The First Threat: Aging Infrastructure
Canada’s water infrastructure is at serious risk.
According to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, 30 percent of water infrastructure (such as watermains and sewers) are in fair, poor, or very poor condition, and more than $60 billion is needed to repair or replace aging drinking water systems in Canada.
So, the first threat is simply the staggering cost of replacing aging infrastructure.
The Second Threat: Climate Change
With its glacier-fed streams, flowing rivers, freshwater lakes, rainforests, and coastal seas, Canada enjoys a global reputation as a water-rich region.
However, Canada is not immune to the threat of climate change. The increased intensity of storm events, climate variability, (including irregular cycles of drought and floods), and extreme weather events puts pressure on aging infrastructure, making systems vulnerable to flooding, storm surges, wastewater runoff, and contamination.
“The changing climate has two impacts on the existing infrastructure. One, the indirect impact is the wear and tear on existing infrastructure and therefore the physical impact on infrastructure, and secondly, in light of the changing climate, a lot of the infrastructure was built based on assumptions that were far too conservative — they were good-faith design assumptions made based on climate and predictable weather at the time, but with changing weather events, the capacity of existing assets may not be what we hoped it would be.”
– John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of Canada
The Third Threat: The Status Quo
The third threat facing Canada’s water infrastructure is the status quo. These mounting pressures are leading to a realization in the water sector that the business-as-usual approach to water management and watertech is no longer sufficient – there is a growing demand for innovation and action.
Without a proactive approach to innovation and immediate action, Canada’s watertech industry risks playing catch up, or losing its competitive edge and having much of the technology, jobs, and wealth that could be generated by having a made-in-Canada water innovation hub go to other progressive countries.
Now, The Good News
A growing number of Canadian water innovators, particularly in the digital space, are transforming water management, and creating solutions that allow water infrastructure to operate much more efficiently, saving massive amounts of water and energy.
These companies are bringing a new approach to water management, as they replace analog monitoring and operational tools with digital, including IoT technologies and platforms, digital analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
Here’s some examples of what they are accomplishing:
- Digital Water Solutions from Guelph, Ontario has developed a device that measures pressure, transient pressure, acoustics, and water temperature in water distribution systems, then connects the data to an AI platform.
The platform provides real-time information to utilities as conditions within the distribution system change. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, allows for proactively identify potential leaks, detect pressure drops, water temperature changes, etc, and use that data to manage their infrastructure better, extend the life of the equipment, and save money and energy. Their solution is attracting clients from Canadian municipalities, the City of Atlanta, and even a community in Iceland!
- CANN Forecast from Montreal, Quebec is another Canadian innovator in water management solutions. Their AI-based algorithm uses the water network data of a municipality to help them identify at-risk pipes before they break. With claims of predictive abilities up to 10x more accurate than the age-based models, their ability to proactively identify vulnerable pipes could lead to significant cost savings in pipe rehabilitation and reductions in water loss.
“In the water sector, we tend to look at systems independently, but what if we made the entire cycle smarter, and tied it all together through data? Then we could understand it from a much bigger perspective, and look at it holistically – water loss, operational efficiency, reducing GHG emissions. We need to get ourselves to a position where we see the big picture.”
– Tim J. Sutherns, President, Digital Water Solutions
Here’s Where the Good News Gets Even Better
Using technology to improve operations and extend the life of water infrastructure is addressing threat number one, and allows some breathing room as water utilities plan their structural upgrades. But what about the second threat – how can digital water tech address the floodgate of challenges to our water systems and water security that come with climate change?
Pivoting from a threat to a win comes not only from the ability of digital water technology to predict climate change risks and impacts, but also from looking at the potential of these technologies to reduce carbon emissions across multiple sectors.
Digital water technologies have enormous potential to not only improve public water infrastructure but also provide a means for corporations and industry to manage their water footprint and reduce their GHG emissions (IPCC estimates that improvements in industrial efficiencies could reduce GHG emissions by up to 25%).
By adopting programs and policies that incentivize low carbon pathways for water, policymakers across Canada can help industry tap into the incredible potential of advanced water tech to support the transition to a low carbon economy, and achieve Canada’s climate goals as they develop profitable export markets in parallel.
See “The Road to 2050: Bridging the Gap Between Challenges & Solutions in the Water Sector” for some innovative program recommendations for the water sector.
The Biggest Win of All: Building New Systems
“Our water infrastructure is reaching the end of its lifetime. As we invest in infrastructure for the next 50 to 100 years, we have an extraordinary opportunity to use digital technologies to rethink and transform our water systems. It’s a win for costs, it’s a win for climate, and it’s a win for Canadian innovation.”
– Alan Shapiro, Director, waterNEXT
The biggest win for Canada is to mobilize the water industry away from an incremental, business-as-usual approach to technology development and into an accelerated innovation cycle.
Achieving Canada’s climate goals and moving quickly towards both water security and a circular, low-carbon economy, requires progress on early stage water technologies to be accelerated. It requires a whole system approach that goes beyond individual stakeholder priorities and into what needs to happen country-wide.
In the UK, for example, water companies are working together to achieve their shared Water Innovation 2050 vision.
They’ve also set an ambitious goal of delivering a net zero GHG emission water supply for customers by 2030, through a watertech roadmapping initiative.
Like the rest of the world, we need to be bold in re-imagining the water sector.
Canada has everything it needs to be a world leader in water technology and solve huge and growing structural and climate related problems facing water systems around the world.
We just need to follow the lead of these innovative digital water management companies and turn threats into opportunities.