A new course offered by Yukon University will be able to take the important skills of keeping clean, drinkable water flowing from small purification systems on the road.
The centerpiece of the new program is a trailer fitted with a purification system that can be used to teach all the skills needed to operate the systems that many subdivisions and small communities in the territory rely on.
The small water system operator lab will teach students to troubleshoot treatment systems, conduct daily checks, adjust chemical dosages and perform other tasks necessary to keeping the systems up and running.
The trailer, fitted with a tank for untreated water and a variety of purification and filtration systems, dispenses fully purified water.
“We tried to make this as close to like the standard, smaller treatment plant the Yukon as we could. Every system is designed differently depending on where they’re getting their water from and what’s in their water and how many people are going to be drinking the water,” said Alison Anderson, an engineer who is helping to coordinate and instruct the water treatment course.
Anderson noted the certification requirement for 50 hours of hands-on experience to go along with classroom work will be satisfied by having students operate the system in the trailer.
The three-week program aimed at certifying or recertifying small water system operators, those who work on systems that service 500 people or fewer, begins on Feb. 14.
The skills taught in the course are in high demand according to John Widney, a long-time water system operator who helped with the development of the new water treatment course. Widney took the course that was offered by the university back in 2006 but then had to seek his hours of practical experience elsewhere before he could be certified.
Widney started out as a backup operator with the Champagne Aishik First Nation’s water system. He eventually took over as the primary operator and also helps other First Nations with their systems.
“There’s a water operator shortage across not just First Nation communities, but even Yukon Government and City of Whitehorse,” Widney said.
Despite the shortage, Widney said it can sometimes be hard for new operators to get hired unless they have the small water system certification that the new course confers.
Anderson said there are about 20 systems in the Yukon that can be operated by someone with the small water system certification. The systems are in settings including rural communities, mobile home parks and government highway work camps.
Widney said he hopes everything works out and the course will be able to produce certified water system operators in a few weeks rather than the months it would take when they had to seek out their own hours of experience in order to get certified.
Students learning on the treatment system in the trailer will be prepared for a wide range of treatment scenarios in their work.
“The trailer itself has got a broad spectrum of treatment practices. Most systems don’t have everything that’s in that trailer. They’ve got parts and pieces and different version of it,” Widney said.
“It’s a great teaching tool as far as I can tell. I wish I would have had it, some things would have stuck a little more earlier on in my training.”
Anderson noted that treatment systems are designed for the particular material being filtered out of the source water— for example arsenic is a concern in Haines Junction and many smaller systems filter for iron and manganese.
The trailer treatment centre was assembled by British Columbia-based BI Pure water and trucked to Whitehorse. Assistance in getting the new course started came in the form of a $99,000 contribution from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
As of Feb. 2 there were three students enrolled in the initial water operator course with three spaces still open and funding available to assist those wishing to enroll.
Anderson said the initial course offering is being held at Yukon U’s campus in Whitehorse, but the school is open to requests from communities that would like to see it brought to them.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org