By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
ReNew Canada bills itself as the country’s “Infrastructure Magazine.” That’s not braggadocio. No matter what aspect of infrastructure you’re involved in—finance, research, engineering, policy, construction, whatever—the magazine is a virtual “must-have.” The January-February issue has just hit the newstand, and it features a special supplement on the 100 biggest infrastructure projects in Canada.
ReNew’s “Top 100” adds up to $114 billion in infrastructure investment, and the projects on the list are ranked from first to last based on size. Of course, “size” here is defined as “cost.” With a price tag of some $8.2 billion, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project in Toronto gets first spot. The dozen or so projects that follow are just as impressive. Half of the $114 billion on the list is captured in Canada’s 15 biggest projects.
Mira Shenker is ReNew’s editor. She recently touched base with me and asked if I would scan through the list and come up with my own personal “Top 10.” A few others around the country are doing the same. The results will be published in the March-April issue of ReNew.
When ranking the “biggest” infrastructure projects in the country, cost is probably the only way to go. However, “cost” does not necessarily equal “best” or most “interesting.” Neither does it equate to most “innovative.” In other words, ReNew’s “Top 100” may be the “biggest” projects in Canada, but not necessarily the “best.”
I’m interested in innovative projects, and that’s what my “Top 10” will be all about. I first thought of picking the most innovative and interesting project in each province, but after toying with that for a while I abandoned the effort. I decided to create 10 of my own categories, and then choose one project in each that demonstrated the most innovation. Some innovations were financial, while other innovations were technological. Here’s my “short-list” of the most innovative projects:
Transportation—Roadways and Bridges
- Autoroute 30 (Quebec)
- Southeast Stony Trail (Alberta)
- Port Mann-Highway 1 (British Columbia)
- Evergreen Rapid Transit (British Columbia)
- Spadina Subway Extension (Ontario)
- York VIVA Bus Rapidways (Ontario)
Transportation—Sea and Air Ports
- Maher Melford Terminal (Nova Scotia)
- Calgary Parallel Runway (Alberta)
- Calgary International Airport Terminal (Alberta)
Health, Education, and Social Facilities
- CHUM Redevelopment (Quebec)
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Manitoba)
- St. Joseph’s Healthcare Facility (Ontario)
Thermal Electric Energy (Coal, Gas, Nuclear)
- Swan Hills ISCG Power Project (Alberta)
- North Battleford Power Plant (Saskatchewan)
- York Energy Centre (Ontario)
Hydro Electric Energy
- Bipole-III (Manitoba)
- Niagara Tunnel Project (Ontario)
- Eastman 1-A Project (Quebec)
Renewable Electric Energy (Wind or Solar)
- K2 Wind Project (Ontario)
- Blackspring Ridge-1 (Alberta)
- Halkirk-1 Project (Alberta)
Water and Wastewater
- Seymour-Capilano Water Utility (British Columbia)
- Hanlan Feedermain (Ontario)
- Southeast Collector Trunk (Ontario)
Environment and Waste Management
- Durham York Energy Centre (Ontario)
- Sydney Tar Ponds Project (Nova Scotia)
- Port Hope Area Initiative (Ontario)
Top Choice Overall:
- To be Announced
Next week, I’ll reveal the winners in each category, along with the one project that I believe to be the most innovative on ReNew’s “Top 100” list. So, stay tuned.
In the meantime, readers can access the list by clicking here. For those wanting more information on the projects, you can purchase a copy of ReNew for $9.00 or subscribe to the magazine for $39.95.
The January-February issue also included a write-up about the “Penny Tax” idea developed by the Canada West Foundation for funding municipal infrastructure. Click here to read the Foundation’s full report. The same issue also notes the tremendous growth in infrastructure investment over the past few years. In 2009, Canada’s “Top 100” totaled $61 billion. With the top 100 in 2012 totaling $114 billion, infrastructure investment in Canada has surged by almost 90% in three years.
Click here to read Part II of “Biggest” vs. “Best”.
By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
Last year my little commuter car suffered more than its fair share of scrapes and scratches. It started with some fancy BMW almost side-swiping me. A few weeks later a Nissan finished the job in beijing. For reasons unknown, a Mustang became infatuated with my car’s rear bumper, and then my car got smoked—twice—while it sat innocently parked. Such things seem to happen frequently and with remarkable regularity. And that’s why I drive a “beater.” My little commuter car has absolutely no market value, but it satisfies the safety inspector and is the most effective way I have found to limit the financial liabilities that come with the daily commute.
An accident is pretty much a universal negative. Yet, more than a few scientific breakthroughs and impressive technological developments have been stumbled upon by accident. Such discoveries run the gamut—from popsicles, potato chips, and artificial sweeteners to vulcanized rubber, radioactivity, and the Americas. It’s more than a little humbling to realize that just because he failed to tidy up his workbench one day in 1928 that Alexander Fleming happened upon a strange mold—what he called penicillin—that had turned all of his bacterial cultures to goo.
One of the more interesting lines of inquiry that I have pursued is how the infrastructure funding gap and ongoing efforts at property tax reform can cross paths—collide at the intersection—to produce some beneficial but unintended “innovation by accident.” Let’s reconstruct the “accident” scene.
First point. There are only two ways that public infrastructure and government services can be funded—taxation or user pay. When taxation is used, all of the costs are shared and divided up regardless of how much each taxpayer uses. There are no direct financial consequences to individual users. Thus, heavy users of infrastructure and services are, by necessity, subsidized by light users. This has the effect of artificially increasing the demand for infrastructure and services. On the other hand, user pay dispels the myth that public infrastructure and services are somehow “free.” User pay creates a fiscal dynamic where people use only what they need as opposed to what they want. User pay forces people to internalize the costs of their behaviour and modify that behaviour to avoid wasting their own money.
Tax-based funding of infrastructure and services is the equivalent of the “all-you-can-eat buffet.” For the same low price, everybody eats as much as they want. As a result, the “all-you-can-eat buffet” goes through a lot of food. User fees are the equivalent of the “pay-by-the-ounce” salad bar. Here, everybody eats according to what they are willing to pay, and less food is consumed. User pay systems based on rational pricing promote equity and efficiency. Anything less implies a certain amount of waste. All taxes, by necessity, result in a certain loss of efficiency and this is unavoidable because some forms of infrastructure cannot be provided through a system of user pay.
Second point. Property taxes are no exception. For example, residential properties “closer-in” to the city core are usually more expensive and carry higher assessed values. Thus, these properties pay more property tax than similar properties in the suburbs. But, the costs of providing municipal services and the attendant infrastructure to suburban properties are arguably higher. Those living “close-in” help cover the costs for those living “far-out” on the periphery. This breaks the link between the taxes paid and the actual benefits received, and can artificially increase demand and even reinforce sprawl, all of which drives up cost.
Third point. Such inefficiencies are inherent to the property tax, but they are then compounded by intentional inequities in how the tax is administered and applied. For example, it is well-known that non-residential properties are usually over-taxed relative to residential properties, multi-family residential properties are typically taxed at higher effective rates than single-family properties, and land values have historically been under-taxed almost everywhere. What is more, none of this relates to capturing the variable costs of providing municipal services and infrastructure to different properties.
Certain taxpayers are subsidizing other taxpayers who get a “free” ride. In most large modern cities, the great bulk of people live in single-family homes located in the suburbs. These neighbourhoods are more expensive to service and also require massive amounts of infrastructure to connect them into the civic network. Yet at the end of the tax day, multi-family properties which are less expensive to service are paying higher effective rates of property tax. Some assert that if the real nature and effect of such redistribution were known, many would find it completely unacceptable.
Fourth point. Most proposals to equalize the property tax base or remove discriminatory tax rate differentials typically end up DOA at the doors of City Hall. It is residents who vote and not businesses, and the vast majority of voting residents are single-family homeowners living in the suburbs.
Fifth point. Many solutions to the infrastructure funding gap tend to focus on various ways and means to increase supply as opposed to finding effective ways to limit demand. Supply dominates the discussion. But, there are various demand management strategies that can be considered. Maximizing existing capacity is one. When it comes to transportation, such options include HOV lanes, reverse lanes, corporate transit discounts, corporate van pooling, and Internet-based car pooling. The problem is that most of these strategies bump up against the lack of rational pricing or bad tax policy, and therefore can only do so much.
Final point. The higher effective rates of property tax paid by non-residential properties compared to residential properties is a source of growing discontent in cities right across the West. The good news is that there is some movement to correct the inequities. For some time now, the City of Saskatoon has been pursuing a policy to limit and cap this differential at 1.75. Saskatoon’s goal is to have non-residential properties paying 1.75 times the taxes paid by residential properties. The City has largely achieved this goal.
The rejoinder to this initiative is that businesses can write-off their property taxes while homeowners cannot. While this is true, the differentials in most cities are still too large. Depending on the province in view, a differential of about 1.5 would result in an equalized tax base between business and residential properties given the income tax advantage held by business. With this in mind, Winnipeg does very well. Its differential is 1.45%. (including the separate business tax). Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton arguably fair the worst. The differential is 4.55 in Vancouver, 4.52 in Calgary, and 2.87 in Edmonton (all of which include the separate business tax as well).
Cities across the West would do well to have a conversation with tax administrators in Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg. Why? The municipal infrastructure challenge is not just a question about supply—how to get the necessary financing and funding to increase the amount of infrastructure investment. It is also very much a question about demand. Funding infrastructure through better tax policies and even user fees can help keep the demand for infrastructure in check. And, the two cities in Saskatchewan, along with Winnipeg, are showing the way.
Winnipeg has the smallest property tax differential between non-residential and residential properties, and of all major cities in the West, Saskatoon and Regina collect the highest percentage of their total property tax revenue from residential properties as opposed to non-residential properties. In Saskatoon, residential property taxes are 70% of the total municipal property tax take and in Regina they are 63%. This is much higher than most other large western cities.
Politically, much of the impetus for lowering property tax differentials has come from arguments to improve equity and fairness. Such arguments are valid. But another advantage—often overlooked because it is more of a by-product or “accident”—is how removing the differentials results in a more neutral property tax system that can help keep a lid on ever-growing demands for more infrastructure and municipal services.
To be sure, we should not hope to “luck out” and solve the infrastructure challenge by fortunate and beneficial pursuits that are more accidental than intentional. That’s a pure hit and miss strategy. When it comes to municipal property tax reform, ending discriminatory tax rate differentials, equalizing the tax base, and shooting for more fairness, equity, transparency, and accountability are reasons enough to pursue change. But it can also help bring into play a more rational level of demand for municipal services and infrastructure, which in turn helps lower the total cost of operating our cities.
By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
Every now and then I’m asked—in public, mind you—for a little “crystal-balling.” What’s going to happen with this issue? Who’s going to win that campaign? What’ll happen here? How’s it going to shake out there? If there’s one Q&A or media query that I hate, it’s being asked to make “the prediction.” I’m not very good at it and have a pretty lousy track record. That’s also why I’m a “policy wonk” and not a “political pundit.”
One vision of the future that I’ve heard—not made but heard—is that water will be the biggest global policy issue of the 21st century. Hyperbole? Maybe. Perhaps. I don’t really know.
What I do know is that parts of western Canada certainly have their fair share of water stresses and strains, and more threats are floating our way. I also know that the West is not alone here, whether one points to the decade-long drought in Australia or chronic water shortages in the American southwest. And, I also know that the historical policy response—the large-scale supply option or water “mega” project—has to paddle a lot harder these days given both the cost and the potential environmental impact.
But while there is growing suspicion about the benefits of large-scale water supply solutions, the same does not hold when considering small-scale innovations, many of which are highly dependent on new research and technology only now emerging. What’s more, a lot of this ground-breaking technology is being developed, produced, tested, and installed right in the West’s own backyard.
What follows is a list of some of the more interesting innovations that I’ve run across in the West—technologies and products that are designed to develop alternative sources of fresh water, purify water on a small-scale, and treat, recycle, and reuse wastewater and effluents. While the list is quite diverse, they all share at least one similarity—foregoing the “big centralized” option with the “small decentralized” solution fueled by technology.
Small-Scale Self-Supply and Alternative Sources
Alternative water sources replace traditional surface water, groundwater, and municipal supply with water of a lower quality or water from a different source, oftentimes on a small-scale or individualized basis. One such practice—and one growing in popularity—is “rainwater harvesting.” The idea is already quite popular in parts of Europe, Hawaii, and Japan, and even mandatory in places like Bermuda, parts of Australia, and New Zealand. There are over 250,000 known users in the US alone.
Rainwater Connection out of Thetis Island, BC is adding western Canadian ingenuity to an already thriving industry. The company spends about 350 hours of research and development annually to adapt and test existing technologies for use in local conditions, and to design integrated systems that are cost effective, produce high quality water, and are easy to maintain. The Rainwater Connection specializes in designing, constructing, installing, and maintaining rainwater harvesting systems for residential, commercial and agricultural applications, as well as monitoring, maintaining, and evaluating those systems in a drive for continual improvement. Rainwater Connection has been involved with hundreds of rainwater projects, from small residential garden water systems to commercial nurseries. Some Rainwater Connection systems have integrated rainwater into well water systems that provide up to 100,000 gallons of potable water annually. Such systems go well beyond simply capturing rain in a barrel, and are complex enough to require input from architects, engineers, and filtration and treatment specialists.
The Aquascape RainXchange system was created for capturing, filtering, and storing rainwater, but does so with aesthetic and artistic flair by combining re-circulating decorative water features with a below ground rainwater harvesting and storage system. According to Aquascape RainXchange, the water potential of harvesting locally is significant. A home with a 2,000 square foot roof can yield 1,250 gallons of water with just one inch of rain. The RainXchange system is available and has been adapted for use in western Canada through Nature’s Corner Store, located in Edmonton, Alberta.
ECOShift also provides a line of diversified products to gather and store supplemental water supplies, primarily for irrigation and better grey water management. One of the key areas of focus for this company is education, information, and consultation. With the continual evolution of environmental solutions and technologies, it can be hard to keep on top of what is out there and what they really do. ECOShift offers tools and services to help individuals and business learn about the environmental technologies and solutions available, particularly grey water recycling and rainwater harvesting. ECOShift offers workshops, advanced seminars, technology evaluations, consultation and assessment services designed to evaluate specific needs and identify what technologies and products would be most suitable. The company asserts that many people simply do not have the luxury to research new technologies on a regular basis, so they do the leg work for you.
Small-Scale Water Treatment
To be sure, many alternative water supply systems have their genesis outside western Canada, and they are being adopted and adapted to local conditions. What is more, managing water woes is not just about water quantity. It is also about water quality. The two are highly interconnected. You may have all the water in the world but if that water is of poor quality, of what use is it? When it comes to water quality issues, the West is producing its own leaders, trend-setters, and industry champions.
Mainstream Water Solutions is a Saskatchewan-based company that took 200 year-old technology—slow sand filtration—and applied it in a new way to secure pure water for small water systems across western Canada. Chicken farmer David Keet rediscovered the process when confronted with the challenge of purifying water for the 130,000 birds in his operation. The results were more than impressive, and resulted in a new start-up company that has designed and installed water filtration systems for farms, small municipalities, commercial water users, and now, larger municipalities. The Mainstream process uses naturally occurring microbes in raw water, sand, and carbon filters to remove unwanted contaminants without the use of chemicals. From that start, the Mainstream system has evolved to include additional filters that remove arsenic and uranium, two toxins that could be impacting over 400 communities across western Canada. With support from Communities of Tomorrow, Mainstream has leveraged some $400,000 in research and development, and moved their systems from design, to the lab, to pilot projects, and now to market. The company believes that their system is the most affordable, efficient, and environmentally friendly option for any small water system serving up to 1,000 people and is poised to double its annual revenues of $3.5 million in the next few years.
Tec-Water Supplies is a company based in Tisdale, Saskatchewan that has its sights set on helping small communities solve their water treatment challenges. Treating water to potable standards through a centralized treatment facility is costly—often too costly for many small communities. Yet, there are more than 2,500 small communities in western Canada and some 42,000 in the US. Across Canada, some 7,000 communities will need to upgrade or replace their current water systems in the near future. Tec-Water has designed and patented a new technology, the Floc System 100TM, that can reduce the cost of water treatment by more than 50%. The technology eliminates turbidity, which normally makes treatment of the water impossible, and it does this in small batches and only when it is needed. Tec-Water has gathered over $1 million in investment, with the help of Communities of Tomorrow, to prove out the system through an installation at the new Sun Dale resort on Last Mountain Lake. The company is confident that its processes will allow it to enter and capture what is sure to be a growing market right across North America.
Small-Scale Wastewater Treatment and Recycling
Some of the more impressive innovations in western Canada revolve around new technologies for small-scale wastewater treatment, and developing new alternative supplies through water recycling and reuse. Some of these technologies are specifically targeted to industry sectors that are active across the West.
ElectroPure is a new mobile water treatment system designed and patented by Saskatchewan-based Ground Effects Environmental (GEE) Services. The system is housed in three 53 foot refrigerated vans that can be moved directly onsite. The three trailers are completely “plug-and-play”, and can be set up and running in less than two hours. The ElectroPure water system has applications across many industry sectors including oil and gas, mining, industry, and agriculture. A specific application for mobile treatment is flowback water from fraccing in the oil and gas industry. The system can dramatically reduce levels of polymers, total suspended solids, guar gum, iron, bacteria, scaling agents, hydrogen sulfide, silica, and almost any other material resulting from the fraccing process to levels safe for reuse. The mobile ElectroPure system ranges in capacity from 500 m3 to 1,500 m3 per day, and a fixed stationary plant can process upwards of 3,000 m3 per day. All systems can be remotely accessed, controlled, and optimized from anywhere in the world via satellite or cellular link. The technology is completely scalable and mobile—treatment can be done at the well head or at a location central to multiple drilling sites.
EcoLibra systems of Saskatoon was created to commercialize a new wastewater treatment and recovery technology that is drawing attention on a global scale. The new technology is called the Resource Recovery System or R2S, and employs mechanical processes and the use of safe, non-toxic, soil-friendly additives that can convert agricultural livestock effluent and human sewage back to clean water that can be re-used or returned to the environment. The system is fully automated and easy to use, whether employed to treat sewage from people or hogs. The process can be easily customized to work for towns or farms. EcoLibra estimates that the quality of treatment is ten times better than lagoon-based processes and most other traditional systems, but with a cost that is 30% to 50% lower. EcoLibra reported sales of $3.5 million in its first two years of operations, and is projecting significant new growth over the next two years. The company recently opened new offices in Europe and Alaska. The company is “going global” and is eager to show communities that wastewater is valuable and can be easily managed.
Livestock Water Recycling (LWR) systems of Calgary is an interesting on-farm example of water recycling and reuse. The company has refined and patented a mechanical and chemical processing technology that removes manure contaminants from livestock effluent, including solids, phosphorous, potassium, ammonia, and nitrogen. Again, the result is water that is quite suitable for other uses, and the removed contaminants can also be re-used in processing fertilizer. One of the company’s newest products is its “Swinewater System”. The water discharged from this system meets Canadian drinking water standards and is suitable for use back in the barn or for irrigation. LWR did extensive testing at a live site in southern Manitoba in 2008 and is currently in the process of installing systems at various dairy and hog operations in the West.
The Grey Water Recycling Research Program at the University of Regina is working to develop and perfect infrastructure systems for grey water recycling. Recycled grey water is ideal for non-potable use such as flushing toilets and landscape irrigation. The research program, with support from Communities of Tomorrow, has successfully levered over $1 million in research support, and is working with the University of Regina’s Industry Liaison Office to find commercialization opportunities and partnerships. The project has already generated six new patents for grey water recycling, and is now pursuing new research to extend those recycling systems so that grey water can eventually be turned back into potable water for safe consumption.
Integrating and Merging Innovations
Western Canada is also home to some exciting developments where new innovations, technologies, approaches, and systems have been merged into larger pilot projects.
The Vento Windmill Development is a very unique home-grown example of integrating new technologies and approaches. The Vento residential development, located in Calgary, is a mixed-use commercial and residential condominium infill project located in the inner city beltline on the former General Hospital site. The project was developed and constructed by the Windmill Development Group. The Vento was designed up-front with water conservation in mind. For example, a rainwater collection system is used for flushing toilets and watering plants. The Vento also uses a number of low-flow water fixtures. As a result of these technologies, water use in the Vento is expected to be about 60% lower than that of traditional buildings, and industry innovators and leaders are taking notice. The Vento project was the first multi-family residential development in North America to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification offered through the US Green Building Council.
Onwards and Upwards
When it comes to environmental issues and concerns, we are all familiar with the bromide of “Think global but act local.” The story of water in western Canada certainly reflects that idea, but could also be described as “Inventing local and exporting global.” The West certainly has water challenges, and out of those challenges has come opportunity—a “lab” of necessity.
Click here to read Part I of “Big-scale” Problem Meets “Small-scale” Solution”.
By: Casey Vander Ploeg, Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation
Ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, a key goal of economic growth and development in the West has been the drive to secure a more diverse economic base. Successes on this front include the aerospace industry in Manitoba, the Canadian Light Source synchrotron facility in Saskatchewan, medical research facilities and programs endowed in Alberta, and the strong economic and social links established between Asia-Pacific nations and the lower mainland in British Columbia. In many ways, western Canadians today certainly do benefit from a more diverse and dynamic economy.
But despite impressive and robust growth in the services sector, and a good number of impressive examples of economic diversification, the great bulk of western Canadian exports are still resource-based. The development and production of natural resources and primary industry remains an important mainstay of the western Canadian economy.
When it comes to natural resources, one of the most important has to be the region’s water. It’s a given that a clean and readily accessible supply of water is essential for sustaining life, so much so that most of us take the matter entirely for granted. But water is also the essential lifeblood of the West’s most important economic sectors, whether that be tourism and fishing in British Columbia, oil and gas development in Alberta, agriculture and irrigation in Saskatchewan, or hydro generation in Manitoba.
Water is critically important to the West, and western Canadians know it. A Nanos survey in 2009 asked Westerners what they believed was the most important natural resource (Nanos 2009). Twice as many said water (61%) as did oil and gas (27%). Water was leaps and bounds ahead of all other resources, including forestry (8%) and fisheries (3%).
At the same time, the West is faced with a clear and growing vulnerability with water, and this vulnerability goes well beyond coping with the persistent and perpetual threat of the next drought hanging around the corner. Growing demand, diminishing supply, heavily and over-allocated rivers, compromised aquatic ecosystems, industrial and commercial discharge, agricultural run-off, water body eutrophication, drinking water quality, tensions, disputes, and potential conflict are all floating down the stream. And then there is climate change—the real “wild” card. Lying in its wake are retreating glaciers, increased variability and less predictability, and more extreme weather events—droughts over here and floods over there.
The potential impacts are far-reaching. Take urban storm drainage. Much of this infrastructure was built for a relatively stationary climate. It was not designed to accommodate a downpour of five inches of rain within a 20 block radius. Some estimates of retro-fitting infrastructure to accommodate increased weather volatility could reach up to $40,000 per household (Vander Ploeg 2010).
Certainly, one of the biggest and most important issues on the western Canadian policy agenda today has to be the current state and future health of our water resources and related infrastructure.
“It would be a major mistake for Canada to handle this issue badly,” argues former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed (Globe and Mail 2008). “With climate change and growing needs, Canadians will need all the fresh water we can conserve, particularly in the western provinces. I hope that when the time comes, Canada will be ready. The reality is that fresh water is more valuable than crude oil.”
The traditional response to water challenges has been to better harness and manage the resource through large-scale infrastructure projects that divert, store, convey, and clean our water—dams, on-stream and off-stream reservoirs, water and wastewater treatment facilities, pumping stations, canals, and pipeline networks. These large-scale projects provide huge volumes of water at relatively low cost for millions—whether in the city or on the farm. But for a number of reasons, this traditional approach has fallen into disfavour. Not only is the approach expensive, but such “mega” supply-side solutions carry some very real environmental and ecological costs. What is more, water is more than a “big” issue. It is what many call a “wicked” or “meta-problem.”
“Many water resource problems can be termed ‘wicked’ or ‘meta-problems’ because they extend beyond the scope of a single government agency and level of government, and are associated with high levels of change, complexity, uncertainty, and conflict,” (National Water Research Institute 2004). In other words, the issue is so large and so complex that it defies a simple, single, and centralized solution.
It makes sense, then, that attention is increasingly focusing on the “small-scale” or “decentralized” solution to local water woes, where individuals, industry, business, and small groups and local communities are taking responsibility for some of their own water needs through individually-owned or operated water capture, storage, and treatment systems. The inherent strength of small-scale water provision is how it addresses local water problems through local solutions. Because such provision is self-supplied, it encourages people to take responsibility for their own water use and helps contribute to a stronger water ethic.
Self-supply of water has always enjoyed a certain level of acceptability among westerners, from the old-fashioned rain barrel to the locally owned and operated water-coop in the rural acreage community. Innovations in engineering continue to expand the options. Advancements in technology continue to open the door on new approaches to infrastructure that were not possible in the past. Across the world, engineering technology is resulting in the design and production of many types of small-scale systems to solve water issues—from solar-powered personal desalination equipment to integrated rainwater harvesting systems for household use.
What I find more than a little interesting is how many of these are being researched, developed, produced, and marketed right here in our own backyard. This includes developing alternative water sources, water recycling and reuse, and small-scale water treatment. All share at least one similarity—foregoing the “big centralized” solution with the “small decentralized” option fueled by technology.
Part II will detail some of these new developments, and present some concrete examples. We’ll look at some western-based technologies and products that include the following:
- Aquascape RainXchange™
- EcoLibra Systems Inc.
- Rainwater Connection™
- Mainstream Water Solutions Inc.
- Bushman™ Systems
- GEE Electropure Technology
- Vento Windmill Development Inc.
- Tec-Water Supplies Inc.
- LWR Systems Inc.
- Greywater Recycling R&D at University of Regina
Back to diversification. In the 1970s and 1980s, attempts at economic diversification turned around the idea of governments providing tax incentives and even direct financial support to stimulate and establish entirely new business opportunities. The shine came off that approach in the 1990s. Today, attempts at diversification spin around building upon inherent strengths and very real needs. Given the importance of water in the West, there is plenty of opportunity to turn a growing vulnerability into an economic strength.
Click here to read Part II of “Big-scale” Problem Meets “Small-scale” Solution”.
Globe and Mail. 2008. “The Second Coming of Peter Lougheed.” Article written by John Gray. August 29, 2008. Toronto, ON.
Nanos, Nik. 2009. “Canadians Overwhelmingly Choose Water as our Most Important Natural Resource.” Policy Options. July-August 2009. Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP). Montreal, QC.
National Water Research Institute (NWRI). 2004. Threats to Water Availability in Canada. NWRI Scientific Assessment Report Series No. 3. Ottawa, ON.
Vander Ploeg, Casey G. 2010. From H20: Turning Alberta’s Water Headache to Opportunity. Canada West Foundation. Calgary, AB.