In Canada, managing drinking water supplies properly requires coordination among multiple stakeholders. This is, in part, because there is a shared responsibility between all levels of government for ensuring that drinking water is safe. Many other stakeholders (e.g., businesses) are involved in the process as well.

In September 2021, Water Canada hosted a discussion about ensuring reliable access to safe drinking water. We asked questions about what’s currently working, what’s not working, and what more is needed. Actual Media’s Corinne Lynds moderated the discussion that included the following industry experts:

Michele Grenier from the Ontario Water Works Association

Madjid Mohseni from the University of British Columbia

Mike Chaulk from CBCL

Part of the discussion focused on the fact that there is coordination between the federal and provincial governments and this is helping to
increase communication.

“There is the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water (CDW) that is supported by Health Canada,” said Grenier. “There is a lot of collaboration and a lot of communication that occurs through that vehicle to allow for standardization or leveling the playing field.”

At the same time, Grenier added that it’s difficult to take a one size fits all approach across the country. “There are differences not only geographically, but certainly demographically,” she said. “You have municipalities in Ontario that are significantly different in terms of their structure and their capacity compared to, say, remote communities elsewhere in the country. To that effect, I think that the CDW table is an important mechanism in terms of ensuring everyone has the latest information and access to the same data and access to the same research that’s being done in the drinking water file. In terms of implementation, that phase is left to the individual provincial and territorial jurisdictions.”

This is where delays come in. There aren’t necessarily inconsistencies between the provincial regulations and the federal guidelines. It does take time though to amend legislation and the supporting regulations.

“There are also issues around regulations and regulatory frameworks that pertain to drinking water in First Nations communities, which tend to be subject to the federal guidelines and not provincial regulations,” said Grenier. “The treatment requirements in a First Nations community might not be similar to a municipality right next door in Ontario. This creates a disconnect and I think that this is one of the areas where we need to focus some efforts moving forward.”

Working with risk aversion

There are Canadian water technology companies that have found efficiencies in existing processes or found ways to improve how things have typically been done. At the same time, they are facing challenges with getting their solutions adopted in Canada since the water industry is risk averse. During our webinar, we examined the role stakeholders in the water industry can play in supporting the adoption of novel water technologies.

“I think that it’s a fine balance to try and walk the line between pushing innovative products and also understanding the risks that are embedded and that could result in unintended outcomes,” said Chaulk. “In general, there are examples of treatment projects, water and wastewater, that have been earmarked as using innovative and new technologies that ultimately resulted in a very negative outcome for the owner or municipality.”

“The projects were undertaken because funding was available preferentially for only things that were seen as new to market or innovative,” added Chaulk. “Conversely, there are other positive stories of municipalities that have taken a risk on doing something different on the basis of the innovation and things worked out in their favour.”

Part of what needs to be taken into consideration is that the water industry is a compliance driven industry and that there are minimum requirements that need to be met at all times. As a result, there isn’t much flexibility for experimentation. At the same time, shared responsibility and collaboration can make a big difference in moving forward.

“I think that with shared responsibility and collaboration, the finger pointing will be reduced since everybody will take the risk to move forward,” said Mohseni. “Having the owners participate fully and take responsibility sometimes helps with the rapid piloting of new technologies. I think this is going provide them with some assurance about the work and get the regulators involved in the process as well.”

“If the owners and technology providers do their piloting in silos without really regulators on board with the idea, that’s going to keep them aside,” added Mohseni. “When it comes to approving the technology for the full-scale applications, it’s going to be a slow and it may not happen. However, keeping regulators involved in the process will help increase the speed of the implementation.” 

The original article was featured in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Water Canada. A recorded version of the full discussion can be found here.

Simran Chattha is the communications manager with the Canadian Water Network and was the editor of Water Canada.


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