By Bronwen Parsons
Chris Baisley, P.Eng., explains how his firm found itself in exactly the right place at the right time just after the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton in 2000. "Walkerton, through creating awareness...
Chris Baisley, P.Eng., explains how his firm found itself in exactly the right place at the right time just after the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton in 2000. “Walkerton, through creating awareness, opened up the market in Canada for information management focused on drinking water,” he says.
After Walkerton, as well as a similar crisis that happened in North Battleford, Saskatchewan a few months later, governments across Canada have been passing a raft of laws that require municipal utilities to amass, analyze and report huge amounts of testing information to ensure drinking water is free of contaminants.
“It [the new regulatory environment] means they need to practice due diligence,” says Baisley, “So, for example, if you do a test on drinking water quality you are obliged to review the results, and you are then obliged to take action depending on what the results are. Now that sounds obvious, but it really wasn’t always being done in the past.”
Baisley, a young engineer who worked for Kerr Wood Leidal consulting engineers for eight years, is now vice-president of product management with WaterTrax in Vancouver. Self-described as an “Application Service Provider,” WaterTrax develops, hosts and manages an information service for water utilities.
The company has developed software that automatically handles and organizes the information accumulated by the various players — be they the plant operators who input chemical indicators, the independent laboratories who analyze the tests, or the managers who oversee the utility and have to submit reports to municipal councils and health authorities every week or so.
The system is web-based and paid for by subscription according to the number of people the utility serves. The servers are maintained by WaterTrax in Vancouver. Since the system also has all the provincial water regulations built in, it even triggers automatic alarms when the water quality is not up to standard.
WaterTrax was born in the head of the company’s founder Ron Green, P.Eng., a civil engineer who previously worked on drinking water quality for the Canadian government. He intended to focus the product on the U.S. market where the regulatory environment for drinking water quality was then much tighter. About a year after the Walkerton crisis, Green’s company received outside investment and expanded its staff, which is when Baisley became involved.
Some large cities like Toronto have developed their own computer systems for managing water systems, but others who don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so have become a fertile market for WaterTrax. The company now has clients from B.C. to the Maritimes, and down to Arizona and California. Its largest municipal client is the Halifax Water Commission, and it is working with Health Canada which oversees the water systems for hundreds of First Nation communities. Consulting engineers are also using the service for conducting pilot tests for a new water treatment plant in Ontario.
WaterTrax has 12 employees, several of whom were previously water or environmental engineers.
“It’s an interesting blend of IT with drinking water expertise,” says Baisley of the company. “We understand our customers very well because we all come from that business.”