World Water Day was held on March 22nd.  At the time, advocates called on us to think of the two billion people around the world who lack access to safe drinking water. Four in every ten people suffer face water scarcity, according to figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

At first glance, Canada would not appear to have a water problem. We have an abundance of mighty rivers and lakes. But a legacy of industrial pollution, sewage discharge, and outdated lead pipes have left many Canadian families wondering if our water is safe to drink.

Addressing our water challenges will be good for public health and can strengthen the economy, while meeting government clean water standards. Today’s clean, safe water technologies offer the country renewed opportunity to protect its cherished blue gold.

That’s a good investment.

Canada is moving forward on clean water

With more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population now living in our cities, the demand for safe, clean drinking water, and reducing the pollution from wastewater treatment, has never been higher. And with climate change threatening larger, more intense storms, stormwater treatment is increasingly a challenge.

Across Canada, there is a need to upgrade and strengthen our drinking water purification plants, our pipe networks, and our sewage treatment facilities. Some communities are already beginning to do so.

Last year, Saint John brought its new drinking water facility online. The Safe Clean Drinking Water Project was designed to meet current and future drinking water needs, while meeting federal drinking water standards. The new drinking water treatment plant will serve around 70,000 people.

Saint John’s Safe Clean Drinking Water project means that families and businesses now have water security.  That’s good for public health.

But that is not all. Canada has adopted higher wastewater standards which will require all sewage treatment plants to use biological processes to remove dissolved and suspended organic compounds. This will result in a much cleaner effluent, with a much lower environmental impact.

To comply with the new regulations, Metro Vancouver, a federation comprising 21 municipalities in British Columbia, decided to construct a new wastewater treatment plant (the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant) to replace the existing facility, which was more than 50 years old.

The new plant is a model for the circular economy. The biogas generated from treating the wastewater will be used to produce electricity and heating for the plant. It incorporates solutions for energy efficiency and the recovery, conservation and reuse of the water, the processing of rainwater, and measures to minimize waste output.

Today, technologies are emerging that may help Canada further improve the management of its water resources. For example, our company has developed a technology platform that can analyze data in real time to optimize the operation and maintenance of its water plants around the world. It is now experimenting with advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques with the goal of predicting maintenance and operational needs before they happen.

As the UN reminds us every year on World Water Day, managing our water resources is one of the most important challenges facing the planet for the coming decades. Secure access to the supply of drinking water is a fundamental right.  Regions around the world that enjoy this remember that caring for the global environment means treating their water effectively and responsibly. Canada has long celebrated its abundance of blue gold. This Water Day, let’s recommit to becoming better stewards of this resource.

Martin Landry is the vice president of business development with ACCIONA’s infrastructure division in North America.

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