By Alan Shapiro, Director, waterNEXT

The next decade for water in Canada is critical to the health of our people, environment, and economy. Whether that’s addressing the Indigenous drinking water crisis, reducing water-related emissions across all sectors, or helping communities and companies be better stewards of the waters they use, it is critical for us to work together to secure the health and sustainability of our waters. 

This is what drives my work leading waterNEXT, Canada’s water technology network.

When I sat down in January to plan out the months ahead, I didn’t expect to be spending much of my year building a water technology network. Yet here we are, and what an exciting year it’s been, with lots more in store for waterNEXT in 2022!

While on some level I understood the scale of the coordination challenge we were up against, I was surprised in my early conversations to learn just how siloed Canada’s water technology ecosystem was. Many of the stakeholders I connected with were dialled in to the work of their organization and those working alongside them in the same region or sector. But that familiarity faded away just one region or sector over. 

This theme held true across hundreds of conversations. Even the strongest leaders struggled to tell the broader story of water in Canada. What are Canada’s key challenges, strengths, and priorities around water? How large is the ‘water ecosystem’ across all regions and sectors, including number of organizations, jobs, and revenue?  What role do technology and innovation serve in this ecosystem?  

Where’s the Vision?

Water ranks among the highest priorities for Canadians, as surveys show us time and again. So many of us, through our work, advocacy, and individual choices, are doing our part to protect the health of waters across Canada. And yet we so often lose sight of the rest of the team – other individuals and organizations whose work and impact is advancing the same vision. 

Given the number of sectors involved in using, managing, and stewarding water resources in Canada, as well as the number of government organizations involved at all scales – municipal, provincial, federal, and Indigenous – it can be hard to know what’s happening one region over, let alone across the entire country. 

There is no ‘to-do’ list we can easily point to for Canada on water. And yet, internationally, that to-do list does exist. We call it the Sustainable Development Goals – our shared social, economic, and environmental agenda as a planet for 2030 and beyond. While water intersects many of the SDGs, two stand out front and centre: SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 14 (ocean health). 

Beneath each of these goals are targets and indicators, which have now been adopted by a broad range of countries and companies around the world. Leading water jurisdictions, from the United Kingdom to Singapore, have been able to directly connect their investments and commitments to the broader compass of the SDGs. 

Advancing Water Innovation in Canada

What does this mean for water innovation in Canada? To truly commit to the solutions we need for 2030 and beyond, our problems must be visible, our priorities clear, and our brightest innovators engaged and supported. 

Our hope with waterNEXT is to advance these conversations nationally, streamlining the trajectory for water innovation in Canada. This means helping startups coming out of universities, competitions, or incubators identify priority issues, either in Canada or globally, and connecting them with the appropriate resources and stakeholders to accelerate their work. 

WaterNEXT has been playing this role to date through a range of programs, including accelerator programming, matchmaking, and mentorship, to support companies at various stages in their journey. Collaboration is critical to our role and the success of the broader ecosystem. We are already working alongside a number of partners including AquaAction, BlueTech Research, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Mazarine Ventures, Ontario Water Consortium, WaterSMART Solutions, and Xylem. We look forward to that list continuing to grow in 2022.

As a BC resident, this past year has been a stark reminder of how closely water is intertwined with climate change. From summer droughts and forest fire impacts on water quality, to winter flooding and increasing vulnerability of water infrastructure, we cannot continue to take water for granted. 

As I look out my window at water falling from the sky, I don’t know what the next year has in store. What I do know is that, one way or another, it will involve water. And waterNEXT will be doing its part to keep water innovation in the spotlight.

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Written By:

Foresight Canada

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