Castlegar city staff propel peer-to-peer training program

Castlegar's water utility manager, Jesse Reel, and other city staff are propelling peer-to-peer training for water utility operators.

Castlegar’s water utility manager has been gaining recognition in the world of BC water conservation recently.

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC and Columbia Basin Water Smart have both acknowledged Jesse Reel’s role in a peer-to-peer training program from water utility operators in articles on their websites.

But Reel isn’t prepared to take too much credit for the program, giving most of the credit for its success to Joe McGowan, public works manager for the City of Cranbrook.

The peer-to-peer program started in winter 2013 and allows water utility operators to deliver and receive training in their communities without the cost of attending costly courses that are usually offered in the Okanagan or the Lower Mainland.

“What we’ve identified is that budgetary restraints make it hard to get training to everybody. There’s a lot of knowledge right here in the West Kootenays, and we need to access that knowledge and have operators train other operators,” said Reel. “This is about us partnering up with other people. The City of Castlegar, we have a lot of skill, we have a lot of technicians in house here. We can get out and we can help smaller communities like the Village of Montrose, the Village of Nakusp, or say Genelle.”

Reel himself recently did peer-to-peer training at the Glade Irrigation District.

“They had some really smart guys. They had some guys with some high mechanical aptitude, [but] they’ve never worked on a water system, they didn’t know the ins and out of it,” he said. “They had some components failing and they didn’t know what to do about it. They didn’t know how to tackle the problem.”

Reel conducted a three-hour training period in Glade on how to properly take apart a control valve and how to put it back together and set it up.

“That got some momentum going in that water system. They had someone to turn to now who could offer them a bit of advice,” said Reel. “[That] spurred some momentum out there and they did more maintenance on their water system in 18 months than they’d done in 20 years.”

The Columbia Basin Trust currently supports the peer-to-peer program, and now in its second year the program has started receiving support from the Environmental Operators Certification Program (EOCP) who want to make peer-to-peer training a recognized training event where operators will gain continuing education units (CEUs). A win for municipalities, since certified water utility operators are required to earn 2.4 CEUs every two years.

The EOCP began developing a website earlier this spring for certifying in-house peer-to-peer trainers, which an operator from Castlegar volunteered to help test.

“Could he actually get on there, register himself as a trainer, submit his course in a relatively easy enough fashion that’s not going to scare him away, and administer the training and get the CEUs for him and the guy he trained?” said Reel. “So Bill McMillan was our guinea pig in house and he struggled a lot with their website, and they’ve made a lot of changes to their website to make this easier.”

Hopefully by next year every operator will have access to the website.

The peer-to-peer program is still considered a pilot program, and Reel said it’s mostly being done of the corners of everyone’s desk.

“We’re doing this for the love of our jobs, and me and Bill…, we believe this is a very valuable exercise. These senior guys have a lot of knowledge. They have tricks of the trade that you can’t learn in a classroom, you can’t even learn in a text book, you have to learn hands on.”