Each June teams of dedicated water industry professionals gather from across the US and Canada to participate in a dynamic question-and-answer competition known as Top Ops. The American Water Works Association holds Top Ops at AWWA ACE, their annual conference and exposition. The purpose of the Top Ops Competition is to recognize and promote excellence and professionalism in all aspects of water operations by establishing a competition that gives operators the opportunity to showcase their talents. The Top Ops competition is widely regarded as the ‘Super Bowl’ of the water industry. It challenges competitors’ technical knowledge and problem-solving abilities with complex math and operational questions. Some topics covered are water treatment plant processes, distribution, groundwater, lab procedures, maintenance, and safety.
To compete for the Top Ops national championship title at ACE, each team must first win a regional chapter competition. Over the competition’s 16-year history there have been a few repeat champs namely the Birmingham Prime Movers from the Alabama-Mississippi section, Water Buoys from the Florida section, and the East Bay MUD Ozonators from the California-Nevada section. In addition to the thrill of competing at the championship level (and the bragging rights that naturally accompany such a prestigious accomplishment), participants gain valuable knowledge and skills during their preparation for the competition equipping them to address critical issues on the job. Additionally, Top Ops provides the participating teams the opportunity to network at ACE with industry experts and peers from diverse segments of the water industry they wouldn’t encounter normally.
Top Ops had a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. AWWA was able to resume the in-person competition at their 2022 ACE conference held in San Antonio, TX. Water Professionals International (WPI) has played a crucial role in the success of the Top Ops program. Emily Pautsch and Tom Healy from WPI have made significant time and resource contributions to the Top Ops Committee ensuring the success of the competition. Their responsibilities include validating the competition questions, maintaining the question bank, selecting the judging panel, creating competition rounds, and operating computer software during the event. They work diligently leading up to and during the competition to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
The water industry is currently facing challenges such as water supply and demand, aging infrastructure, pollution from emerging contaminants, and staffing shortages. Competitions like Top Ops, Pipe Tapping, Meter Challenge, and Hydrant Challenge, organized under the AWWA Operator Involvement Committee, aim to identify and nurture, promising individuals so organizations can attract and retain young talent in the industry and tackle future challenges.