At a Glance
Imagine you are kneeling over a deep drinking-water well, carefully recording the data displayed on your electronic tape measure, which tells you how deep the water is inside the well. You are a water quality technician/technologist and you have been called in to gather samples and test water from private wells in the area. Several weeks ago, a small oil company constructed a sour gas well less than a kilometre away from some of these homes. Since then, the owners of the wells have been complaining of taste and odour problems with their water. Some have even reported suffering headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Because of these complaints, a comprehensive study has been ordered for each well.
As a water quality technician/technologist, you have conducted dozens of comprehensive studies like this one on groundwater wells and surface water lakes and streams. You start your investigation by properly obtaining samples from each of the area wells. You've been trained to identify undesirable odours in water, including the rotten egg smell these residents are complaining of. If you can smell rotten eggs, you know this is an indicator of high levels of sulphur, hydrogen sulphide, iron bacteria, or sulphate-reducing bacteria in the water. You will test for most of these at the lab, but hydrogen sulphide presents a special problem. It can dissolve in water and vaporize, so by the time you get the samples to the lab, the hydrogen sulphide will be gone. To test for hydrogen sulphide, you will have to do it right at the well.
The rest of the samples will be analyzed at the lab for parameters such as total dissolved solids, hardness, alkalinity, arsenic, uranium, pH, chlorine, sodium, lead, and bacteria. It can take weeks for you to run these tests, but they must be done to make certain the water from these wells is safe.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a water quality technician/technologist:
- Monitor drinking water parameters using field equipment, for example, pH, conductivity, and total dissolved solids meters.
- Calibrate equipment and verify data.
- Perform distribution-system flushing operations.
- Collect and analyze samples.
- Organize water-sampling schedules.
- Perform water pressure tests for distribution systems using pressure-recording charts.
- Conduct bacteriological and chemical testing on samples collected using standard laboratory procedures.
- Monitor wells and other water sources.
- Enter and update data in testing and results databases.
In the lab:
- Preparing test solutions and processing samples
- Testing and analyzing samples
- Developing test methodology
- Calibrating and maintaining instruments
In the office:
- Compiling, recording, and interpreting test results
- Analyzing data and preparing various records and reports related to water quality regulatory monitoring
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with supervisors, clients, government departments, colleagues, and other scientists
In the field:
- Collecting samples for analysis
- Participating in training sessions
Where to Work
There are a number of places water quality technicians/technologists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Environmental consulting firms
- Firms in other industries, for example, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, food production, and health care
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as a water quality technician/technologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a water quality technician/technologist is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a water quality technician/technologist, the following programs are most applicable:
- Water Resources
- Environmental Technology
- Environmental Science
- Pure and Applied Science
In most provinces, water quality technicians/technologists must be certified by their provincial association. This certification is transferable between provinces. For more information on certification, visit the Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists.
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more
Paul Baker loves the variety in his work. “The great thing is that I’m never stuck in one thing for too long,” says Paul of his job as Environment Officer/Water Quality Technician for the Government of Prince Edward Island. Paul’s fascination with the environment and clean water started early: “I’ve always had an interest in the environment, going back to when I was growing up. I used to do a lot of hunting and fishing.” He pursued his interest by studying in the environmental technology program at Holland College.
When he graduated, he took a series of contracts before finding permanent employment. Paul has been a permanent employee with the PEI government since 1989 and still looks forward to getting to work every day. Not that it’s all easy. Much of Paul’s work is related to the testing and certification of household wells. Property owners must produce a clean water certificate for mortgage lenders or purchasers. Paul’s office processes requests for more than a 1,000 of these certificates per year and he’s often faced with tight deadlines and difficult water problems. To solve the more difficult problems, he often visits a site seven or eight times. What kind of testing does he do? “We check for bacteria.
We look for surface water bacteria, contamination, total coliform. And then we look at e-coli, which is from animal or human waste. In addition, we look at the chemistry of the water and check 16 or 17 parameters-nitrates, the hardness of the water, chloride, sodium, manganese and so on.” Paul says his job requires a good understanding of groundwater and how it works. “You need to know how wells work, septic systems are a big part of it. I think good communication skills are important because I deal with numerous people. Some are quite interesting. Others can be up in arms and frustrated with their problems.”