Simon Martel

I like nature and love water. When I was younger I spent summers at my parent’s place by a lake in the Laurentian Mountains. I grew up enjoying water and this led to my career in water treatment. A water treatment plant is like a river in a building. It never stops flowing and it touches all the sciences. The operation of a water treatment plant involves knowledge of electricity, physics, chemistry and microbiology. I started doing this type of work sixteen years ago and I still enjoy it very much. I attained my water treatment operator training in 1986 and started my first position in the water treatment field.

As I gained experience I also continued to educate myself by attending college courses at night for ten years to earn my degree. It was motivating for me to apply what I had learned at college to solve problems the following day at work. I progressed from assistant operator to operator and then to water treatment filtration plant technician. My responsibility in water treatment is to never put people at risk. The plant where I work supplies water to a large city and a surrounding area within fifteen kilometres. The experience I have gained allows me to view problems with the solution in mind and fix things quickly before there is a risk to anyone. You have to keep learning to stay current.

There are new things happening in water treatment technology that will result in more automation of plant processes and increased sophistication of chemical analysis. Memberships in associations allow me to attend conferences and seminars where I can learn about these advances and see the new equipment. There is also the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge through unique experiences at work. Long periods of dry weather cause increases in water use as people water their lawns and wash their cars. As the dry days continue the water treatment plant functions at full capacity twenty-four hours per day with peak usage at seven to nine in the evening.

Knowing what to do in these situations to avoid a crisis can only be learned by experience. In Canada, all large cities require a water treatment plant and operators to run the plant. There is also a good opportunity for employment in this field with beverage and chemical industries. The last twenty years have been a growth period for the water treatment field and it looks like the growth will continue in the future. I plan on advancing my skills to the point where I can manage a water treatment plant and make the changes necessary to bring that plant up to the top level of functioning by adding new equipment, technology and processes. There will always be a demand for good water. There are good things and not so good things with every job. Sometimes my job involves routine tasks and if I am working the night shift it can be lonely. You need to be able to enjoy working alone for this reason.

Other times this work can demand your full attention to keep the plant running smoothly or quickly find solutions to problems. The best advice I can give are the words that were told to me by my high school teacher. He said to «always do your job the best you can” and I know that one of the reasons I have been successful in my career is because I followed his advice. The typical week is thirty-six hours either on rotation day, evening or night shift. At work, I do laboratory analysis, process control, tours of the plant, monitoring of indicators and proportioning of chemical product concentration. I need to have rapid data analysis skills as well as knowledge of chemicals and technical information systems.

It is also important for me to keep well informed of weather conditions to anticipate problems and adjust plant processes. My shift schedule sometimes requires me to work seven days in a row but then I get to take five days off and this is time I can spend with my family. One of the reasons I like working shifts is I enjoy having days off when most other people are working. A water treatment plant is a chain of basins that hold water and are linked to each other by channels and pipes. Water is sampled in these basins and treated in response to the results of laboratory analysis.

The chemical treatments take time to show their effects in the water quality and the rate of water flow between basins also affects chemical concentrations. It can be difficult to know if we can wait for changes or if more chemicals are needed. To help solve this problem I developed a program to time the movement of water. Using volume and flow rates the program calculates all the times that are required for water to change basins. From this information, we are able to tell if we have given the chemicals long enough contact time to react. As a result, we can accurately use treatments when the quality of raw water changes quickly, minimize the use of chemicals and still ensure a safe supply of water.