Technology team nets award

One can craft any number of sentimental lines for the importance of water: the essence of life, nature’s gift — and the list could surely go on.

By Sean Kolenko

One can craft any number of sentimental lines for the importance of water: the essence of life, nature’s gift — and the list could surely go on.

But that doesn’t stop us from taking it for granted.

It’s there when the tap is turned on, when the fridge is opened and in the bathroom when it’s shower time. And it’s clean.

For small First Nations communities on the outer reaches of B.C., however, the discussion surrounding water and its cleanliness is often of greater importance.

Many such communities operate small water filtration systems, free of municipal investment and operation, that aren’t effective, says Heather Bohn of the Tsimshian First Nation.

Enter the WaterKeeper training tool, launched in 2009 and funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Designed to support and teach operators of small water systems to provide clean water to First Nations communities, WaterKeeper is an interactive 3-D website that runs the gamut of water operations — from the required math skills to treatment options.

It also displays a list of water keepers throughout B.C., their contacts and any applicable areas of expertise.

At the 2011 Serious Games Conference in Redmond, Wash., WaterKeeper became an award winner earning a bronze medal for “distinguishing superior examples of corporate, military, healthcare or school at home.” Also recognized at the conference were programs from the Netherlands and the United States.

Bohn did the 3-D modelling for WaterKeeper. She said the job was an eye-opening initiative that illustrates the importance of clean water for rural communities.

“It really brought to light the importance of water,” said Bohn, who works in West Vancouver.

“The water operator in my community back home [near Terrace] mentioned the job’s about family. It’s a passion not a job.”

North Vancouver’s Russ Baker, WaterKeeper’s executive producer, hailed the product as a collaborative effort.

The University of Victoria offered those working on the tool the use of a media lab on its campus, while interns from First Nations communities also worked on the project.

For more information or to view WaterKeeper, visit www.fnwk.ca.