Report finds usual approach to water and water management will not work

0 126 Infrastructure

by Ian Harvey

The water and wastewater infrastructure deficit across Canada is pushing past $88 billion dollars and relying on business as usual practices guarantees a crisis, a report from the Blue Economy Initiative (BEI) reveals.

The water and wastewater infrastructure deficit across Canada is pushing past $88 billion dollars and relying on business as usual practices guarantees a crisis, a report from the Blue Economy Initiative (BEI) reveals.

BEI was founded by Canadian Water Network, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation with the goal of making Canada a global leader in water sustainability

The report, Blue City: the Water Sustainable City of The Near Future is the fourth in a series of studies looking at the state of Canada water resources.

Written by Kirk Stinchcombe and Louise Brennan of Victoria-based Econics, the recommendations and conclusions are based on interviews with 17 water treatment professionals across Canada and eight case studies from Canada, the U.S. and Australia.

Co-author Stinchcombe said the thrust of the report was not to catalogue the deficiencies but to look forward and see what the barriers are to rectifying the lack of infrastructure.

Chief among them, of course, is money and the lack of capital financing.

The reasons, generally speaking, are political; there’s a lot more political sex appeal in a photo-op at the ground breaking of a new subway line or the ribbon cutting of a new highway than there is at a wastewater treatment plant or water main replacement.

Raising the profile will require a change in attitude starting with incorporating green design in to development, requiring green roofs and storm water capture, better designing around watershed to use the natural water rather than let it run off, and developing a conservation ethic.

On the financing side better life cycle costing and asset management plans (with full cost recovery strategies) and improved customer communication (to help them understand the value of water and wastewater investment) is also needed.

The goal, said Stinchcombe, is to start looking at the water sustainable city of the future as a template for all municipalities to strive for. Indeed, many of the ideas aren’t re-inventions of the wheel, he stressed, but simply off-the-shelf technologies or established best practices such as storm water capture, green roofs and permeable paving.

Selling water and wastewater projects as priority investments is about finding that point of pain which proves the necessity, he said. Case in point, the boil orders on drinking water and closed beaches.

Municipalities also have to start implementing full cost accounting for water supply which takes into account the cost of wastewater treatment.

Victoria, B.C., for example, is going one step further, starting in 2015, it will implement a regime in which property owners, both residential and commercial, will be charged a levy based on how much hard, impermeable surface coverage they have on their lots. It’s driven by the theory that rain run off draining into the storm sewers costs money whereas water absorbed into the aquifer does not.

Clearly, the latter is going to be a tough sell and Stinchcombe acknowledges the challenges quoting Lou DiGironimo, the City of Toronto’s general manager of water.

“Lou said, the right answer is the one the public will accept, the wrong one is the solution they reject,” he said.

Carl Bodimeade, senior vice-president, Hatch Mott MacDonald, said the common thread in all these discussions is the true cost of water and waste water.

“It all boils down to one thing, we are still not recovering the true cost of the infrastructure in North America,” he said speaking as chair of the Ontario Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure.

“We have made great strides but it’s still not representative of the true costs.”

Water infrastructure has been the poor cousin of public works where projects are often commissioned and built based on the lowest bid for design and construction which is far too short a horizon.

“But up to 70 per cent of your costs over the life cycle of that project are in the operations and maintenance phase,” he said, noting it makes more sense to consider a further horizon and take all costs into consideration from the get-go and price the final services of supply and treatment accordingly.

Things are changing, albeit slowly, he said.

“Some stakeholders do get it. They realize there has to be a new perspective when it comes to purchasing services for public works at all levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, that looks at long term value,” Bodimeade said.

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