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OPG’s Maja Ristic helps keep public safe in Niagara

With a master’s degree in Disaster and Emergency Management, OPG’s Maja Ristic works as a Program Coordinator/Advisor in Public Safety, promoting public safety around OPG’s hydroelectric operations in the Niagara region.

OPG’s Maja Ristic works as a Program Coordinator/Advisor in Public Safety in Niagara.

It’s a unique job with unique challenges that come with operating near one of the province’s most popular tourist destinations, Niagara Falls.

“Not only are our generating stations and dams embedded in populated cities, but with added tourism, we have public presence around our facilities and operations daily,” explained Ristic, who is marking her 10th year at OPG. “It’s important the public is aware of the hazards and respects the protocols in place for their safety.”

OPG’s operations in the area include the Sir Adam Beck hydro generating complex, the DeCew Falls generating stations, and the International Niagara Control Works (INCW), a 472-metre-long dam in the middle of the Niagara River that controls the flow of water for Canadian and U.S. power generation and for the Falls.

In her role, Ristic supports initiatives to promote public awareness and protect the public from waterway hazards resulting from operations. This includes making sure recreational boaters, anglers, and members of the public know about the dangers around hydro stations and dams.

“Hydro stations and dams introduce waterway hazards that are above and beyond naturally occurring conditions, such as vortices with strong under currents, aerated waters that reduce buoyancy, and dangerously turbulent flows,” she warned. “It’s not only that these hazards are introduced to a waterway, it’s that the conditions around stations and dams can change instantly.”

OPG's Maja Ristic stands on the pier of the International Niagara Control Works dam on the Niagara River. “Hydro stations and dams introduce waterway hazards that are above and beyond naturally occurring conditions," she warns.
OPG's Maja Ristic stands on the pier of the International Niagara Control Works dam on the Niagara River. “Hydro stations and dams introduce waterway hazards that are above and beyond naturally occurring conditions," she warns.

As a result, hydro facilities at a minimum are clearly marked with danger signs to delineate areas to stay clear. OPG’s Niagara Operations has most of its facilities fenced off to prevent access, and uses booms and buoys in the water, where possible, as an added measure of safety.

The region further employs technologies to increase safety at certain locations, such as motion-detecting cameras, automated speakers to convey warning messages, and radar to monitor waterways. OPG also promotes province-wide public education campaigns to inform recreation seekers of the dangers near all hydro dams and station.

Ristic’s job provides support for all of these measures and she performs risk assessments of OPG’s operations to identify and address any potential hazards to the public. She also supports hydraulic assessments to understand the impact of water releases on public safety, which includes using drones to capture footage of outflows under various operating conditions.

“I’m so grateful everyday for the role I’m in,” said Ristic, whose love for the water and outdoors make working in Niagara a perfect fit.

Her journey to OPG began after her father, who had worked at one of Europe’s largest hydro stations, encouraged her to sign up for an internship with the company while she was still in school. She started at OPG in the Emergency Management department, writing emergency plans and coordinating exercises to help the company prepare for potential attacks on the electricity grid.

“Both of my roles at OPG have been amazing for many reasons. But most importantly, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with and among diverse professions and exceptionally skilled people, and that’s my favourite part of the job.”

The Public Safety Program in Niagara is robust and is a collaborative effort of many departments across OPG, including Operations, Security, and Facility Services, as well as first responders, municipalities, and local organizations.

Over the years, Ristic has seen a few close calls that have involved the response of many stakeholders, particularly with people entering dangerous waters at the INCW dam, about one kilometre upstream from the perilous drop of Niagara Falls, and in front of the Sir Adam Beck tunnel intakes.

Federal law prohibits vessels from entering these turbulent areas, with a line of keep-out buoys and several large signs warning of the danger ahead.

For those who would tempt fate by disregarding all of these warnings and restrictions, Ristic has a stark message: “Deliberately disregarding safety measures puts your own life at risk, as well as the lives of first responders who are called to save you. Please don’t forget that, and respect the measures in place for your safety.”

Stay clear, stay safe.

For more information regarding waterways public safety, visit the following links:

OPG: Building strong and safe communities > Water safety - OPG

Niagara Parks: Trail Etiquette & Safety (niagaraparks.com)