Over the coming decade, decisions about how the federal government’s Phase 2 infrastructure investments are made will play a critical role in shaping the future of Canadian cities and towns for the next half-century or longer. A new report released today by the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW) urges the government to make innovative and sustainable urban water infrastructure a top priority for its 10-year, $180 billion infrastructure plan.
“The federal government’s historic infrastructure plan presents an unparalleled opportunity to address these issues and to transform urban water management to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century,” said Tony Maas, Project Director for FLOW and the author of the report.
Maas said Canada is undergoing an “infrastructure moment” to describe the coming decade, where the Government of Canada has committed potentially transformational investment. In order to get the best value for tax payers’ dollars from these ventures, the report recommends new measures to trigger uptake of the best available technologies, green infrastructure options, and to enable the development of asset management plans that will lead us on a path towards building climate resilient communities.
The report, entitled, Smart, Strategic Investments for Urban Water Sustainability: Seizing Canada’s Infrastructure Moment, focuses on three strategies to get the most out of existing and new infrastructure.
Prioritizing climate readiness and solutions that get the most out of existing infrastructure
The reports asserts that planned infrastructure should be able to withstand extreme weather conditions that we are experiencing as a result of climate change. It suggests that municipalities need to prioritize solutions that maximize the capacity of existing water and wastewater treatment facilities before investing in new, large-scale expansion projects.
Maas said,”This would involve screening infrastructure proposals to make sure that they are looking half a century ahead using climate projections. We know that we can no longer rely on past stationarity.” Options to achieve this include using performance-based asset management plans, wastewater optimization, and comprehensive water conservation and efficiency programs that stretch the capacity of existing assets.
Dedicating funding for sustainable solutions
The report says, specific funding streams should be created to support sustainable solutions, including water conservation and efficiency programs, optimization of wastewater facilities, living green infrastructure, and technologies that address energy use or foster resource recovery (e.g. nutrients, energy).
“There are plenty of good materials and examples work with. So, it’s about making this the norm. In order to do this, we need dedicated funding that will allow provinces and municipalities to put these measures in place,” said Maas.
Modernizing existing Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations
The report highlights the need to revisit existing federal wastewater regulations to strengthen environmental performance, address new and emerging contaminants, and promote uptake of innovative Canadian technologies and practices. It suggests that tools, such as mandating performance targets and measures that are based on fully-optimized wastewater treatment facilities; as well as incentives that promote and reward optimization could be used to achieve this.
“We should take a fresh look at the regulations and reviewing them in a frame of how to drive better performance. At the moment, the regulations are driving us to place where we will have secondary treatment across the country—and that’s certainly not a bad thing, however, it doesn’t provide the incentive to leap over this level of treatment and to take advantage of some of the next generation technologies,” he said.
“Some people view regulations as a bad thing, but I think there is an appetite to have this conversation, and to find ways to work with the regulations to actual stimulate economic growth.”
Maas said that with smart, strategic investments, and well-designed regulations aligned around a vision of sustainability, resilience and innovation, the federal infrastructure plan can address the backlog of repairs to urban water systems, build climate resilient communities, and boost Canadian clean water innovators to take advantage of the $500 billion global water technology and services market.
Although the report recommendations are mainly targeted at informing the federal government’s Phase 2 spending, Maas said he sees a role for all levels of government in implementing the recommendations.
“It gets down to how the provinces and federal government negotiate the agreements to move the next phase of infrastructure funding. What we are suggesting, is that at the end of the day, no matter how the matching is done, this is an opportunity to stretch these funds as far as possible.”
Maas said that he’s eager to learn more about the timing of the next phase of water infrastructure spending, and would hope that the 10-year plan would be rolled out in such a way that it would allow for some assessment of whether Canada’s environmental objectives are being met.
The FLOW report builds from the information shared by a diverse group of water experts that participated in a roundtable discussion with Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, hosted by the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC), Water Technology Acceleration Project (WaterTAP) and the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) in June 2016. The full report and a policy brief are available on FLOW’s website at: www.flowcanada.org.