The provision of a safe, secure drinking water supply depends on the people who operate water and wastewater systems. Concern is growing because municipalities are struggling to attract and retain qualified water and wastewater operators and affiliated operations personnel (e.g. technicians, technologists, professional engineers, skilled trades).
A water and wastewater operator refers to a cluster of occupations that is regulated by Alberta Environment and Parks. There are five disciplines of Water and Wastewater Operators:
- Water Treatment Operators
- Wastewater Treatment Operators
- Water Distribution Operators
- Wastewater Collection Operators
- Small Systems (Water & Wastewater)
Each municipality that is accountable for a treatment facility, distribution or collection system will have specific compliance obligations for Certified Operators detailed in the approvals document for the facility or System’s Code of Practice. Hiring and retaining water operators can be an ongoing challenge, especially for smaller municipalities.
The Alberta Water and Wastewater Operators Association (AWWOA) is engaged in initiatives to encourage more people to choose water and wastewater operations as a viable and rewarding career and even provides subsidies and funding to support operator training. Municipalities are also collaborating through operational consortiums to share operators and through reciprocal agreements to provide coverage when operators are on holiday or off sick.
A Collaborative Solution
The Villages of Marwayne, Kitscotty, and Dewberry were having difficulty retaining water operators, which threatened their viability as communities in terms of providing citizens a safe, secure supply of drinking water. The villages decided that inter-municipal cooperation was the solution to effectively operating and maintaining their drinking water supply systems. The cooperative solution involved a multi-step approach:
Step 1: Complete Operator Consortium Report exploring various models for the project
Step 2: Develop a business case which included a governance model
Step 3: Implement a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system
Step 4: Hire a regional water operator.
The regional approach has proven to be more cost-effective and resulted in increasing the capacity and competitiveness of the villages involved. The project highlighted the importance of small urban municipalities working together to solve problems. Click here to watch a video on the process
AUMA policy on water and wastewater operators
As noted above, some municipalities struggle to attract and retain drinking and wastewater operators. AUMA’s Municipal Water Policy includes the following policy statements addressing these challenges:
- AUMA will continue to partner with the AWWOA and other organizations to develop and promote resources to support the attraction and retention of qualified water and wastewater operators.
- AUMA urges the Government of Alberta and AWWOA to identify and remove barriers to entry into the certification process.
- AUMA urges the Government of Alberta, the AWWOA and post-secondary institutions to collaborate in maintaining and expanding operator education programs that enable operators to be trained in local communities as opposed to having to travel to a central location.
- AUMA will seek the support of the Government of Alberta and the AWWOA to provide members with information and examples on operational consortiums, reciprocal agreements and operating contracts.
- Additional means of providing qualified oversight of water systems should be explored, such as circuit rider programs and remote monitoring.