Water conservation and utility savings in Ontario are hot topics these days. We spent time recently with Andrew Henry, the President of Ontario Municipal Water Association, to focus on key challenges and opportunities for Ontario residents and businesses. Amidst a highly involved schedule, Henry met with WaterSmart to discuss major topics for Ontario municipalities. If you have further questions about water conservation and utility savings, contact the certified professionals at WaterSmart.
During the course of the interview, Andrew provided insights to a number of questions the WaterSmart team had on the industry along with insights for helping consumers get engaged and also reduce expenses on water. He points out that by practicing regular water conservation, consumers and businesses can lower their monthly expenses as well as obtain long-term cost savings. He also discussed how disasters such as Walkerton have lead to the development of higher safety standards and regulations and how Canada is in terms of regulatory environment, one of the most mature systems in place globally. In regards to consumers on whether they should choose tap, plastic bottles, water filters, etc., he says that it typically depends on the situation, and personal preferences.
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WaterSmart Guest Interview: Andrew Henry from Ontario Municipal Water Association (OMWA)
The mission of OMWA is to act as the voice of Ontario’s public water authorities through actions which sustain and protect the life cycle of Water. The association focuses on the “policy, politics and governance” of municipal water-related infrastructure. Much of the association’s work to date has revolved around advocacy for better senior government policies related to drinking water, providing information and education to elected officials and senior management, and highlighting the best practices of the association’s membership.
See more at http://www.omwa.org/about/our-mission#sthash.OcdFJ807.dpuf
Conservation: Small Changes Lead to Big Savings
Image courtesy of OMWA
During our conversation with Andrew, he relayed a past instance in how small changes in water usage within a municipality helped achieve sizable savings to infrastructure allowing roughly $55M in future savings to be invested in other priority areas. Due to consumption in the early 2000’s, it was expected that a treatment plant had to have its capacity doubled by 2010 because of the extensive consumption and demand on water.
As conservation efforts came underway, however, the demand and consumption were reduced significantly to such an effect that by 2010 the treatment plant now did not have to be increased in capacity until 2020-2025. This first milestone marked significant infrastructure savings along with realized opportunities for cost deferrals, both of which were significant wins.
As efforts continue, now in 2017 the same plant slated for upgrade in 2020-2025 can now continue operation until 2045 without increasing capacity. This amounts to a treatment facility’s capacity lifespan being increased to about 30 years as a direct result of mild water conservation efforts by various residents and businesses. The municipality now instead of spending 125 million dollars would only need to spend 70M, leading to a deferral of costs and savings of $55 Million.
Question: Who are close partners of OMWA within the Water Industry?
Water conservation is an incredibly important topic of discussion particularly to the flourishing of communities and businesses in Ontario. The water industry itself is comprised of many segments and stakeholders and to that end, OMWA works with a number of other associations and regulatory stakeholders to strengthen the water standards for municipalities and provincially. OMWA works with partner associations to discuss water issues alongside the Ontario Water Works Association (a section of the American Water Works Association) and associations focused on tackling issues in the drinking water segment.
From a political/legislative front, partnerships can often include the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and Federation of Municipalities to ensure a consistent and clear message is being brought and tabled.
Question: Are there low hanging fruit in terms of improving water consumption by managing the timing of water usage?
By Andrevruas (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
There can be a number of water storage reservoirs and towers in a community or across a region which balance the supply and demand for water. Peak consumption of water during the day is buffered by this storage, and minimizes the impact to water treatment and supply. Regardless, water systems often look for opportunities to minimize energy and resource consumption in order to ensure the water system is as cost effective as possible. Balancing the “time-of-use” of water consumption with water treatment and supply can be complex, but a worthwhile endeavor.
Question: How did the water industry in Ontario and Canada get to where it is today?
The water industry’s discussion and agenda in Canada came into focus 100 years ago when the Canadian section of the American Water Works Association began. The Section matured and evolved, giving rise to the Ontario Water Works association, among others in Canada, where focused discussion began related to operating standards and water quality. As issues evolved and sobering water incidents occurred, like the cholera outbreak, they created a basis and momentum to push forward the evolution of water treatment and the associated legislation.
Along the way, much work and development continued in helping to define water legislation and standard in the industry. In the years since 2000, incidents in Walkerton, North Battleford, and Stratford have been leading to increasing regulation and a need for greater stewardship. Because of the history of events that have occurred in Ontario, the province has become one of the more strict environments in the field of water standard of care and regulated quality standards.
Question: How did you get inspired to tackle the water industry?
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The process can be best described as a profession that evolved into a passion. Andrew has worked in various municipal sectors for roads, solid waste, wastewater, drinking water, and also engaged in extensive work managing municipal drinking water systems. The overarching relationship between Andrew and the water is that he himself drinks the water, along with his family and community which he serves. The opportunity came to continue to be involved in the water industry so Andrew took a step forward and said he wanted to help serve the field.
Andrew, along with his association and municipal duties, also works with schools. In his partnership with educational institutions, the topics of water quality, water treatment, and conservation are championed in the minds of future generations to both challenge and inspire them towards action and responsible use of this key resource of water.
Question: What is the biggest challenge in terms of water conservation?
The challenge is hinged upon personal choices. The desire is to allow residents and businesses to have the right information to make informed choices on how to use water effectively and sustainably.
Because of the abundance from the Great Lakes in Ontario, there is ample supply of fresh water for residents. This abundance also leaves room for us to become complacent in water usage, knowing that supply issues won’t be faced in the short term, or certainly not to the extent being experience around the globe.
Question: What are some current and notable initiatives for OMWA in your opinion?
Image courtesy of OMWA
OMWA has been involved in the post-Walkerton era to scope and create the regulatory environment to better mitigate and respond to future scenarios, serving on working groups to develop quality management systems standards for municipal drinking water, offering continued guidance to the province in crafting regulatory standards to move the industry forward, and balancing the need for standards of care, water quality, and governance responsibility, with affordability and sustainability of water systems.
OMWA’s strategic initiatives have been posted, offering visibility to what the association is currently focusing on to improve Ontario’s municipal water industry.
Question: What are some opportunities and challenges you see in the coming future of the water industry in Canada?
The association is currently working on issues related to first nations, backflow and cross-connection prevention, enhancing legislation related to wastewater and stormwater systems, and continued work on source water prevention.
Question: Looking globally, which water industries are the furthest along in terms of governance and implementation of comprehensive water conservation legislation?
Canada may not have as stringent quality standards for water as some jurisdictions, but in terms of regulatory environment, it is one of the most mature globally. The legislative environment in various jurisdictions across the globe evolves according to their given circumstances, and Canada is blessed with an abundance of fresh water, that is readily available and of higher naturally occurring quality in the environment. I would say that Canada is within the top 10 globally.
Question: Of the many alternatives to consuming water through tap, plastic bottle, water filter, and etc.: which is the best in terms of choice?
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The best choice typically comes down to situation, personal preferences, and tastes.
For example, if a resident is drawing water from a private well, understanding the quality of the water, its hardness and what contaminants may exist will help drive the decision for the right water product, or even if treatment is necessary.
In the case of a municipal distribution system - every municipality must meet regulatory standards of maintenance in providing water to residents. Here is where preference plays into the decision. Perhaps consumers aren’t accustomed to the taste of tap water and it becomes a consumer preference issue. Then the consumer can ask whether a filter or another product is desired rather than explicitly required. In my opinion, additional treatment of municipally supplied water that meets Ontario’s stringent standards isn’t necessary, but I recognize that it may be desirable based on personal preferences.
There are even cultural dimensions to this purchasing decision as in some European cultures it is common to serve guests bottled water as a token of esteem whereas serving water in a cup may be seen as off-putting.
Question: Some fast food chains in Ontario do not offer non-bottled beverages as a choice for consumers and require patrons to purchase bottled drinks. How can consumers make the best choice in this case?
Understanding that we still have a choice and that we don't have to go to restaurants or purchase certain products. There are also incidents where unscrupulous vendors target homeowners and convince them that their water is contaminated. This, in my opinion, is an underhanded tactic to get residents to purchase a product that they don’t need. In this instance, knowledge and choice are the best ways to navigate this dilemma.
Question: One of the most influential reasons why people buy bottled water is because of the advertising. Marketing giants like Coca Cola are running ads and campaigns to encourage people to buy their bottled water products. Do you think there is sound reasoning that marketing for water alternatives should also be part of a strategy for water conservation?
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Municipalities generally do not have a marketing budget and won’t be expecting to have something like that at their disposal in the future either. Instead, water authorities are choosing to use the truth around quality, cost, and consistent messaging to help educate the public, and provide that education whenever opportunities present themselves. For example, some water bottling companies take municipal water and repackage it to sell to consumers. The process is simple in that they remove chlorine and add ozone into the product, translating to limited value for the consumer given the price point they pay for the product.
The alternative is to get a budget for advertisement, which means increased cost for water which may not be feasible for all residents in a municipality depending on their socioeconomic status. Even treating water to a higher standard and delivering it to everyone in a region may not be feasible, unless residents and businesses have the ability to pay for it. If there are significant financial challenges, water may not be easily accessible.
There could also be cultural challenges that run as an undercurrent to the marketing dilemma. Family upbringing influences tastes and cultural perceptions can make bottled water more pleasing when serving guests.
Consumer takeaway: Not only does conservation on a regular basis contribute to lower monthly expenses, but it actually achieves long-term sustainable cost savings also. By using less water regularly residents can help keep water costs down for their community in the longer term.
For Ontarians looking to get involved in the dialogue of water conservation and policy feel free to contact OMWA.
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