Practical Certification Examinations

As an alternative to the written certification exams, Ontario offers on-site practical certification examinations for experienced operators of First Nations drinking water systems. This allows experienced operators to demonstrate their knowledge and obtain provincial certification.

For the delivery of the practical certification examinations, Ontario has partnered with the Aboriginal Water and Wastewater Association of Ontario (AWWAO).

A practical certification examination is an oral exam, held at the operator’s drinking water system and delivered by a Ministry-approved assessor with experience working with First Nations. The exam includes questions that allow the operator to answer by explaining or demonstrating how they operate their system. Exam questions are based on the processes and equipment used at the operator’s system.  For example, if the system does not have an ultraviolet (UV) treatment process, there will be no UV treatment questions on the exam. The exam also includes questions on general topics all operators should know (e.g. public health).

Upon successful completion of a practical certification examination, the operator will receive a Conditional Certificate that is valid only in the First Nation community where they work.

If the operator works in multiple systems of the same type, the practical certification examination will occur in the highest class system. For example, if the operator works in both a Class 1 and a Class 2 Water treatment system, the exam will occur at the Class 2 system, but the exam result will apply to both facilities.

The operator must have:

1. Completed Grade 12 in Ontario or have other qualifications that the Director considers equivalent.

2. Completed the Entry-Level Course for Drinking Water Operators, delivered by the Walkerton Clean Water Centre (WCWC) or through an Ontario College.

The Entry-Level Course for Drinking Water Operators for First Nations is being offered at no fee with travel and accommodation expenses reimbursed for operators in First Nations communities in Ontario. For scheduled dates and locations visit

3. Hands-on experience at the type of subsystem on which they will be tested:

  • Class 1 exam – 3 years of operating experience
  • Class 2 exam – 5 years of operating experience
  • Class 3 exam – 8 years of operating experience, of which 2 years must be as an operator-in-charge (OIC) in a Class 2 subsystem or higher.

Rules for calculating operational experience can be found in Guideline 3.4 – Experience as a Drinking Water Operator. All operating experience will be taken into account when calculating experience, including experience obtained in systems other than the system where the operator will take the practical certification examination.

4. Attempted the written exam at least once within the past 5 years and have taken an examination preparation course prior to the examination attempt.

5. Paid the required fees.

6. A letter of support from the First Nation community. The letter of support may be from the plant supervisor, Chief and Council or public works manager. The letter should indicate an understanding that the operator would be conditionally certified through a practical certification examination, and that permission is given for an assessor to administer the exam within the First Nation community and drinking water system. Where the letter is not from the Chief and Council, they should be copied to indicate that they are aware of the exam.

  1. Contact the Ontario Water Wastewater Certification Office (OWWCO) about taking the practical certification examination  at 1-877-231-2122 or
  2. OWWCO will follow up with you to get more information about your work as an operator.
  3. OWWCO will send you a partially completed Practical Certification Examination form, together with a brief explanation of how the exam is conducted and how you can prepare for the exam.
  4. Complete the application form and send it to OWWCO along with payment and the required supporting documents.
  • A copy of your current (and previous, if applicable) job description(s) (if not on file)
  • Proof of Grade 12 or equivalent (if not on file)
  • A letter from an authorized representative supporting conditional certification through practical certification examination
  • Copy of the certificate for MECP’s Mandatory Entry-Level Course for Drinking Water Operators (if not already on file)
  • Proof of postsecondary education and copies of education/training certificates (if not already on file)


Submit your application to:

Ontario Water Wastewater Certification Office
295 The West Mall, Suite 302
Etobicoke, ON M9C 4Z4
Fax: (416) 231-2107

Payment is required with each completed application, and can be made by Visa, MasterCard, cheque, or money order. If paying by cheque or money order, please make the payment out to the Minister of Finance.

Upon receiving your completed application form and confirming you meet the , the next available Examination Assessor will contact you and your supervisor to make the necessary arrangements and to discuss the features of your system so that they can develop your exam.

The number of practical examinations delivered each year will be limited based on the availability of approved assessors. Exams will be booked on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Practical examination fee $140.00
Conditional certificate issuance fee $175.00*

*Certificate issuance fee is only collected if you pass the exam

  1. I don’t have a valid certificate, but I do have experience. Can this experience be used to meet the practical exam experience requirement?

Yes. Because participation in the Ontario Drinking Water and Wastewater Operator Certification program is voluntary for operators working in First Nation drinking water systems, experience gained by un-certified operators will be recognized. 

  1. Can I take the practical exam even though I am not a certified operator?

 Yes. If you operate a First Nations drinking water system you do not need to have a certificate to be eligible as long as you meet the experience and education requirements. 

  1. What should the letter of support say?

A template letter will be provided with the application package to provide suggested wording for the letter of support.

The letter should indicate an understanding that the operator would be conditionally certified through the practical exam, and that permission is given for an assessor to administer the exam within the First Nation community and drinking water system.

  1. Can I take a practical exam more than one level above my current certificate?

Yes. The practical exam program allows operators to take any level of exam up to the level of the highest class system they operate, as long as the operator can meet the experience and education requirements needed to take the practical exam. For example, a class 1 operator working in a Class 3 system, can take the class 3 practical exam.

Except in special circumstances, an operator can only take one practical examination. After that, to upgrade to a higher class certificate, the operator must take the written exam. 

  1. How do I prepare for a practical certification exam? 

You will receive information on how to prepare for your exam with your application package.

The exam will be based on:

  • The equipment, processes and procedures used at your system
  • Basic scientific principles all operators should know
  • Public health principles all operators should know

Tips to prepare for a practical certification exam:

  • Review equipment manuals, standard operating procedures, system schematics and emergency plans.
  • Practice your sampling and laboratory testing techniques for the types of sampling and testing performed by operators in your system.
  • Review the drinking water standards and objectives used at your system.
  • Review provincial and / or federal publications that apply or are used at your system.
  • Review your copy of the Entry Level Course for Drinking Water Operators.
  • Review training manuals from other courses you have taken in the past.
  1. How long is a practical certification exam mark valid for? 

The exam mark is valid for five years.

  1. I have taken a practical exam to get my certificate and I would now like to upgrade to a higher class certificate. Can I take another practical examination for the higher class certificate? 

No, except in special circumstances, an operator can only take one practical examination. To upgrade to a higher-class certificate, an operator that became certified through a practical examination must take all future exams in the written format. 

  1. If I get a conditional water treatment certificate through the practical exam, do I also hold a water distribution certificate?

No, conditional certificates are not transferrable to other types of systems. The conditional water treatment certificate will only be valid at the treatment systems where you work.

If you need a distribution certificate, you can apply to take the water distribution practical examination and the water treatment examination as long as both can be taken within 1-2 days of each other. The two examinations will be scheduled on two separate days during the assessor’s visit to your community.