhode Island Board of Certification of Operators of Drinking Water Supply Facilities. Certified drinking water operators perform and oversee daily operations at public water systems and play an important role in public health. There are two types of drinking water operator licenses—treatment and distribution—and five levels of certification. For treatment licenses, those levels coincide with the complexity of the facility and for distribution licenses, those levels coincide with the size of the population served. A very-small-system (VSS) license is for operators working at systems with fewer than 500 served.

All operators must obtain a license within one year of being hired to work in a treatment facility or on distribution system operations. To become fully certified, an operator must meet education, experience, and exam requirements. To receive an operator-in-training (OIT) license, the operator must only meet the education and exam requirements.  

An overview of minimum qualifications for treatment licenses can be found here and for distribution licenses here.

The Board must review and approve all applications for licenses (via exam, upgrade, or reciprocity) at one of its quarterly meetings. The calendar of application deadlines, exam dates, and Board meetings can be found above.

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Becoming Certified by Exam

People interested in obtaining a drinking water operator license must take and pass an exam. Read on to learn about the application process and about the differences between the e-exam (electronic exam) and the paper exam.

To sit for exams VSS to class 3, an operator must at least meet the minimum education requirements. Before sitting for class 4 exams, the operator must first meet the experience requirements because there is no OIT status for this license type. An overview of minimum qualifications for treatment licenses can be found here and for distribution licenses here.

Application Process

Candidates for licensure may choose from two options: paper examination at RIDOH or electronic examination (e-exam) at a third-party testing facility (PSI Test Center). Candidates will use the same application for both and indicate which type of exam they plan to take.

Operators must apply for the exam session prior to the application due date (see the calendar above). If DWQ receives an application after the deadline, it will be returned to the candidate.

Exam candidates must complete the entire application and thoroughly document any work experience that should be considered when determining whether the candidate meets the experience requirement.

Once DWQ processes an exam application, the candidate will receive a confirmation email that the application will be presented to the Board for final approval. After the Board meeting, DWQ will send the candidate a letter of approval or denial to sit for the exam. 

Rhode Island uses the Water Professionals International: The Associated Boards of Certification’s (WPI-ABC) standardized exams. Certification candidates can access WPI-ABC’s list of approved study resources online for treatment, distribution, and VSS.

Paper Examination at RIDOH

DWQ administers paper exams three times per year at RIDOH. Candidates whose applications received Board approval will receive a letter with important exam-day information.

If an applicant does not pass the exam and would like to take the e-exam, he or she will receive instructions on how to do so in the results letter. The candidate does not have to reapply in this case. If an applicant wants to take another paper exam, he or she must submit a new application to the Board.

E-Exams at PSI Test Center

E-Exams will be offered to Rhode Island drinking water operator candidates for the first time in spring 2020.

After the Board approves a candidate’s application, RIDOH will send the applicant’s contact and eligibility information to PSI Services. The applicant will receive an email from PSI Services within seven to ten days after the application is approved. This approval is valid for one calendar year following the date of the Board’s decision.

PSI Services will provide instructions on next steps via email. After receiving these instructions, the candidate may register and pay for the exam. The candidate will be responsible for scheduling their own exam; if eligible for more than one exam at a time, take care to choose the test of the correct type and grade. Immediately after completing the e-exam, examinees will receive their results. For a passing score, RIDOH will issue a license within two weeks of exam completion, backdating the license active date to the day the operator took the exam.

If an exam candidate does not receive a passing score, he or she will have the opportunity to test again when ready. In Rhode Island, there are no required waiting periods between e-exam testing attempts. If the candidate does not pass the e-exam within the year-long eligibility window, he or she must reapply to the Board.

Licenses Are Issued by DWQ

DWQ sends out results to your mailing address approximately four weeks after the exam. If an applicant passes the exam, DWQ will then issue either a full license (when applicant meets the experience requirements) or an OIT license (when applicant does not meet experience requirements). The Center for Professional Licensing will send the operator his or her certificate within eight to ten weeks. 

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Upgrade from Operator-In-Training (OIT) to Full

Once an operator meets the experience requirement (calculated from the day hired into the role, not the day of certification), he or she may apply to upgrade to full certification. The operator and his or her supervisor must complete and submit the upgrade request application. The operator certification program manager submits the request to the Board for approval and grants the upgrade if the Board finds that the experience requirements have been satisfied.

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Becoming Certified by Reciprocity

If an operator has a certification from another state, he or she may apply for reciprocity in Rhode Island. The Board will review the application and ensure that the certification requirements are equivalent to those in Rhode Island. The operator certification program manager will then issue the new Rhode Island license upon Board approval.

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Maintaining Certification/Continuing Education


Maintaining Certification/Continuing Education

Drinking water operators must renew their licenses on a three-year cycle (for full certification) or a two-year cycle (for operators-in-training). All operators receive their renewal applications approximately 90 days before the expiration date. These applications are pre-printed with the operator’s license type and number, contact information, and employer information. It is the operator’s responsibility to update DWQ on any mailing address, phone number, and email changes. This will ensure that certified operators receive all important communication, including renewal applications.

To best ensure that there is no interruption to certification, operators can complete and submit applications via mail prior to the expiration date of license found on application. Operators may submit a renewal application up to six months after the expiration date, but if that six months passes without renewal an operator must become recertified by meeting exam and experience requirements again.

Operators can check their license status and confirm renewal on the RIDOH licensing database. The Center for Professional Licensing generates renewal wallet cards. As of December 2022, operators can expect to receive wallet cards in their email within four weeks of renewal.

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Training Contact Hours and Approved Courses

Operators with full certification must provide documentation that they have completed all required training contact hours (TCH) and attest that they have worked at least 20% of the last cycle in the field of their certification. Operators-in-training (OIT) only complete all required TCH.

See below for number of TCH required for each license class. Sometimes TCH are referred to as continuing education credits (CEU): One CEU equals ten TCH. The number of TCH required is the same for both treatment and distribution licenses.


Two-Year Renewal Period (OIT)

Three-Year Renewal Period (Full)

Class VSS

2 hours

3 hours

Class 1

10 hours

15 hours

Class 2

10 hours

15 hours

Class 3

20 hours

30 hours

Class 4

N/A (no OIT for this license type)

30 hours

All training used for renewal must be approved by the Board beforehand. The list of approved courses is updated quarterly after each Board meeting. In addition to these courses, all New England Water Works (NEWWA) training can be used for renewal. Free NEWWA courses for Rhode Island operators can be found by searching “RI” in the state field on their website.

Important notes regarding training for renewal:

  • 50% of required training hours must be in technical areas directly related to water system operations. 25% may be in general health and safety topics and 25% in general managerial and supervisory topics.
  • Approved courses may only be used once within a renewal period, even if the employer requires that training annually.
  • Applications must include documentation of completion (certificates or transcripts).
  • Courses approved in other states but not in Rhode Island will not be accepted for renewal.
  • If purchasing multiple TCH packages from online training providers, check to ensure that they do not contain the same modules. TCH obtained by taking the same course more than once during a renewal period will not be counted towards the total required.

If an operator submits a renewal application that doesn’t align with the above considerations, DWQ will mail a letter to the operator explaining why the license cannot be renewed. It is very important that operators quickly resolve any issues that prohibit renewal.

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How to Get Board-Approved as a Training Provider

All course providers who wish to provide Drinking Water related courses for continuing education purposes must review the approval process and complete and submit the DWQ Training Course Approval Application. Applications will be reviewed quarterly at Board meetings.

If you have questions about operator certification, call the Center for Drinking Water Quality (401-222-6867) or send an email to DOH.RIDWQ@health.ri.gov.

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Board Information