Since 2004, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre has provided high-quality training and support to the owners, operators, and operating authorities of Ontario’s drinking water systems.
In May 2000, the small Southern Ontario town of Walkerton suffered a tragedy that would usher in a comprehensive drinking water regime. E. coli contamination sickened nearly half the town and resulted in the unfortunate deaths of seven people.
In response to an inquiry led by Justice O’Connor, the Ontario government introduced strict regulations governing drinking water system owners and operators. To ensure these owners and operators would be educated and supported, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre (WCWC) was established in 2004.
The WCWC provides training on behalf of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and administers the mandatory operator training courses prescribed.
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It also offers a variety of specialty courses that reinforce mandatory training. All 54 (currently offered)courses are continually updated and new courses are developed based on client feedback, consultation with experts and developments in the industry.
Walkerton Clean Water Centre – By The Numbers
Operator Training and support
A lot has changed in the years since the Walkerton tragedy and the establishment of regulations that govern drinking water system owners and operators.
“There has been a significant increase in the competence of operators, post-Ontario regulations,” says Brian Jobb, Manager of the WCWC’s Training Institute. “We have among the best trained operators in the world, with the average operator absolutely head and shoulders above where they were 15 – 20 years ago.”
The main reason for this improvement is due to the mandatory training that operators must complete to become, and remain, certified. And while the WCWC is not the only training provider in Ontario, it is one that sets a standard of excellence.
“Because we are an agency of the Ministry we provide the highest level of training,” says Carl Kuhnke, who joined the WCWC as Chief Executive Officer last year.
According to Kuhnke, there are a number of contributing factors that set the WCWC apart.
“One of the ways that we ensure our curriculum is current and state-of-the-art, is that we have both a Training Advisory Committee and a Research Advisory Committee that are made up of subject matter experts from across the province,” says Kuhnke.
The WCWC’s expertise extends beyond its advisory committees. With 32 staff and a number of contracted trainers, the WCWC is able to meet the numerous challenges presented in real-world and hands-on training.
“Our goal is not to teach students how to pass an exam, but to be good operators and do the right thing,” says Jobb. “There is a lot more to being a competent operator than just passing an exam.”
With over 54 courses and modules, the WCWC offers comprehensive training for operators and system owners. It even offers a Standard of Care course for municipal councillors, which some municipalities have made mandatory.
The WCWC also hosts special training events including our Maintenancefest hands-on training event. Visit www.wcwc.ca/registration to view the upcoming schedule.
A new addition to the trainer team is Stephanie Meades, a certified public health inspector who joined the WCWC as a small systems specialist in 2017. With her experience on the other side of the table as an inspector, Stephanie is able to directly respond to operator and client questions during training and bridge the gap between two different regulations in the province that are administered by two different ministries.
In 2016, the WCWC introduced a helpline to respond to technical calls and provide information to address questions related to drinking water treatment processes, equipment, operational requirements and environmental factors. Email: email@example.com.
Ontario is a massive province, well over 1 million square kilometres in size. Despite the challenge of geography, the WCWC is tasked with providing training to operators no matter how far or how remote.
“As an agency of the province, our training needs to be available and accessible to all operators, owners and authorities in Ontario,” explains Corinne Louther, the WCWC’s Manager of Training Operations. This means that the WCWC will provide training in northern and remote communities where it may not be feasible for other training providers due to logistics or cost.
This is essential for First Nations and remote communities that face many obstacles when it comes to operator training. For instance, they may not be able to afford the travel costs to send their operators to training, nor can they afford the loss of an operator for the time the training takes.
First Nations Training
There are many similarities between communities with small drinking water systems and First Nations communities. Both can face the same challenges in staffing, budgetary constraints and logistics.
However, a key difference is that First Nations don’t fall under provincial regulations (they are governed by Indigenous Services Canada), which means that drinking water operators do not have to be certified.
“Part of our job is to serve First Nations communities that choose to offer drinking water comparable to that under Ontario regulations, even though they are not required to,” says Kuhnke. By becoming certified, operators will be better able to handle modern, advanced treatment plants and technologies.
To bring effective and achievable training to First Nations communities, the WCWC has developed a Memorandum of Understanding with two First Nations organizations: the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) and Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO), which is a tribal council in Northwestern Ontario, part of the Northern Chiefs Council.
These two organizations meet monthly with the WCWC to plan relevant training for communities that are choosing to follow provincial certification.
First Nations Initiative
First Nations training has always been part of the WCWC’s core training group. But, with $1.85 million in provincial funding in 2016, the WCWC started a special community-based initiative in partnership with OFNTSC and KO.
The initiative identifies and prioritizes communities, focusing first and foremost on long-term drinking water advisories. It also works with communities not under drinking water advisories to ensure their operators receive training. Courses are delivered right in First Nations communities.
“Under the initiative, we charge nothing for the training courses and we reimburse all travel expenses incurred, eliminating the financial hurdle,” explains Kuhnke. “This also extends to people interested in becoming water operators, such as young persons interested in pursuing this career path.”
Also under the initiative, content of the Entry-Level operator course remains the same, but adjustments have been made to suit the needs of First Nations students, including delivery by First Nations trainers.
“What we have done for First Nations communities is change the delivery format and presentation style, as well as a cultural angle,” says Louther. “This reflects the input of our First Nations partners in building the curriculum.”
The WCWC has seen measurable success in the initiative, as evidenced by a high completion rate and excellent feedback. Two new courses are under development for managers and leaders. For more information, visit: www.wcwc.ca/firstnationszone.
Research and Pilot Testing
Visitors to the WCWC will immediately be drawn to the wide array of water treatment technologies found in the WCWC’s Technology Demonstration Facility. From conventional treatment to membrane filtration, ion exchange and adsorption, the WCWC contains a variety of treatment technologies as well as a full-sized laboratory.
The facility’s variety of equipment and well-qualified technical staff make it a great training opportunity for operators and students, according to Dr. Souleymane Ndiongue, P.Eng., Manager of Research and Technology.
In fact, students of 16 Ontario colleges that have water and environmental science programs, are offered visits to the WCWC for hands-on experience and real-world training.
The facility’s research skill and variety of equipment also make it a valuable pilot-testing resource. Communities are able to bring their raw water to the WCWC’s on-site 40,000-litre tank to test how different water technologies are able to treat it.
The WCWC is also capable of bringing pilot equipment to communities that are too far away to truck water in. Indeed, it has delivered pilot equipment and staff as far away as a community in Northern Ontario, nearly 1,000 km from Walkerton.
The WCWC recently completed three pilot testing projects for the following communities: Shelburne for arsenic removal from water; the Township of Hamilton for manganese; and Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation for iron, manganese and disinfection by-products. Currently there are six pilot projects underway across the province. These projects include the removals of iron, ammonia, and natural organic matter to control disinfection by-products.
“On-site pilot testing is great for training since we are able to run several scenarios with operators for them to see what works and what doesn’t,” says Dr. Ndiongue. “This is not something operators can do with full-scale equipment, since they are limited to standard operating procedures.”
Results are also shared with other operators and added to the ever-growing Drinking Water Resource Library (DWRL), a recently launched tool to answer operator questions 24/7. The DWRL is a free online resource that answers operator’s drinking water questions with a simple keyword search. To try the DWRL, visit: www.wcwc.ca/en/resources
With evolving legislation, technology and a changing climate, the WCWC must be able to respond to the training needs of operators. For example, the most recent version of the mandatory certificate renewal course for operators references climate change and prompts operators to think about resiliency and responses to extreme weather.
“Advancements in technology require today’s operators to be well versed in new areas such as social media, GIS software and increasing digital interfaces with equipment,” says Jobb.
Thanks to the Government of Ontario and the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre is well equipped to proactively train drinking water operators.
“With our broad research and technical staff, and highly qualified and experienced trainers and managers, we know what is going on across the province,” says Kuhnke. “This allows us to stay in touch with operator and system needs, and as long as we can do that we can provide a tremendous advantage to operators and the communities they serve.”
Contact the Walkerton Clean Water Centre to learn how they can help you and your community.
Carl Kuhnke, Chief Executive Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s August 2018 issue.