It all comes back to water.
And it’s not an infinite source. Experts predict that by 2030 we could be facing a water deficit of 40%, meaning our current water use is robbing us of water use in the future.
While the amount of planetary water cannot be increased or decreased, we determine its availability through our actions.
Pollution makes water useless or costly to treat, while improper management empties aquifers and drains rivers and lakes. On the other hand, recycling and re-use make water more available.
Human activity is the greatest influence on water’s sustainability and water is not an isolated resource – its scarcity, health, location and treatment impact many other industries, making it vital that we understand the consequences of our actions.
The Municipal Infrastructure Deficit
A 2015 report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities reveals that most of our infrastructure was built between the 50s and 70s. Since that time, the municipal infrastructure deficit, or the cost of repairing and maintaining our infrastructure, has been increasing at a rapid rate.
In 2007, the deficit was estimated to be $123 billion. By 2065 it could be two thousand billion – or $2 trillion.
The 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card estimates that fixes to potable water assets alone will cost $207 billion.
Our aging infrastructure will soon be under additional strain according to forecasted population trends.
Right now, the global population sits at around 7.4 billion people.
Of those 7.4 billion people, about four billion live in cities – over 50% of the global population. In 2045, it is estimated that six billion people will live in cities. An additional two billion people in cities will place increased strain on infrastructure, forcing us to rethink our current management practices.
Multiple sources estimate that by 2050, our population will expand to approximately 9.3 billion people.
A bigger global population requires more resources, specifically water, food and energy.
Without a doubt, the most valuable of the resources is water. No water (or an unreliable source of water distribution) makes the production of food and energy impossible.
Water is an essential nutrient for all life. It has no substitute.
It’s easy to recognize the necessity of water to our individual survival – without water we’d die within a matter of days. Water is essential to bodily functions and there is nothing on earth that can replace its role in maintaining good health.
An RBC study from earlier this year reported that 45% of Canadians consider water to be the most important natural resource by far. It has unmeasurable economic value and perhaps even greater social value.
However, this “invisible utility” as John Moynier calls it, is not getting the attention it desperately needs and justly deserves.
Everything we do, wear, or eat needs water.
The biggest water user by sector is agriculture at 70%, followed by industry (including the energy industry) at 20%, and then finally, domestic use at 10%.
These numbers would suggest that the best way to conserve water would be to maximize the impact of water in agriculture, while minimizing the actual input. As the Water Brothers, Canadians Tyler and Alex Mifflin say in their TVO show, “more food, less water”.
In terms of energy, water is used in extraction of fossil fuels (mining, drilling) and it’s used in irrigation of alternative fuels (corn, sugar cane). These fuels are then used to heat our homes, run our cars and power our factories.
Most of the goods and services we consume require many litres of water. To produce one litre of bottled water, three litres of water are needed. To produce one cotton shirt, 2650 litres of water are needed.
Due to the interconnectedness of water with energy and food – the nexus as it’s called – what happens in the water industry affects the energy industry and the food industry.
A change in one causes a change in all three. By improving the sustainability, efficiency and quality of our “invisible utility”, we can simultaneously benefit the other two.
Typically, solutions to fixing the water industry focus on improving existing processes. While this enterprise has brought us to where we are today, the traditional methods are outdated and no longer have the capacity to meet the demand of a growing world.
The most direct way we can influence the water industry is by changing the way we treat water.
The Netherlands do not use chlorine in water disinfection. They prefer physical methods of treatment, favouring sedimentation, filtration and UV-disinfection, using ozone and peroxide if oxidization is required.
Chlorine, the traditional water treatment since about the 1910s has done great service, ending waterborne cholera and typhoid epidemics. While its importance cannot be dismissed in the scope of history, its place in the future should be re-evaluated.
It’s a known fact that chlorine, upon contact with organic material, breaks down into disinfection by-products (DBPs). One group of which are trihalomethanes (THMs), which are strictly regulated and may not exceed a certain level in drinking water.
There are 600 known DBPs, 11 are regulated, and eight are known carcinogens.
Past trends suggest looking for or modifying water treatments to reduce DBPs; instead we should be searching for treatments that don’t produce them at all.
By treating our water differently, it is possible to decrease the capital costs and ongoing operational costs of water treatment, while also extending the useful life of our infrastructure.
As said earlier, the most direct way we can influence the water industry is by changing the way we treat water.
By changing our methods, there is potential to produce healthier water for people, better water for infrastructure, productive water for agriculture, and more re-usable water for cities, all while remaining sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Although cliché, the sentiment remains true – we can make waves in the energy industry and the food industry by starting with water. And there seems no better place to start than in Canada, a country boasting 20% of the world’s global freshwater supply.
With a 20% supply, it seems appropriate that Canada would be a global leader in water treatment and water management.
Except we’re not.
Our natural abundance may be the very reason Canada is not yet at the forefront of the water revolution. With water so readily available and adequate treatment methods, there is little incentive to conserve or change our methods.
Instead of remaining complacent and upholding the status quo, it is necessary to implement measures that will take care of future generations, turn Canada into a global leader, and above all else, treat water with the respect it deserves.
SanEcoTec, an advanced water treatment company, works with water daily, and knows first hand the impact sustainably treated water can have on individuals, municipalities and agricultural institutions.
Owners of the AVIVE™ Water Programs, SanEcoTec believes that Healthy Water Can Change the World.
These programs integrate innovative products and services with expert know-how, and support environmental integrity while remaining economically viable for municipalities, greenhouses, farms and individuals.
Already, SanEcoTec’s work is in one Ontario community; four Newfoundland communities; some of North America’s leading greenhouses; dairy farms; two major universities, and hundreds of households.
AVIVE™ is the Clean50 People’s Choice Winner for 2015 and Water Canada’s 2016 Water’s Next Drinking Water Award Winner. The Company has been featured as a water tech company of the future in local, national and science publications as well as at municipal conferences, industry shows, and trade events.
The returns on AVIVE™ Programs are apparent across the many applications, pilot programs, studies and daily uses incorporating AVIVE™ – from healthier drinking water in hundreds of homes, to dechlorinated water in municipalities, to more productive water in greenhouses.
With so many encouraging returns already, the team at SanEcoTec continues to develop new applications for AVIVE™, believing that there is potential for even greater things.
But they don’t believe in doing things alone. A change this big needs partners, from the individual to the heads of national and global governments.
We have no right to remain passive if what we do today as a nation and a global community has the potential to change deficit to surplus.
It all comes back to water, but it all comes down to us.