The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) and Aqua Forum co-hosted a live-streaming of the 2021 Western Canada AquaHacking Challenge semi-finals on May 18, 2020. In the end, four finalists were announced. This solidified their chances of taking their solutions for some of Western Canada’s most critical water issues to the next round.

A total of 137 participants from post-secondary institutes across Western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec registered for the Challenge. They formed 21 teams, of which 10 pitched their solutions at the semi-final.

The solutions aim to tackle issues identified by Western Canada water leaders. The issues include:

  • Optimization of drinking water/wastewater treatment plants.
  • On-farm nutrient capture and recycling.
  • Toxic algal blooms.
  • Innovative ‘social’ water technologies for water information.

The top four finalists are included below.

SIP (UBC Okanagan)

Issues: Optimization of drinking water and innovative social technologies.

Solution: A mobile filtration station in the form of a gravity filter backpack.

Team members: Elana Wood, Yosamin Esanullah, Fikunayomi Adelaja, and Mana Tokuni in Kelowna, and Yamen Shehab in Doha, Qatar.

Algaegator (UBC Okanagan)

Issues: Nutrient capture and toxic algal blooms.

Solution: A solar-powered filtration system that uses a submerged pump to move polluted water into a tank for electrocoagulation to remove toxic chemicals.

Team members: Erik Hohl, Dolphin Chan and Sam Kinakin of Kelowna, Tanner Cheyne from Calgary, Vancouver’s Matthew Hinchliff and Omar Noury of Winnipeg.

Eco-Friendly Wastewater Treatment (University of Saskatchewan)

Issue: Optimization of wastewater treatment plants.

Solution: Use Fate Models to improve wastewater treatment plant efforts to remove pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, Endocrine Disruptor Compounds, and pesticides before releasing water back into the environment. Fate models estimate contaminant concentrations over time. In addition, maximize pollutant removal using agricultural biomass residues (e.g. straw) as adsorption for final filtration.

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Team members: Khaled Zoroufchi Benis, Shahab Minaei and Mohsen Asadi, all of Saskatoon.

Triple C (UBC Okanagan)

Issue: Optimization of drinking water.

Solution: Focusing on improving water quality in Indigenous communities, the team developed a device to help prevent water contamination in water cisterns using a hydraulic coupling on the water delivery hose and the cistern lid.

Team members: Mikhail Ignatyev and Emilia Dyck, both from Kelowna, Sydney Strocen of Winnipeg, and Sam Keeble from Vancouver.

These teams will now compete for $50,000 in seed funding and placement in a start-up incubator to further refine their solution and bring it to market. The finals of the AquaHacking 2021—Western Canada Challenge will be held in September.

“It’s exciting to be around young people approaching the future with such innovation, hope, and hard work,” said OBWB Executive Director Anna Warwick Sears. “These teams took a very pragmatic approach with straight-forward solutions to big problems.”

“We are also very impressed with the solutions presented by the four finalist teams,” added Kariann Aarup, AquaHacking director. “These young innovators have reached a key milestone on their AquaHacking journey and we look forward to supporting them through the next phase of the challenge as they continue to refine their solutions and develop their business plans. Their out-of-the-box thinking gives us all great hope for the future of freshwater in Canada.”

Organizers note that although three of the four finalist teams are from UBC Okanagan, it has been great to see participation from students across Canada and beyond. International students attended participating universities remotely.

The organizers thank the advisory committee and to the water, tech, and business experts from across Western Canada who judged the pitches. This includes representation from:

  • The International Joint Commission.
  • Western Economic Diversification Canada.
  • United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health.
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development.
  • Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
  • The Gordon Foundation.
  • Innovate BC.
  • BC Water Funders Collaborative.
  • The Okanagan Sustainability Leadership Council.
  • WaterSmart Solutions.
  • Purppl, Associated Engineering.
  • Water Rangers.
  • 30 Turtle.
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The organizers also thank the water issue leaders from the following institutions who helped mentor participants:

  • The Universities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Waterloo.
  • Okanagan College.
  • Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA).
  • Canada Water Resources Association (CWRA).

Supporters and funders of the Western Canada Challenge include: De Gaspe Beaubien Foundation, Okanagan Basin Water Board, RBC Foundation, Lavery Lawyers, Ovivo, Mitacs, IBM, and Teck Resources.

Implementation partners include: Hackworks, Waterlution, Foresight, and the OBWB’s Okanagan WaterWise education and outreach program.

Missed the semi-final event? Watch the broadcast here. More information about the Western Canada AquaHacking Challenge is available here.

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