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History of the FWPCOA


The Florida Water and Pollution Control Operators Association is an organization comprised of members who are actively engaged in or deal with the production, treatment, or distribution of water and/or the collection, treatment, or disposal of wastewater, be it industrial or domestic.  The Association was organized to advance the professional status of Water and Wastewater Operators, to provide a system for licensing operators, and to arrange educational and training programs for operators.  The Association works in close cooperation with the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association, the Florida Water Environment Association, the Florida State Department of Health, the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection, the State Educational System and in particular the University of Florida to accomplish these goals.


An Idea of Learning Takes Hold


The history of the FWPCOA started 12 years before its incorporation in 1929. This time was the start of the depression which came so close on the heels of the 1928 land "burst" after the Florida "boom" of 1925-26 left many of Florida's communities with unfinished water systems and no or inadequate treatment works, so that the depression period further hampered the development of these utilities.

The University of Florida General Extension Division, which had the responsibility for correspondence courses and short schools, was approached in 1929 to host a short course for Water Plant Operators. They at first refused to be involved because of lack of the sufficiency of its own budget to allow the risk of any of it on a school for which they could not see value equivalent to the investment. However, because a few of the state's water utilities believed in the idea and were interested enough to finance the course through fees and because a portion of the course expense was guaranteed if it was not met by these fees, the first short course convened at Gainesville April 8-11, 1930, with 58 attending.




Due to the success, which in a large measure reflected a need, a "short school" was again held in 1931 and then bi-annually until 1935 when one convened in West Palm Beach, followed in 1936 with one in Tampa, one at Camp Roosevelt near Ocala in 1937, and one in Daytona in 1938. The short school held at Camp Roosevelt was an outstanding one both in the number attending (92) and in the minds of the operators who attended. The Florida Section of the American Water Works Association had encouraged, and in many ways contributed to the success of, this "teaching school". The Florida State Board of Health, seeing in this media an efficient way of fulfilling a portion of its responsibility, also lent invaluable aid. These two organizations have continued to be sponsors of these schools down through the years.


In spite of the depression, communities gradually began to improve their water utilities and the need for operators educated in the field brought about some revision of thinking both on the part of the communities and of the operators themselves. Thus the short school began to play an increasingly important role in the Florida Water Industry.


So Where Was Sewage in the 1930’s?


Community sewage treatment plants were all but unknown across a septic tank riddled Florida of that day. There were only 6 or 7 sizable cities or towns that had sewage treatment plants, and in some cases, like Fort Lauderdale, which had a fine activated sludge plant built during boom days, the basins were empty and the weeds grew high due to the lack of a trunk line to feed the plant. The Florida Board of Health was working on getting sewage treated befor it entered into Biscayne Bay (Miami), Tampa Bay (Tampa) and the St. Johns River (Jacksonville). 25 sewer treatment plants in Florida in 1940 as shown by the State Board of Health Records. Other Communities were not fortunate enough to have the large dilution factor available to these three and as the influx of people into Florida continued and increased, some communities faced severe problems.


While the outlook for sewage treatment for the communities of Florida still looked slim, a few interested men banded together to bring the formation of the Florida Sewage Works Association (now the FWEA) in mid 1941. Mr. Catlet, who had been Chief Engineer for the Florida State Board of Health, retired in January 1941, and an energetic young man on his staff took his place. This man was Mr. David B. Lee and he had strong, forward looking ideas about Florida's needs in the field of water supply, waste collection and treatment as well as in other fields over which his department had supervision.


The Idea of an Operators Association Plants a Seed


As the Florida Sewage Works Association was completing its organization, a small group sitting together at the Florida AWWA section meeting in Orlando, in just a typical "bull session" common to such meetings, began to discuss further means which might assist in taking care of the growing health problems of the state which they called home. They recognizedthat, in that era, membership of both the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association and the Florida Sewage Works Association was largely plant superintendents, consulting engineers, manufacturers' representatives, community utility officials and similar personnel.

Bob Hoy, the representative for the Wallace and Tiernan Company, suggested the state needed a Water Works Operators Association (remember you could count Florida's sewage treatment plants on the fingers of both hands and have fingers to spare). This suggestion was quickly seconded by Dr. A. P. Black, the man who organized the first Florida Water Works Short School and who had been in large measure, responsible for those schools (Dr. Black was known as the man who "invented water" among Florida operators).

With this strong backing and the unanimous vote of several operators present, Dick Gibson, then superintendent of the Fort Pierce water plant, was persuaded to be the chairman of the committee to do the feasibility study. The credit of putting wheels under the plan belongs to a major extent to Mr. Gibson, He visited South Carolina where an operators association was already working. The personnel of the Florida State Board of health, prior to 1941, had strong reservations about adding their vote of approval for any such plan, perhaps feeling that it would tend to operate as an organization with an interest in the financial betterment of the operators themselves rather than in the interest of the public, however the personnel of the State Board of Health, beginning in mid-1941 were highly in favor of the operators association. It must be said for those influential in the organizational task that they labored diligently to produce a plan they thought would be acceptable to the Board of Health.


Hotel George Washington WPBAs the operator's organization appeared on the verge of being realized, Mr. Keith Chinn, Superintendent of the West Palm Beach Water Plant, persuaded his company's attorney to draw up a constitution and by-laws. Then in a meeting of five men, Chinn, Gibson, Ghan, Hoy, and Carnahan, in the George Washington Hotel in West Palm Beach in the summer of 1941, the operators association became a reality. Keith Chinn was elected the first President, R. M. Johnson Vice-President and Bob Carnahan of Bradenton, who had acted as secretary for the "steering committee on organization's", became the organization's first Secretary-Treasurer. The members of the first board of governors were Harry Gahn, Anson DeWolf, Ralph Reynolds, J. R. Hoy and Dick Gibson. The Florida Water Works Operators Association had become a reality!


World War II on the Horizon


Storm clouds were gathering over Europe. This caused a flurry of preparedness in this country and money became available for towns and cities to start utility improvements. The war in Europe had already broken out and the danger that this country might be involved, or might even be forced to defend itself against in invading hoard, became a new, and to those best informed, a very real problem. The United States government was taking, what it believed to be, and the necessary steps to meet this threat. As a result, military training camps and establishments had sprung up all over the country and Florida had a lion's share. Such establishments were in a large sense specialized municipalities. The Army, Navy, Marines and similar military bodies had no doubts about the importance of water supplies, sewage treatment and refuse disposal. The military establishments were therefore equipped with utilities which in many cases were superior to those of the towns around them.


Water plant operators who were reservists were rapidly being called up and one of these was Bob Carnahan. The operators association thereby lost a man, who had been very active in its formation even before he had much, if any, chance to discharge the duties of his office. Then on December 7, 1941, it was decided for us by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. We were in it! Shortly afterward we declared war on Hitler and his cohorts also. Military preparedness now became military mobilization and military establishments in Florida doubled, and then tripled; who was worried about an operators association? It is understandable that the short course for water plant operators held in Gainesville in 1942 had a near record low attendance (48). Some operators were leaving their old positions in order to help out the military and usually, at the same time, line their pockets a little better. Plants were being operated by green help. David Lee of the Florida State Board of Health was called from reserve to active status and John Miller became acting chief sanitary engineer. Due to the effect of call of reserves and resulting depletion of state health organizations, the Public Health Service tried to help out by assigning personnel to the State Health Departments, but at times these were youngsters just getting their baptism of fire and they actually knew less than the green operators, although few of them would admit it. There were, however, some outstanding exceptions to this statement.


The number of sewage plant operators having now increased from practically zero to a considerable number, the State Board of Health decided that, in spite of travel restrictions and other problems, a short course to include both water and sewage work operators was needed and long overdue. With the cooperation of the Army (Sanitary Engineering Corp.) the short school for Water and Sewage Works Operators was called to be held at West Palm Beach in April of 1943. While many old faces appeared at this short course many more were new. The army cut orders for many of its operators and also helped supply instructors for the school in the persons of Capt. Leroy Scott and Capt. D. R. (Doc) Taylor. Most of the contact for arrangements had been made by Fred Eidsness who was with the Public Health Service but assigned to the Florida State Board of Health. Dr. Black's advice contributed much to planning and to recruitment of instructors. John B. Miller presided over this short course in behalf of the Florida State Board of Health. Most of its instruction was outstanding, with operators and U. S. Public Health Service personnel, as well as people from the State Board of Health and Army, serving as instructors.


A meeting of the Water Works Operators Association was called and non-members who were water plant operators and also the sewage plant operators were invited to sit in as observers. Mr. R. M. Johnson of Tampa, the President-elect of 1941, yielded the chair to Mr. Dick Gibson because of a hearing handicap. Since the first officers of the association had not been able to serve long enough to establish policies for the association, discussion from the floor of the meeting concerning what these policies should be, sometimes became heated, often with sewage plant operators entering the discussion without recognition by the chair. Several times Mr. Gibson had to call the meeting to order and at times was on the verge of becoming his own Sgt. at Arms. It soon became evident, however, that men interested in staying in this field of work were also interested in a strong educational program. It was decided that the operators association might become a water and sewage plant operators association if sufficient sewage plant operators requested association and subject to the approval of the association at the time the "sufficiency" requirement was met.


The planning had progressed far enough that an examination and voluntary certification scheme had become a concrete part of the plan for upgrading the operator and operation. Two persons passed the examination which was given at the West Palm Beach Short Course. These were Cliff Courson and Wilson T. Calaway and each received a "Class C Certificate".


The work of the 1943 short course was so helpful that there was no question about repeating it in the next year and the school was held in Daytona. Mr. Fiveashe became the new president and presided over the operators meeting with Mr. Johnson retiring from the executive office. Again the discussion dealt with the opening of the association to waste treatment operators and with the role of the association in helping the operator. There was considerable grumbling about "why do I have to know the chemical reaction involved in water treatment etc. when all I do is throw switches, read gauges and operate valves?" There were also a number present who thought that the association should act much as a labor union and force the increase of operators pay. While there was no argument about the desirability and reasonability of pay increases, the upgrading of the operator professionally remained the prime objective of the association. It was also evident that the admission of the sewage plant operators to the association would eventually take place. In the meantime, the meetings were open to them and they took part in discussions.

The news on the war in Europe and in the Pacific Ocean was beginning to be encouraging and the communities in Florida began to think about the day when they would be able to expand their water and sanitary services to meet the needs of a population growth brought about by the war. The next short course was held at Gainesville. The year 1945 also brought the war to a close and the deactivation of military bases began to leave Florida with a surplus of both water and waste treatment operators. However, in some cases, the adjacent municipality took over the military facilities and thus, some town acquired their first waste treatment plants, and had their first treated water, thanks to the military. Men whose interest was in the important services of water treatment and waste disposal remained in the field and many others who had been attracted only by the pay drifted into other work. This in not to disparage the work of such men, many of whom had seen in this work an opportunity to aid the military effort of the country and many had done excellent work often under adverse conditions.

The war period and the period just prior to the war had influenced the water and sewage operation in Florida in the following manners:

  1. The growing recognition on the part of the operators that their work was important and that increased understanding of the job was most desirable.


  2. A banding together of the operators for mutual help, particularly by encouraging the men to be informed about their own work.


  3. A large increase in the number of operators educated through their own efforts and with the help of the operators association, the Florida State Board of Health and others.


  4. Due to high respect of the military for value of water and sewage facilities together with the evident health of our troops and the lack of wide spread epidemics such as the influenza of the First World War, the people of Florida, as those of the entire nation, came to recognize the great importance of these services.


  5. Because of the desire of the operators to do their job well, and the relatively high monetary value the Army, Navy and other branches of the service placed on their work, the operator had now become a semi-professional rather than a laborer, both in regard to recompense and in the esteem of fellow citizens.


  6. The willingness of the citizens of Florida to invest their tax dollars in water and sewage facilities in order that this state might achieve and maintain a high position among its sister states with regard to these valuable public uti1ities.

In this last item more than any other the role of the State Board of Health must be recognized. They had command of the ball and they moved into keep the game that way. They sold to the municipalities of Florida, the continuing importance of proper sanitary facilities. In the cases where salesmanship did not pry loose the dollars from tight fisted city councils, they were sometimes guilty of a little back door coercion and if all this failed they hauled up the big guns provided by and excellent state sanitary code. They were and are fortunate in having the cooperation of individual State legislators, a condition envied by many sister states.


The Association Begins to Growd


At a meeting on June 10, 1947, during the annual Short Course, and, since the conditions set up in 1943 had been met, the Association became the Water and Sewage Works Operators Association. Also several constitution revisions passed, among which were those necessary to make a joint association. The governing board was authorized by the members to appoint new members to the Examining Board. At a governing board meeting, the following where appointed: David B. Lee from the Florida State Board of Health, A. P. Black and David Emerson from the University of Florida, Charles Fiveash, Albert McGregor and Kenneth Morkett, sewage plant operators and Ralph Brennan, Keith Chinn and Tommy Paul, water plant operators. Action taken during the Operators meeting required the appointment of two committees and to comply with these motions a publicity committee and a membership committee were appointed by the President.

The 1946 Short Course was again held in Gainesville. Many operators still expressed dissatisfaction with the high level of knowledge expected of them. The attendance at short courses had been steadily decreasing over several years and it looked like their usefulness was coming to an end. It had been decided, however, that equipment and facilities at the University of Florida facilitated short course instruction and made the continuing use of this location for water and sewage short courses desirable as long as they were given. Previous short schools had been for 2-3 days in length which was not a sufficient time to do a good job; therefore, beginning with the 1947 short course, all such schools have been 5 days in length and have since that time attracted more than 125 men.

1948 was significant in that the first Regional Short School was held in Tallahassee. This action was aimed toward locating the instruction where more people could benefit and where they could prepare for examination for the first grade of certificate (C}. Such action relieved the Short Course at Gainesville in order that it might better prepare the operators for the upper two grades (B and A). Short Courses were also held in Tallahassee and Panama City 1954, 1955, and 1956 to carry such instruction to the West Florida Area. This movement also led to the formation of Regions. The West Florida District became Region No. 1 organized in 1957.

Unfortunately most of the early records of the association damaged in 1948  by a hurricane.


During the 1949 Short Course, the Association meeting was a dinner meeting at the Primrose Grill. The membership present went on record as supporting mandatory licensing and requesting the State Board of Health to take part in such a move. A committee composed of M. E. Dawkins, C. M. Courson, H.C. Croom, H.F. Kline, Jr., and C.C. Shreve drew up the resolution expressing the attitude of the operators in order that it might be presented to the Florida State Board of Health.


The next, or annual meeting of the Water and Sewage Works Operators Association held in the in June 1952 was a memorable one although a bad memory. Several things contributed to difficulties faced by the Association. These were:

  1. Mr. Little was unable to attend the meeting.


  2. The Secretary had changed location of employment during the year and he neglected the duties of his office.


  3. No membership cards had been issued and there were no Secretary's nor Treasurer's reports.

The lack of reports, the lack of membership cards indicating who was in good standing, and the general dissatisfaction on the part of the membership let to raise voices and rising temperatures. It reached the point that the Association was to be dissolved because no evidence of good standing was held by any member. This apparently shocked those present into realizing that cooperation rather than dissension was necessary and those present were declared the membership in order that the business of the meeting might proceed. The meeting finally proceeded to elect the President-elect, Mr. Joe Ray, to the President's office and installing Tommy Paul as President-elect and George Lohmeyer of the University of Florida Plant, Secretary-treasurer- Editor. Joe Ray and George Lohmeyer deserve a very large measure of the credit for laying the firm foundation on which this organization has erected the sturdy structure which it now enjoys. Fortunately Mr. Ray's preparation for the office he assumed had been most thorough. He had requested County Sanitary Engineers and other officials to send him the names of the operator within their jurisdiction which would serve conscientiously on committees he envisioned. Upon assuming office, he established a number of committees each of which was charged with certain responsibilities and he staffed these committees with operator members who would discharge their duties. He was aided by Mr. Lohmeyer who was as able and hardworking a secretary as any group could desire.


After the success of the regional short course at Tallahassee in 1948, followed by one 1954, 1955, and in 1956; West Florida became Region 1 in 1947 and the number of regions had grown to eight. Besides the West Florida district, they were; the Northeast district centered in Jacksonville (No. 2), the Central Florida district including Gainesville, Daytona, Orlando and points between (No. 3), the West Peninsular region centered around Tampa and extending to Fort Meyers (No. 4), and the Southeast district including an area north of West Palm Beach and extending south of Miami and westward to Lake Okeechobee (No. 5). The latter (Region 5) has since been divided and also some other districts created.


The problems brought by the formation of regions indicated the desirability of radical constitution changes. The study necessary to determine the needed provisions as well as the rewriting of the constitution and By-Laws was undertaken by Dr. David B. Smith and a new constitution was approve by the membership in 1954.


The Birth of the Magazine


Back in 1949 a study made by Emory Dawkins indicated that the membership was in favor of the publication of a newsletter and by action of the Board of Governors the title of Editor was added to that of Secretary-Treasurer, to which office W. C. (Bill) Tims had just been elected. At this meeting Mr. Dawkins assumed the executive post and Frank Little of Orlando became President-elect. In order to get the publication of the newsletter underway, President Dawkins, having access to the necessary equipment and with the aid of the University of Florida Sewage Treatment Plant operating staff, published the long-proposed newsletter to which he gave the name ''The Overflow''.


George Lohmeyer continued to publish the "Overflow" regularly which helped make the organization the kind it now is. In about 1953, honorary life memberships were awarded to persons who had done outstanding service for the Operators Association. These initial HLM awards were made to David B. Lee, John E. Lee, John E. Kiker, and Dr. A. P. Black


In 1955, the "Overflow" which had been several mimeographed sheets with each issue, eventually became a printed magazine. Over the years since that time, the "Overflow" had also received assistance from and served the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association and the Florida Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association (formerly the Florida Sewage Works Association, now the Florida Water Environment Association) and beginning in 1956, it became a joint publication with the Editor to come from the Operators Association.


We Continue to Grow


The 1960s saw a continued growth in the Association with membership climbing past the 1000 mark.  This continued growth along with increased activity from within the regions helped to solidify the Association into a strong organization.  Articles of Incorporation were drawn up, and in 1964 the Association officially became the Florida Water and Pollution Control Operators Association.


The 1960s also saw a renewed effort on the part of the Operators Association to bring about mandatory certification. Several Bills were introduced before the Legislature calling for mandatory certification, but none were accepted or voted into Law.  It wasn't until 1971 that mandatory certification became a reality.


Perhaps the thing most remembered about the 1970s was the increased effort expended to train the operator.  An actual training center (TREEO) became a reality; initial steps were taken to help in the establishment of State Training Manuals, and a unified training program was established within the Regions.


JUNE 9, 1979

Policy And Procedures Manual - Motion made and passed to accept the Policy and Procedures Manual.



MARCH 14, 1981

Systems Operators Certification Program - Motion made and passed to endorse Systems Operators Certification Program.

Note: On June 6, 1992, the Board of Directors voted to change the name “Field Technicians” to “Systems Operators”.


NOVEMBER 11, 2000

Motion by Region IV/PP to adopt Web Site Committee recommendations relating to web site administration, and requiring board approval of any stipend for webmaster, approved unanimously.


Motion by PP/I to authorize President to appoint FW&PCOA webmaster, approved unanimously.


President Saey appointed Walt Smyser to replace Hank Brietenkam as Web Site Committee Chair.


Motion by Region VII/PP to approve Policies and Procedures Committee recommendation concerning newsletter and web site advertising approved 16-1, Region VI opposing.


JANUARY 6, 2001


Web Site Committee Chair Walt Smyser reported the new FWPCOA Web Site was officially on line and ready for use by our organization. Address is


The Association membership is now over 5000 strong  We continue to provide additional methods for members to gain education including specialty classes at the State Short Schools the “On-the-Road” training classes, seminars and the Online. institute Just keep an eye on what may come.