Princeton’s water department is down another certified worker and the municipality is now advertising for a water and waste-water specialist.
Currently only one employee with the town’s public works department has certification to operate the water distribution system, and that individual is classified as a Level One operator, while the facility requires an operator with Level Three training, experience and paperwork.
Infrastructure director Michael Mazurek told The Spotlight that the quality of Princeton’s water is not comprised by the situation.
“Monitoring, regular routine sampling and all other activities relating to our water system are being carried out on a daily basis as usual,” he said.
Princeton’s senior water employee Britt Fraser, who was Level Three-certified and had worked for the town for more than a decade, left the municipality’s employ in October.
At that time Mazurek said the department’s Level Two certified worker would take additional training and log time to achieve Level Three status, while a Level One certified worker would also upgrade his skills.
The Level Two operator is now on medical leave, Mazurek said Friday.
“He is not able to work. We need to expand our coverage, employment wise, and I think at that point we made the decision to hire a Level Three.
Mazurek said if an issue arises at Princeton’s water plant in the interim that cannot be addressed by existing staff “we would immediately bring in contractors, and there are a number of them.”
According to a spokesperson for the group that certifies water operators and rates facilities in BC and the Yukon, Princeton needs more and better-certified workers to meet government regulations, but residents should not be concerned about the quality of water.
“Making sure that the system is working and making sure sampling results are adequate in terms of making sure there is no harmful bacteria, a Level One operator would know how to do that,” said Kalpna Solanki, CEO of the Environmental Operators Certification Program.
If samples show concerning levels of bacteria or there is a system failure “it seems to me they have a process to address an emergency…It seems like they are doing their best.”
It’s common for employers to struggle to find highly certified water operators, she said, and to use contractors when needed.
“Princeton is not anomalous in this situation, this is across BC and the Yukon,” said Solanki.
“It does happen periodically and one of the main reason is someone leaves and they can’t find an operator…Employers really need to be working on more diligent succession planning so that when somebody leaves they are not in a bind.”
In response to a call from The Spotlight Interior Health’s specialist environmental health officer Judi Ekkert released the following statement:
“[The] Drinking Water Program works with water suppliers to ensure they are meeting the certified operator provisions of the Drinking Water Protection Act. Retaining and recruiting certified operators is an industry-wide challenge.
“The loss of the senior operator for Princeton highlights the importance of succession planning and commitment to operator training for water suppliers.
“We will continue to work with the Town of Princeton to ensure residents are receiving safe, reliable drinking water.”