The office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) has served up a suite of recommendations to drive improvements in Ontario’s water usage, energy efficiency, and climate footprint in its latest report, Every Drop Counts. Water Canada has recapped the primary recommendations with commentary from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe.

Energy reporting

The report states that to improve reporting mechanisms for municipal drinking and waste water operators, the Green Energy Act of 2009 should be modified under regulation 397/11: Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plans. The current system fails to accurately report energy usage and emissions generated, as Water Canada noted earlier today. Recommended changes would include requirements for:

  • reporting for pumping facilities;
  • energy produced on-site (e.g. biogas, solar), not just purchased energy;
  • methane, nitrous oxide, and fossil-source carbon dioxide emissions from wastewater.

“The current method is not very useful,” said Commissioner Saxe. “To collect only two-thirds of what’s relevant, or half of what’s relevant, and take a year-and-a-half before you give it back with no improvement and [file the information] just on a spreadsheet—this is not useful.” By automating and benchmarking energy reports, with a tool such as the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, municipalities would be able to make better decisions about asset management and capital investment.

Asset management to improve energy efficiency

When it comes to municipal decisions on capital investment, particularly those receiving federal or provincial funding, the ECO has recommended that the Ministry of Infrastructure require:

  • energy and carbon costs in life-cycle cost analysis;
  • green infrastructure and non-infrastructure alternatives, such as water conservation.
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“The provincial government shouldn’t give money for projects without requiring people to think first about energy and water conservation,” said Commissioner Saxe. “One of the opportunities that asset management planning offers, is to compel councils to look at the true costs.”

Water conservation

The ECO has suggested that to better facilitate water conservation, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs should amend the Ontario Building Code to give more focus to:

  • higher efficiency standards for fixtures, in particular;
  • reduction of peak outdoor water use in summer;
  • ensuring that the plumbing design of multi-unit buildings allows for the metering of individual units;
  • expanding opportunities for greywater and rainwater reuse by including greywater-ready plumping.

Other recommended measures include water standards for toilets and water reporting from public sector organizations that incorporates with existing energy and reporting requirements. Further to that, the ECO sees ample opportunity for increased greywater, rainwater, and effluent reuse: “There are so many opportunities. In the city of Calgary, they’re using treated wastewater effluent to cool their power plant, so that they’re not using drinking water,” said Commissioner Saxe.

Energy from sewage

A substantial portion of the Commissioner’s comments on the report were directed towards utilizing what is currently considered waste for energy. “Energy in sewage is fairly easy to get at. We already know how to digest it to get methane; we already know what to do with methane; we can do all kinds of things with methane, including run buses with it,” she said.

Specific recommendations were that:

  • make anaerobic digestion and energy recovery technology eligible for water/wastewater infrastructure funding;
  • the regulatory approvals process for anaerobic digestion at wastewater treatment plants, including co-digestion of off-site organics, be simplified without reducing environmental protection;
  • the Ontario Energy Board outline renewable natural gas content and cost recovery criteria for gas utilities.
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Additional recommendations looked at water reuse and phosphorus reduction programs. “We think it’s a real opportunity for Ontario to move towards its climate targets, save money for residents, reduce the stress on our water, and as we saw from last year’s drought, we now have to get serious about water shortages in ways that we never thought we were going to have to,” said the Commissioner.

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