Moricetown Water Treatment Operators Tap into Clear Solution

By: Anita Bedell

Floyd Naziel
Floyd Naziel at the water treatment plant

Having safe drinking water is something many of us take for granted. But for the water treatment operators in Moricetown, a small First Nations community in northwestern British Columbia, ensuring good water quality is a full-time job. It's a weighty responsibility and one that an upgraded water treatment plant has made that much easier to manage.

Six years ago, Moricetown was under a boil-water advisory. The water treatment plant at the time didn't have the capacity to supply the entire community with drinking water and couldn't reliably remove harmful bacteria. The community did frequent water quality tests, but these had to be shipped to nearby Prince Rupert for analysis and it took weeks to get the results. What's more, the glacier-fed creek that provides the community's water is laden with ‘glacial dust', a substance the old treatment plant couldn't remove.

With the community growing at a steady pace and the water supply vulnerable, it was clear something needed to be done. “An upgrade to the Moricetown water-treatment plant was needed to meet the standards for more stringent water quality and to keep up with the growth in the community,” said Danny Higashitani, Water Engineer for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

 Meeting the Needs of the Community

Clayton Michell
Clayton Michell inspecting water quality tests

The Moricetown Band recognized the need for action, but they weren't quite sure what form it should take. A consultant suggested they upgrade the rapid-filtration treatment method to a slow sand system. They followed that advice and haven't looked back since.

The Moricetown slow sand treatment plant is the first to be built on-reserve, but it likely won't be the last. More and more communities are realizing the benefits of the slow sand method, including the World Health Organization, which has stated that “slow sand filtration may be the most efficient method of water treatment. It is far more efficient than rapid filtration in removing bacterial contamination.” In fact, the Moricetown plant can provide more clean water than the community currently needs.

Water treatment operators Floyd Naziel and Clayton Michell monitor the plant on-site and remotely 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure the water meets the standards outlined in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. An operator since 1995, Michell says that being in charge of the water treatment plant is serious work. “Water operators have to be reliable. It's not just about water; it's about the health and safety of the whole community,” Michell said.

Cecil Alfred, a retired water operator from the old plant is proud of the new building. “The water it's producing is excellent,” he said. And he's proud of the water operators, who work tirelessly to make sure that quality is maintained.

“I didn't imagine I'd become a water treatment operator,” said Naziel, who was certified in 2002. He was helping build the new plant when he was handpicked by the soon-to-retire Alfred. “I watched the way Floyd worked and tested him to see if he had what it takes,” said Alfred. “I'm confident leaving the plant in Floyd and Clayton's hands.”

 Life-long Learning and Support

Clayton Michell
Clayton Michell inspecting the creek water intake

Naziel and Michell are currently enrolled in the Water Treatment Technology program at Thompson Rivers University, a unique program designed to be flexible and innovative. Both operators enjoy the flexibility of doing a combination of distance learning and week-long on-site practicums in Kamloops.

Outside of the classroom, Naziel and Michell get all the support they need to carry out their work while continuing with their certification. The Circuit Rider Program, provided through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, offers newer operators ongoing training and mentorship by highly experienced and certified operators. Circuit Riders work directly with operators through on-site visits, providing advice on how to streamline and properly maintain their operations. “I know if I have any questions or if we have problems, I can call our Circuit Rider,” said Michell.

When asked what the new treatment plant has done for the community, Michell said one thing is clear: it has helped the community “respect our water and appreciate it.”

The Government of Canada is investing in projects that will provide lasting, sustainable benefits for First Nation communities and is taking decisive action to improve water conditions through the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan. Since 2006, the Government of Canada has worked with First Nations and other partners to reduce the number of high-risk water systems in British Columbia First Nation communities by almost 69 per cent. In spring 2006, 64 First Nations in BC had high-risk water systems. As of March 31, 2009, that number has been reduced to 20. For more information on the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan, go to:
www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ai/mr/nr/j-a2008/2-3019-eng.asp