Rock Beats

Licensing keeps utility workers shipshape

Providing water for residents, industry and fire protection is one of the most important responsibilities of City government. Water utilities are regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which strives to ensure clean, safe water for everyone in the state.

To help achieve this goal, TCEQ requires occupational licensing for utility workers. For Round Rock, all utility personnel must be licensed including Utilities Support and the Water and Wastewater Line Maintenance crews.

“Almost everybody associated with the utility has some sort of licensing,” says Kim Lutz, senior utility services manager. “The City’s policy is that utility employees must have at least some level of licensing within 6 months of starting with the City.”

The licensing certifications provide critical information for protecting the public health.

“If someone doesn’t manage to get their license, they probably won’t continue past their probation period with the City,” says Kim. “We recognize that we have to have trained and educated employees in order to do these jobs. A mistake could be very serious.”

Leveling out
The TCEQ administers operator licensing for water and wastewater treatment, water distribution and wastewater collection. According to the commission’s regulations, anyone who does anything that has the potential to affect the quality of the water – whether pressure or chemical characteristics – must hold a license.

The level of the license required depends on the job. Licensing levels begin at D and then go up to C, B and A.

A “D” license requires 20 hours of class work and a certification exam. An “A” license can require as much as 8 years’ experience and 120 hours of training.

The State determines the curriculum for licensing and the training is often provided by professional associations or private entities. The certification exams are challenging as well. The pass rate for these exams is often below 50 percent.

A license must be renewed every 3 years and requires 10 hours each year of continuing education.

“TCEQ inspects our system every year and they will check our staffs’ credentials as part of the inspection,” says Kim. “If someone is found to have performed regulated duties without holding the appropriate license, the City can be fined and the individual can be fined and even receive jail time. We are held accountable for having properly trained people doing the appropriate job.”

Consider the consequences
The licensing regulations are intended to protect public health and safety in a vital service.

“The utility system affects so many areas,” says Kim. “We have to be mindful that everything we touch is critical.”

In the treatment plant, for example, the consequences of a mistake could be severe, like a disease outbreak.

“We can’t really make mistakes in treating the water people will be drinking,” says Kim. “There is little room for error.”

In the distribution system, mistakes can cut off water to residents or damage expensive equipment.

“The consequences can be huge,” says Kim. “The distribution system affects fire protection and water pressure. All of our equipment is expensive and not easy to replace.”

It takes well-trained, knowledgeable staff to keep the City’s water utility working in top shape.

“What we do is very serious,” says Kim. “We make sure our employees learn what they need to keep people safe.”