Since 2004, the Walkerton Clean Water Centre (WCWC) has quietly but successfully trained Ontario’s drinking water operators. Established through a recommendation of the Walkerton Inquiry, the WCWC has recently expanded its capacity to include applied research and technology demonstration. Big changes are underway. Water Canada checked in with Larry Moore, CEO of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, to learn how the agency has changed and grown since his arrival in 2010.
Water Canada: You’re coming up on your one-year anniversary at the WCWC. What’s changed in the past year?
Larry Moore: Through the addition of staff and equipment, and a change in our structure, we really are now able to be a strong partner to the government of Ontario, but also to the tech industry, universities and colleges, municipalities, and other key players in the water sector. We can do training, assess technologies, do treatability studies for municipalities—it’s all within our internal capacity.
How has the staffing changed?
Research and technology has become a lot stronger to meet client needs—that was the biggest area of change. In 2011, we significantly reinforced our technical staff, added in three new technicians to our Research & Technology Institute. We also added our innovation lead, Evan Pilkington, and a research lead, Xiaohui Jin.
On the training side, we’ve increased our internal capacity to train. In the past, we’ve used exclusively contract trainers. Now, we’ve got the Train the Trainer program, and several other staff members have begun to train. This gives us more control with both costs and quality.
You also mentioned new equipment. What has the Centre acquired in the past year, and how does it help with WCWC’s services?
We had two major additions in 2011. We’re particularly excited about the slow-sand demonstration unit, which is especially good for small systems. It’s a low-input technology that is quite robust, using less energy and fewer chemicals, and it’s fairly widely used in Ontario. It also allows us to do a hands-on sand filter training course. The other addition is a dissolved air flotation device (DAF), which provides an alternative to the conventional flocculation/sedimentation step in water treatment. Lately, it’s becoming more common on the front end of plants.
Having these units onsite gives us the opportunity to not only train, but also research the treatment process, which is much harder to do during normal production. In a lab, researchers can actually examine it. The devices become both training and research tools.
Partnerships seem to be of growing importance to WCWC. Can you tell us a bit more about the Centre’s new connections?
For one, we’ve established several partnerships with additional colleges that send students to the Centre for intensive training. In the past, we partnered with only three colleges. In 2011, we grew that number to nine. It has really helped students consider and prepare for a career in the water industry. Sponsors such as the Ontario Clean Water Agency, the Region of Peel, the City of Toronto, and the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association have helped to offset costs of that program.
We’ve also established new partnerships with a number of technology companies, helping them develop their products at the centre. At the end of 2011, we started working with universities to support grant proposals to help them get money from NSERC and other granting agencies. As part of the proposals, we’re encouraging graduate students to do their work at the centre. In fact, our very first grad student (from University of Waterloo) just submitted her first paper. The universities prefer this approach; it makes their proposals stronger.
How has the Centre enhanced its training program?
One of the big news stories on the training side is that we partnered with the Bimose Tribal Council, which represents nine First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario. As part of the agreement, WCWC provides training services, but, more importantly, Train the Trainer services. Subsequently, they’ve gone out and seen as many as 125 attendees in their sessions. It’s very cost-effective. That partnership was a real highlight of 2011, and we’re really trying to see if that agreement can be extended to other tribal councils.
Maintenance Fest, a celebration for water operators near the end of August, was another highlight. It was definitely the training event of the year. During the day, we had 11 training areas set up around the Centre. Operators could choose six modules over the two-day event, and it was intensively hands-on. In the evening, we had a barbeque with live music. It sold out very fast, and everyone’s dying to do it again. It really spoke to our desire to meet the need that’s out there. We want to own that week and provide everyone with a WWW—a warm Walkerton welcome.
Sounds like a great time for operators to meet and share stories and information with their peers, too. What are your plans for future training sessions? What about the next few years of research and demonstration?
We have pretty clear objectives for each of the areas. In 2012, we’re stepping up our effort to reach more operators across the province. We’re also launching a new, practical training program to meet the needs of the very small systems called Practical Training for Owners and Operators of Small Drinking Water Systems. We think it’s going to meet a big need. There’s a course now, but it’s very cumbersome and three days long. This is a one-day program with input from health and technology professionals. It’s already been piloted and we’ll start rolling it out in March. It’s a very powerful program.
On the research and technology side, we’re becoming much more focused on really practical solutions for drinking water systems. Of course, we want to step up the college and university programs, and we also want to provide technology companies with further demonstration services.
We’re pretty excited about the future. When you have a plan, it makes you feel like you know what you’re trying to achieve. We over-delivered in 2011, and we’re hoping to do the same in 2012.
Learn more about the Walkerton Clean Water Centre and its services here.