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Canadian Cities Collaborate To Take On Water Challenges

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Mother Nature and human nature appear to be conspiring to put Canada’s water infrastructure under tremendous pressure.

Erratic weather systems are wreaking unprecedented havoc within communities, while rapid expansion in major municipalities is placing increased strain on aging water infrastructures.

“Flooding, drought … you name it on the water side,” said Warren Wishart, manager for the Canadian Municipal Water Consortium, Canadian Water Network (CWN) in Waterloo.

“We’re all dealing with climate change, population growth, aging infrastructure and the accumulation of deferred maintenance, along with changing demographics and regulations. At the same time, service level expectations are constantly increasing.”

Some larger centres often have water mains in old neighbourhoods that date back 100 years. As such, maintaining the infrastructure is expensive, and upgrades even more so in crowded urban environments.

“Smaller towns and communities are in the most trouble because they’re expensive to service and hard to get to,” said Wishart. “The problems are a lot bigger than they’ve ever been.”

The price tag for replacement is a hefty one. According to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, the estimated replacement value on Canadian drinking water systems is $171 billion. For wastewater collection and treatment systems it’s $122 billion, and storm water management system replacement costs are an estimated $69 billion.

“We just can’t work on the drinking water or wastewater or storm water system. We have to manage them as an integrated whole,” said Wishart. “We also have to work collaboratively to come up with the best solutions that will benefit all communities.”

To that end, CWN formed the Municipal Water Consortium in 2009 to bring together water managers, researchers, government representatives and regulatory bodies “to define the questions we need to be asking so we can find the best answers.”

From that initiative, a Consortium Leadership Group (CLG) was established in February, which is comprised of country-wide municipal water managers focused on addressing national water management priorities for Canadian municipalities, utilities, regulators and corporations. The CLG includes water managers from cities right across the country.

The group’s task is to address four priorities:

  •                 Financing and cost recovery for integrated water systems
  •                 Preparation and planning for extreme weather
  •                 Exploring wastewater and bio-solid reuse options
  •                 Integrated task management

“Going forward,” said Wishart, “we have a chance to share best management practices and explore technologies that can be shared, such as control or management systems, but the most important thing is bringing other players into this to develop services as a whole.”

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