Canada depends on its water for agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses—but does it use more than it needs? A report from the Conference Board of Canada suggests Canadians are huge consumers of water because of its availability and low cost, and because of a lack of widespread water conservation practices. In countries where water is scarce and the cost to treat and distribute it is much higher, more efficient water resource management has led to creativity and innovation. Taking a strong hint from these countries, Canadian provinces, including Alberta, are currently looking to incorporate new strategies to prevent future struggles.
New buildings, new approaches
When developing new buildings, work sites and communities, there is an opportunity to plan new ways for managing water resources. In Alberta, academic, industrial and policy entities are working together toward this end.
Since 1960, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton has built a reputation for student success, applied research and innovation, thanks to unique programs and strong industry ties. In accordance with the Alberta Access Planning Framework, NAIT’s academic plan demonstrates its commitment to providing educational opportunities that align with current technology and the labour market.
NAIT’s proposed Centre for Applied Technologies (CAT) building will accommodate more than 5,000 full-time students. A significant part of NAIT’s strategy to continue to pursue academic excellence and innovation, CAT is also a marquee project which is aligned with the goals and objectives of Alberta’s Water for Life strategy.
In early 2010, NAIT undertook a feasibility study for a proposed on-site wastewater treatment and reuse training facility. The resulting report, delivered by Stantec Consulting, focused on components relating to both the regulations and operations of an on-site wastewater treatment and reuse system. It also presented a concept design that served as the initial roadmap to identify the steps required to implement the project. Such a facility would provide the only academic wastewater operator training program of its kind in Alberta.
How it works
Under the proposed concept design, wastewater generated on site will be collected and treated through a dedicated wastewater treatment system, sometimes referred to as purple pipe. The treated and disinfected water is then reused for toilet and urinal flushing throughout the facility’s specialized plumbing system. This system is anticipated to reduce the building’s potable water demand by 50 per cent or more compared to similar buildings without on-site treatment and reuse.
“The handling of water and wastewater is an increasingly important factor in today’s environment-conscious society,” says Jack Menduk, associate VP of NAIT’s department of Capital Projects and Facilities Operations. “The water and wastewater program to be located in CAT will provide a high level of training for those desiring employment in the fields of water distribution, water treatment, wastewater collection, and wastewater treatment.”
Since on-site facilities like this one are not covered by current legislation in Alberta, NAIT recognized the need for inter-agency communication and cooperation. Complex projects of this nature must seek regulatory approval through alternate channels. In order to achieve regulatory approval, NAIT looked to its partners to support the project’s principles. Support for the project came quickly from the Government of Alberta, the City of Edmonton and other stakeholders, and the details of the facility operation were determined.
Consideration of public health and safety was the first priority, but the project also had to overcome the stigma associated with reusing wastewater in a building. The team looked to the Alberta Reclaimed Water Working Group for guidance.
The group consists of Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Environment, Alberta Transportation, Alberta Heath and Wellness, and Alberta Health Services Board. Its mandate is to explore the benefits and risks associated with reusing treated municipal wastewater in flushing toilets and urinals. This also includes developing a framework within which reclaimed water can be used safely to help achieve water conservation goals. In July 2007, Heath Canada released the Canadian Guidelines for Household Reclaimed Water draft for consultation, which was useful in helping NAIT achieve its goals of improved water quality as well as identify a management framework for the operation and maintenance of the facility.
The opportunity to construct and operate a fully functional wastewater treatment system within the confines of a large building will have significant educational benefits. It also poses significant challenges with respect to location of equipment, laboratories, control centre, and chemical storage. The hands-on approach to wastewater treatment operations proposed for this facility will provide insight for both students and instructional staff and provide several opportunities for applied research in the field of wastewater treatment. Key training areas include:
- Sampling techniques
- Chemical characterization
- Biomass analysis
- Air monitoring
- Mechanical pump systems
- Electrical and instrumentation controls
- Program logic and information technology
- Computer operating systems–Dynamic Control System
- Statistical process control and multivariate analysis
- Maintenance and construction safety–confined space entry, rescue, gas detection
- Partnerships with other institutions and associations for the purpose of training and education
As the project team develops the details for design and operation of the facility, the guiding principles of education, water conservation, and public health and safety remain a priority. Look for an update on the development of the CAT project, including details on how the wastewater treatment and reuse facility will operate and provide training, education and applied research opportunities for its students and faculty. WC
Ryan Devlin is with senior business development in Stantec Consulting’s water resources group.