Today’s post comes from Mackenzie Garrett, a water technician at Bon Echo Provincial Park.
Picture this: you’re camping at a provincial park when thirst strikes.
As you fill your water jug at the nearest tap, you may wonder, “where did this water come from?”
This is where I come in! This past year, I had the pleasure of working as a water technician at Bon Echo Provincial Park.
In a nutshell, my job was to ensure our campers, day-users, and staff were provided with safe drinking water during their stay at the park.
Becoming a water technician
When I first began working in Ontario Parks, I too wondered where park water came from.
My journey started five years ago. I worked as a maintenance student and a gate attendant, before falling into a green initiatives position.
This is when I began to gain a better understanding of the water treatment process. I assisted an experienced staff member with water sampling, and other special projects throughout the park.
My years working in student positions helped me gain the knowledge and experience I needed to take on the role of water technician this season.
I first passed the Walkerton Clean Water Centre Operation of Small Drinking Water Systems course, and received training from other park staff who were trained in the operation of drinking water systems.
I learned that there is so much more that goes into park water than I ever could have realized!
There are many provincial regulations that ensure park water is safe and reliable.
Water must be treated when the water system obtains water from a raw water supply, like if it comes straight from a lake or from a ground water source that may not be secure (for example the water could have contaminants from run-off).
At Bon Echo, our main campground (Mazinaw Campground) draws water straight from Mazinaw Lake. The water is taken from the lake, and then goes through a multi-step filtration and disinfection process to ensure it is drinkable.
The park supplies water to over 200,000 visitors a year, the size of some cities in Ontario!
As a water technician, overseeing this important process became my bread and butter.
A day in the life
I started my morning at the park’s three pumphouses. Each of these pumphouses serve different areas of the park and are all slightly different in the way that the water is treated.
One is in the main campground, one is at the camp cabins comfort station, and the third is in our Hardwood Hill Campground.
At each pumphouse I checked chlorine and PH levels in the water, as well as turbidity, or how clear the water is.
A chlorine level too high or too low is not safe for human consumption; you need to find the sweet spot. Drinking water legislation and water plant-engineered designs specify the safe levels of chlorine that should in the water at all times. I also documented water usage at each place.
Daily water sampling also requires testing done at the end of the line. This is the furthest distribution point from the pumphouse. Testing at the end of the line ensures adequate chlorine levels throughout the entire park.
Keeping an eye on bacteria
On Mondays, in addition to daily water sampling, I also collected weekly water samples which were tested for bacteria.
I collected samples from several water taps within the park. They were then transported to the public health lab in Kingston to be thoroughly tested to ensure no bad bacteria were present. Results are received from the lab within the same week.
Results may come back as good, and no further steps need to be taken. Or, if bad bacteria are detected, our parks public health team communicates with the local health unit, and then advises park staff on corrective action. Sometimes this may be just a re-sample of the water where the adverse sample occurred.
Other times we may have to put a Boil Water Advisory in place, meaning we post signs informing the public that water from a particular tap, or entire drinking water system, is not drinkable unless it is boiled.
If this happens, we send another two water samples to the lab to ensure the water is restored to acceptable levels in compliance with safe drinking water legislation.
Hitting the beach (sampling)
Aside from testing drinking water, I also did monthly beach sampling, my all-time favorite task!
Every month, I took water samples at all three of our beaches to ensure safe swimming for the public.
To collect these samples, I travelled by boat onto Mazinaw Lake. I went just outside the buoy line (chest-deep water) at the beaches and filled five sample bottles from each.
Beach samples were sent to the lab to be examined. Results are returned within a day or two, and we are notified if we need to take further actions, such as posting a beach as unsafe for swimming and taking follow-up samples.
My work isn’t all sunshine and clean air
The smelliest part of my job was taking samples from septic tanks in the park.
As much as it is a stinky job, it is an important one. Taking septic samples ensures our septic system is working well, and are often required as part of the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks approval of the system.
These samples are sent to a private lab that evaluates the samples, and then forwards the results back to the park.
Test results for the water and septic samples are filed and put in a binder in the park office. These results are available for the public to look at, if requested.
Water technicians keep everyone healthy and hydrated
I hope you have learned a little more about what a water technician does in Ontario Parks.
The next time you see us taking water samples at a water tap in Mazinaw or Hardwood Hill campgrounds, you can rest assured the water you drink has been checked by a qualified staff member.
Want to work for Ontario Parks?
Applications for the 2023 season are now open! Learn more about working at Ontario Parks on our website.