Rural water issues addressed in Closer to Home series

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Certified Operator Jenna Fischbuch examines a sample at the Henry Kroeger Regional Water Services Plant in Hanna, Alberta in the And the Work Goes On video. ECA Review/YouTube

When it comes to water and wastewater operations, rural Alberta finds itself in a unique position: resources require different management capacities, skills are distributed across vast distances and needs are more nuanced than those of urban centres.

The Rural Alberta Development Fund (RADF) addressed these distinct needs with an online web video series and training platform known as the Closer to Home (C2H) initiative, a project which spanned the province of Alberta and addressed training and retention of qualified water and wastewater operators. Communities involved included Olds, Pideon Lake, Marwayne, Kitscoty, Dewberry, Cochrane and Hanna, with a complimentary video series entitled Getting Water Wise Alberta (GWWA) addressing the distinctive features and requirements of each area.

The initiative recently found completion in December of 2013 after just over two years of work, in which the RADF infused $2.4 million into the project with other contributions drawing a total investment of $3.25 million. Objectives of the project included building competency in rural water systems operations, addressing concerns surrounding generational turnover of skilled wastewater and water operations personnel and the sharing of knowledge between rural communities.

Hanna’s Henry Kroeger Regional Water Services plant was included in the video series with “And The Work Goes On” and received the benefits of various workshops and training sessions. The plant’s Public Operations Manager Garth Carl featured prominently in the video and worked with the C2H team to address concerns for their area.

“We were approached about doing the series by the Closer to Home group that has been working throughout Alberta on a number of water and wastewater initiatives specially focused on rural Alberta,” Carl said. “A big chunk [of the investment contributions] went to redevelopment of some of the training courses for water and wastewater.”

Carl said the initiative provided a different approach to accumulating and distributing learning material that was novel for the area.

“We had a number of workshops where senior operators gathered and essentially we went through the daily routines of what an operator does, all broken down into sections,” said Carl. “Then the writers took material from the datum workshops and started producing these educational programs.” In addition to webinars for administration and municipal managers, the initiative included monthly educational sessions and the production of a sharable video series. The video for Hanna focused on the sustainability and retention of skilled operators for rural communities.

“In the past we’ve had numerous operators who come, spend a year or two getting educated and training only to move on. They’re not interested in staying in small town Alberta,” he said. “Our focus was on retaining local people and training them so that’s kind of the road we went down.” To avoid losing vast stores of knowledge as seasoned operators retire, these initiatives took a closer to home perspective on training opportunities to pass on expertise to new generations. Carl notes that initial successes included a pilot project that trained a local just after grade 12, who has remained on staff since 2006. The video highlights the successes of the Hanna plant in their retention efforts, which Carl said is to be included on a DVD that will be distributed to rural water and wastewater plants and stakeholders for informational purposes. The videos are also on the OurAlbertaWater YouTube channel.

“I believe that anybody that has the option to watch these videos will gain a lot of knowledge from them and perhaps some ideas of their own,” Carl notes. “They will be a good educational experience for anyone who’s in this industry or related to it in any way.”

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