University of Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan)

Coralling water treatment plant data: Internship an important catalyst


Anthony Baron, Science Horizons intern from the University of Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Mariana Campos Rivera

As a young honours arts and science graduate from the University of Saskatchewan, Anthony Baron gained important new skills during his internship with its School of Environment and Sustainability. But of even greater significance, he says, was that his research work could contribute to the well-being of others in the future.

He was hired to help on a project organizing data amassed over decades by a water-treatment plant based on the shores Buffalo Pound Lake, Saskatchewan. The 75-year old Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant supplies drinking water to Regina and Moose Jaw and surrounding areas – servicing nearly 25% of the province’s population.

A former research assistant at the university’s Global Institute for Water Security, Baron says the project involving a water plant that supplies two cities meant “the impact of my work has the potential to benefit a lot of people.”

The goal of the six-month project was to amalgamate the plant’s information into a single database so that long-term and monthly reports could be generated more rapidly. Baron worked alongside a data systems designer who was pursuing post-doctoral studies at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University.

Still under development, the improved database will support a $223-million infrastructure rejuvenation project of the plant announced in June 2021.

The modernized plant will need to supply water for a growing population, says Helen Baulch, the University of Saskatchewan professor and researcher who supervised the intern’s work. “They are building infrastructure for the next 30 years or more,” she says, “so it’s important to look at what types of design and processes will be robust enough to handle future circumstances.”

Anthony teleworks during his internship organizing data from the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant in Saskatchewan.

Anthony Baron teleworks during his internship, organizing data from the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant, Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Mariana Campos Rivera.

Originally from Regina, Baron loved high school chemistry and mathematics and was encouraged to pursue a career in science by older cousins who are scientists. His first ambition was to become an engineer but at university he became increasingly intrigued by the natural environment. His undergraduate honours thesis focused on the biogeochemistry of methane in wetlands.

An Associate Professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Environment and Sustainability and with its Global Institute for Water Security, Baulch says the project proved more successful than she had anticipated. She attributes this to strong guidelines from the water treatment plant, the intern’s dedication and the leadership of an excellent data-systems designer.

“The Science Horizons program has been fantastic,” says Baulch, who has supervised other such internships in the past. “The people organizing it have been really supportive and helped me get things done. And we’ve had really great success in terms of the interns we’ve had.”

The program helped advance her research and strengthen industrial partnerships. For example, she works closely with the water treatment plant on other projects. “It’s a good opportunity for employers,” she says, “but I also value it because it’s really good for recent graduates getting placed in the careers they want. Hands-on experience in your area of work can be really challenging to find so there’s huge value in this type of program.”

Baron, whose wage subsidy was funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program and arranged through Colleges and Institutes Canada, is grateful he was able to work closely with academic and industry professionals. Their support helped build his confidence and he is still working on projects involving the water-treatment plant and Buffalo Pound Lake.

“The internship provided an opportunity to put what I learned as an undergraduate into practice,” he says. “More importantly, it allowed me to develop essential soft skills that are often overlooked in undergraduate programs in the sciences, such as collaboration, project management and networking.”

Baulch says the Science Horizons funding is making a real difference. “The growth in Anthony’s skills and his independence in engaging experts and industry partners was an important catalyst to his professional development,” she says “He has made huge strides and has done some really helpful work. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”

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