Today’s post comes from Mackenzie Garrett, Water Technician at Bon Echo Provincial Park.
Picture this: You’re camping in a provincial park when you’re thirsty.
As you fill your water jug at the nearest faucet, you may be wondering, “Where does this water come from?”
This is where I come in! Last year I had the pleasure of working as a water technician at Bon Echo Provincial Park.
Simply put, my job was to ensure that our campers, day users, and staff received drinking water during their stay in the park.
Become a water technician
When I started working at Ontario Parks, I also wondered where the water in the parks came from.
My journey began five years ago. I worked as a maintenance student and door attendant, before moving into a green initiatives role.
That’s when I began to better understand the water treatment process. 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 water technician role this season.
I first passed the Walkerton Clean Water Center’s Small Drinking Water Systems Operation course and received training from other park staff who received training in the operation of drinking water systems.
I learned that there is much more to the park’s water than I ever imagined!
There are many provincial regulations that ensure park water is safe and reliable.
Water must be treated when the water system draws water from a raw water supply, such as directly from a lake or a groundwater source that may be unsafe (for example, the water could have contaminants from runoff). .
At Bon Echo, our main campground (Mazinaw Campground) draws water directly from Mazinaw Lake. The water is drawn from the lake and then goes through a multi-step filtration and disinfection process to ensure it is drinkable.
The park supplies water to more than 200,000 visitors a year, the size of some cities in Ontario!
As a water technician, supervising this important process became my daily bread.
one day in the Life
I started my morning at the three pumps in the park. Each of these pumps serves different areas of the park and they are all slightly different in the way the water is treated.
One is at the main campground, one is at the camp cabin comfort station, and the third is at our Hardwood Hill campground.
At each pump house I checked the chlorine and PH levels in the water, as well as turbidity, or how clear the water is.
Too high or too low a chlorine level is not safe for human consumption; you need to find the sweet spot. Drinking water legislation and water plant engineering designs specify safe levels of chlorine that must be in the water at all times. I also documented the water use at each location.
Daily water sampling also requires testing performed at the end of the line. This is the distribution point furthest from the pump house. End-of-line testing ensures adequate chlorine levels throughout the park.
On Mondays, in addition to daily water sampling, I also collected weekly water samples that were analyzed for bacteria.
I collected samples from several water taps within the park. They were then transported to the public health laboratory in Kingston to be thoroughly examined to ensure no harmful bacteria were present. Results are received from the laboratory within the same week.
The results can be equally good and no further action is necessary. Or, if harmful bacteria are detected, our parks public health team contacts the local health unit and then advises park staff on corrective measures. Sometimes this may simply be a new sample of the water where the adverse sample occurred.
At other times, we may have to implement a boil water notice, which means we post signs informing the public that the water from a particular tap, or the entire drinking water system, is not safe to drink unless let it boil.
If this happens, we send two more water samples to the laboratory to ensure the water returns to acceptable levels in accordance with drinking water legislation.
Go to the beach (sampling)
In addition to testing drinking water, I also did monthly beach sampling, my favorite task of all time!
Each month, I take water samples at our three beaches to ensure the public can swim safely.
To collect these samples, I traveled by boat to Mazinaw Lake. I went just outside the buoy line (chest deep water) on the beaches and filled five sample bottles of each.
Samples from the beach were sent to the laboratory for testing. Results are returned within a day or two and we are notified if we need to take additional action, such as posting a beach as unsafe for swimming and taking follow-up samples.
My job is not all sunshine and clean air
The smelliest part of my job was sampling the park’s septic tanks.
As much as it sucks, it’s important. Septic sampling ensures that our septic system is working well and is often required as part of system approval by the Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
These samples are sent to a private laboratory that tests them and then sends the results to the park.
The results of water testing and septic samples are filed and kept in a folder in the park office. These results are available for the public to view upon request.
The water technicians keep everyone healthy and hydrated.
I hope you learned a little more about what a water technician does in Ontario parks.
The next time you see us sampling water at a tap at the Mazinaw or Hardwood Hill campgrounds, you can rest assured that a qualified staff member has checked the water you drink.
Do you want to work for Ontario Parks?
Applications for the 2023 season are now open! Learn more about working at Ontario Parks on our website.