Ontario’s Water Future

Yesterday, I attended a very interesting panel discussion focusing on Ontario’s water future and the province’s ability to be a hub of innovation in water technology. Here are my impressions and takeaways from the discussion.

The event was hosted by the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) and featured speakers from business, government, and a leading water technology expert from Holland. The overarching theme was how to leverage different sectors and capacities to promote innovation in water technology. This is no small goal because water is fast becoming a central topic as a driver of the modern economy.

Ontario has a number of companies that are global leaders in water technologies and it has a growing water sector. To foster this growth there was a push to pass legislation at the provincial level to capture the knowledge and innovate for the future. Two parts of the Water Opportunities Act; creation of WaterTAP (a new non-profit technology accelerator) and the goal of improving sustainable water practices, were discussed. Both of these sections within the legislation have been designed to improve communication and increase adoption of innovative water solutions.

There were three speakers on the panel which was moderated by Brenda Lucas of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC). The consortium is a new organization that enables watershed level research and development testing. Lucas oversaw a diverse group of speakers one each from the private sector, government, and academia.

The first speaker was David Henderson a managing partner and founder of XPV Capital which is an equity fund devoted solely to growth companies in the water sector. Henderson discussed the unprecedented opportunity for Ontario in the growing global water industry but stressed that there are still issues that need to be worked out. In his words; “water is local, but technology is global.”

Water is housed in the ministry of environment but touches on everything from health to energy. Consequently, he argued that the status quo approach of vertical knowledge and mandates in the water sector does not work and that a paradigm shift is needed to deal with water from a horizontal perspective. This involves working with universities and government to promote feasible water technology research. To sum up his argument; there needs to be a better dialogue between industry and government to foster adoption of good technologies in order to grow Ontario’s water industry into a global leader.

The second speaker Nick Reid, who is in charge of Strategic Partnerships at the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), spoke on the topic of adopting new technologies. One of his main points was that nobody wants to be the first to try something new (new water technology isn’t like the iPhone where if it doesn’t initially work, you can wait for a software update). He further went on to differentiate between how municipalities price water and make large scale investment decisions.

The issue of municipalities not taking full cost into account and leading to inefficient pricing of water makes for sub-optimal decision making for water infrastructure. From my view his argument gave the impression that this was not a universal problem, more a sporadic issue that needs to be addressed in specific cases. He later went on to say that he doesn’t know of large objections to price increases in water supply when they are explained to the public. This will be a key hurdle to understand and overcome in order to better utilize more efficient technologies.

Professor Rijnaarts, a leading water technology researcher from Wageningen University, discussed several groups working on the topic of water in Holland and some of their new technologies. He spoke about several Dutch organizations including Deltares and wetsus.

Deltares is a global leader in water infrastructure projects. In terms of understanding large scale projects and producing sound results Deltares is at the leading edge of the industry. It is great at developing systemic solutions to issues surrounding water.

Wetsus, is a collaborative group between industry and research institutes comprised of 91 companies, 17 universities, and covers 24 themes. Though based in Holland it has a European scope. It was interesting to learn that some of the companies within westus were Ontario based that are working in Europe. Through this collaborative approach westus is able to focus its resources on developing research that has strong real world applications.

During his presentation Professor Rijnaarts also described small Dutch towns that were willing to adopt new technology. This is a significant because it enables organizations to have a test market for large scale applications of water technology.

The discussion after shifted to the benefits of working together to develop new technologies.

Holland and Canada have a long standing history of strong ties dating back to the second World War. In terms of partnering with Holland, the term used regularly throughout the session was ‘coopetition’ which as you can guess, means cooperation while competing. This joining of forces makes great use of the different levels of water sector focus in each area. Where the Dutch are famed for their large scale systemic water projects, Ontario is gunning to be a silicon valley of water and develop many pieces to the puzzle.

Coopetition comes to the forefront because the two regions have very complimentary water goals. Where Ontario correctly views its direct competitors as Israel and Singapore, Holland is in competition with the likes of Australia and Scotland. To paraphrase Professor Rijnaarts; if Ontario finds a diamond and Holland finds a diamond, you can put them together and make a crown. For economics nerds like me, this sounds a lot like Nash Equilibrium.

Nash equilibrium is best explained in the bar scene in “A Beautiful Mind” when John Nash realizes that if all 5 guys hit on the same blond girl they will all fail. However, if they each pick one of 5 girls and work together they are more likely to succeed. Ontario and Holland look to have started a fruitful relationship with each focusing on their own aspect of water and coopetitioning (yeah, may have taken that word too far, but I like it so it stays) together to create a better water future.

My takeaways from this event are that we need to have better dialogue within the water community. There needs to be better incentives to promote technology adoption. And finally working together with a complimentary group can lead to a much better future for water technology innovation.

This event brought forward a lot of intellectually stimulating issues and ideas on how to approach them. I enjoyed meeting water leaders from industry, government, and our partners in Holland. It is a very interesting time for Ontario’s water sector and I look forward to researching and posting about new developments as my research turns in this direction.

Posted in Event Recap, Holland, Ontario, Opinion, Water, Water Technology | Leave a comment

Expert networks for water, part 1

In any discipline it is important to have a means of knowledge exchange. No more so than in water where there are two types of interdisciplinary knowledge at play, thoroughly complicating the global understanding of water. These two types of knowledge are location specific where geographical and cultural knowledge differ across regions and technical knowledge which varies across the many disciplines that work with water.

There are many such networks that work on water issues such as the World Water Council (WWC) and International Water Association (IWA). These organizations work to bring experts together for discussion resulting in a global diffusion of current knowledge. These networks have different means of carrying out their missions while disseminating a lot of interesting information.

World Water Council

The World Water Council is an expert network which first and foremost provides a platform for debate on water so as to develop a unified view of how to solve water issues. The Council has a goal of supporting the UN MDGs that are related to water. It enables a forum for discussion with world leaders and ministers participating in the dialogue. The Council does this through a number of programs, the triennial World Water Forum, and publications.

There are many programs that the Council has supported Water and Green Growth, Financing Water for All, Right to Water, Water Monitoring Alliance, Local Authorities, and Water and Climate. The outcome of these programs will be interesting to see. The Water and Green Growth project is less than a year old and is a joint initiative between the WWC and the Korean Government. The goal of this project is to deliver an understanding of how water plays into the concept of environmentally friendly economic growth.

Pollution cleanup from a case study of Istanbul. Source: Water and Green Growth.

The World Water Forum gathers every three years and is the largest international water event. Recently the 6th World Water Forum, held in Marseille, was attended by 35,000 participants from around the globe. For a comprehensive recap of the outcomes of this meeting see the Forum Synthesis. This event is significant in the global water landscape because it is a chance for water professionals of all disciplines and levels to interact and learn from each other.

The WWC has a number of publications on its website that fit within its thematic scope. In terms of academic publications the WWC oversees the journal Water Policy which is limited to subscriptions which many universities have access to. This is one of the leading journals on water and is helping the international community utilize scientific knowledge to make informed decisions. It is published through the publishing wing of the IWA.

International Water Association

The IWA is a network is another leading group of water experts. It bills itself as “a global reference point for water professionals, spanning the continuum between research and practice and covering all facets of the water cycle.” This network brings together a wide range of competencies to work on 5 core themes that the IWA focuses on; Cities of the Future, Utilities and Their Assets, Science and application of water treatment and management, Sanitation, Water Quality and Health, and Water, climate and energy.

IWA takes a regional approach and is able to bring experts together For example in Africa it works to increase water and sanitation best practices. Whereas the goal of the IWA’s Danube and Black Sea Region is to generate knowledge exchange through work with national associations. This exchange of knowledge happens at a number of events that occur every 12 days and range in topic and scope to fit the needs of a gathered group.

The IWA is heavily involved in the dissemination of information on water through its publishing wing. It oversees 15 different water journals that cover everything from technology to policy. The catch is that you need to have access to their journals through a university subscription. If you have that, there is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. They also publish a bi-monthly magazine called Water21 that keeps readers up to date on current water issues. It also hosts the IWA Water Wiki which is one of the best resources to find a wide variety of information. Water Wiki is an open source format for water information like the better known Wikipedia and is worth a look around.

These two networks provide valuable insight into what is going on with water. They are there to bring new ideas to the forefront of debate and disseminate knowledge to those who need it most. There are other networks which I will discuss as this series continues including the Global Water Partnership and various other national and international bodies.

Posted in Data Links, Expert Networks, Research, Taxonomy of Water Organizations, Uncategorized, WASH, Water | Leave a comment

Water Think Tanks, part 2

“Getting good data on the many issues related to freshwater has long been a challenge.” The World’s Water

Water think tanks provide a means of gathering data and understanding of global water issues. Like the many issues surrounding water, the organizations that research it have varied focuses and issue areas. Some describe health related to water, others promote sustainable usage for an environmental perspective, and some promote new water technologies to support a diverse means of tackling future problems. Though they may come from different perspectives, think tanks devoted to water generally have one goal in mind and that is better utilization of water systems to solve real world crises.

Three organizations that I will discuss in this post are the Pacific Institute, UNU-INWEH, and cewas (International Centre for Water Management Services). The Pacific institute is a think tank devoted to natural resources utilization with a significant focus on water. UNU-INWEH is the United Nations research centre for water. Cewas is a new institute that trains and develops start up businesses in the field of water.

Pacific Institute

The Pacific Institute seeks to promote sustainable use of natural resources in an environmentally friendly manner. Water is a major focus of this think tank which enables a better understanding of water and its underlying relationship to the environment and humanity. The Water and Sustainability Program has a threefold approach to water which includes efficiency gains, improving access to water, and protecting the environment.

The water program touches on many facets of water and is a good place to begin any search for information. The topics covered range from the global water crisis to bottled water to the human right to water and the website provides easy access to related publications. One of the topics that I find very interesting is the section on water and conflict. Though water is generally not the sole cause of conflict it has a very complex relationship with security. Noting that, the Pacific Institute has compiled an interactive database called the Water Conflict Chronology. Not only is the database in searchable list form, but there is also a timeline and map which have the same information in user friendly formats.

The Pacific Institute funds research and post publications for those seeking to understand water issues. The most notable publication is the biannual report entitled The World’s Water which describes the current state of this resource. Each report in this highly informative series details different issues and cases within the global water landscape. For example, in the most recent report, the Pacific Institute lists the top per capita bottled water users by country which are Mexico, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates (see table below). It also established a website called Circle of Blue. Circle of Blue is a leading news source on water and combines the leading experts and journalists to an understanding of the current water crisis.

Per-Capita Bottled Water Consumption by Top Countries, 1999–2010 (liters per person per year) Source: The World’s Water, volume 7.


I discussed UNU-INWEH as it pertains to education but it also serves as the ‘UN Think-Tank on Water’ and provides research and support to a number of different UN projects. It does this through three core functions: capacity development, knowledge enhancement, and research-policy bridging. It is hosted at McMaster University in Canada.

UNU-INWEH seeks to research and provide actionable intelligence on the global water crisis with 4 areas of focus Freshwater Ecosystems, Coastal Ecosystems, Dryland Ecosystems, and Water-Health Nexus. Within each of these focus areas there are dedicated teams that work on a variety of projects. An example of an interesting project is the Water Associated Disease Index which seeks to map regions vulnerable to disease (see below).

UNU-INWE also has a list of publications that it has developed. They range from policy briefs to long term intensive studies. An interesting report released ahead of Rio +20 described the discourse on water at the UN over the past 40 years. An example of the changing discourse is the growing emphasis on women: “Later declarations offer some of the strongest, most robust language on gender-related water issues by acknowledging the specific hardships faced by women and children.” Through the growing list of publications UNU-INWEH provides interesting research that promotes capacity development.

Dengue map in Malaysia. Source: UNU-INWEH


Cewas aims to develop businesses in order to bring market forces to bear in tackling the global water crisis. It provides a new approach through training recent graduates on how to start a business, with the focus being on solving water problems. These students take a year long course where they develop skills to navigate the pitfalls of starting a new business and are given access to a network of water practitioners.

A key within this training is cewas’ think tank which is comprised of experts that assist in both the understanding of the problems and development of solutions. It stays on the forefront of water issues and identifies needs within the water sector that can benefit from business involvement. This business approach is a very interesting strategy and rides the wave of interest in social enterprises or organizations with a triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet).

These three think tanks have a variety of different goals within water and all support understanding the issues in order to provide solutions. They provide policy advice ranging from capacity development to entrepreneurial support for new water ideas. The research that these think tanks provide should lead to a better understanding, and ultimately utilization, of our water.

Posted in Data Links, Drinking Water, Market Solutions, Social Enterprise, Taxonomy of Water Organizations, Think Tanks, Uncategorized, United Nations, Water, Women | Leave a comment

Friday Swim, links to 5 water articles from the week of August 14th.

Former world leaders sound alarm on global water crisis

By: The Canadian Press

A group of former world leaders discussed the impending global water crisis. It details a report from the InterAction Council on how the growing population will affect water scarcity.

Himalayan Glaciers Retreating at Accelerated Rate in Some Regions: Consequences for Water Supply Remain Unclear

By: The Science Daily

Glaciers appear to be retreating at faster rates in the Himilayas which could affect rivers fed by glacier melt. Major rivers in the region such as the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers could be impacted by this change in climate.

Child deaths: Unicef says global mortality rates fall


The number of children dying before the age of 5 has significantly decreased over the past 20 years. This shows that investing in solutions works.

Asia Risks Water Scarcity Amid Coal-Fired Power Embrace

By: Natalie Obiko Pearson

With the projected growth in coal power plants in India and China there is a potential threat to regional water availability. By diverting water, used in cooling the plants, the energy sector is competing directly with other uses.

Event: Protect Your Groundwater Day

National Groundwater Association

This is the page for groundwater day and lists a bunch of interesting facts and statistics.

Posted in Agriculture, Article Links, Climate Change, Friday Swim, River Basin, Water | Leave a comment

Water Think Tanks, part 1

“The true values of water are still not reflected in all water related decision-making” John Joyce, SIWI

There are many research institutions dedicated to understanding water utilization and management. Water is the sole purpose at a number of such institutions. This series will describe what these think tanks do in terms of scope, reach, and function.

This first post in the series will describe two large water think tanks; the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). They produce information and reports on international water issues along with providing independent policy advice and capacity building.


SIWI’s goal is to look at international solutions to the growing global water crisis. It accomplishes this on a number of different fronts while providing a rich resource for publications and policy. It has a very broad focus and covers many aspects of water utilization. SIWI has a stated goal of creating “Independent and Leading-Edge Water Competence for Future-Oriented Action.”

The issue areas that SIWI focuses on are broad and far reaching in scope. It looks to the future in terms of how people will utilize water to help solve problems before they become crises. The thematic areas are climate change, energy, drinking water, sanitation, transboundary waters, governance, and water resources management. Through these areas of work SIWI is able to aid in capacity development in water. Within their program areas they are able to provide a wide range of consulting services but one of their best resources for researchers is the extensive publications on a variety of themes.

Transboundary basin organizations by continent. Source: Kim and Glaumann Swedish Water House.

SIWI recently published a paper on Setting a Value for Water where it describes the importance of economics in decision making. The value of water changes based on a number of factors including location, availability, and use. In terms of international river basins SIWI released a paper entitled Transboundary water management: Who Does What, Where? – Analysing the Data in SIWI’s Transboundary Water Management Database where the authors analyze actors within river basins. Have a look around the publications database because there are many interesting reports.

The World Water Week (WWWeek) in Stockholm is a yearly international event that brings together experts in the global water community. Each year brings a different theme to the forefront with the focus this year being Food and Water Security. Next year WWWeek will be about Water Cooperation. One of the major things that happens at WWWeek is the Stockholm Water Prize that recognizes achievements in water. The winner of the prize this year was IWMI, for its pioneering research in water management and alleviating poverty.


IWMI attempts to improve water utilization and land management for agriculture, economic growth, and the environment. It is one of 15 research centers funded by CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). IWMI’s stated goal “is to improve the management of land and water resources for food, livelihoods and the environment.”

The issue areas that IWMI focuses on for improved water management are  Water Availability and AccessProductive Water UseWater Quality, Health and Environment; and Water and Society. Within each of these focus areas there are a number of different projects. An example of one within the water and society is a project to improve irrigation in Pakistan by revitalizing water management in the Indus basin. IWMI also has a project to quantify the impact of 2 degrees of warming on water in vulnerable regions. These and many other projects are important in the regions in which IWMI operates.

These regions are Africa and Asia which are further broken down into sub regions. Within each region and sub region there are different issues and therefore research aims and goals will vary. In Africa 70% of the rural population relies on agriculture for income and 85% of the income of the urban poor is spent on food. In Asia IWMI research is focused on food security through effective management of water and land resources.

Foreign Direct Investment Map of Ethiopian Land. Source: Bossio et. al. Water Alternatives 5(2).

The research publications and data created by IWMI encompass a large range of interesting topics within water. Some of the recent publications include the indexing vulnerable mountain streams in the mountains of Azerbaijan. Another publication is one where IWMI assesses foreign direct investment in Ethiopian agriculture. It also has a database for water and agricultural data. The Water Data Portal contains a number of statistical indicators ranging from specific basins to national and international figures.

Both of these think tanks provide a great resource for understanding global water issues. They cover a wide range of topics, issues, and places. By providing key information to decision makers they enable informed solutions to the problems we face now and those that will present themselves in the future. The next few posts in this series will detail other think tanks that deal with water. These organizations help us better understand what is happening in the global water landscape.

Posted in Agriculture, Data Links, Irrigation, Nile River Basin, River Basin, Taxonomy of Water Organizations, Think Tanks, Transboundary, WASH, Water | Leave a comment

Regional Development Banks role in water; part 2 of a series on development banks and water.

“A prolonged period of low public investments in irrigation has resulted in poor service to farmers, which in turn is demotivating farmers from making their own investments in agricultural inputs.” Wouter Arriens, Lead Water Resources Specialist ADB

Development Banks loan money for economic development to developing countries. The proportion of this money going to projects that are wholly or partly dedicated to water is increasing. The question is what are they funding and where are these projects being built? This post will highlight what the regional development banks are doing with regards to water.

The four regional multilateral development banks which I will describe here are the Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank (AfDB), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and European Development Bank (EBRD). These banks cover various regions and therefore have different goals and focuses pertinent to the specific needs of member states.

The ADB has always been involved with water but has really generated an increase in water lending. From 1968 to 1999 the bank lent $15.7 billion accounting for 18% of total bank lending. While lending dropped slightly in the years following it has rebounded to a targeted 25% of the banks portfolio. It has stated goals of getting 200 million people access to WASH, reducing flood risk for 100 million, increasing 40 million people’s irrigation efficiency, introducing Integrated Water Resources Management to 25 basins, and aiding in national water governance reforms.

There are a number of different types of projects that the ADB works on in water. If you are interested you can search through the projects database. Within the total number of projects funded the ADP has an interesting niche where it is a pioneer in developing Pilot programs which demonstrate new techniques and approaches. For those who like market based solutions the ADB is working on a pilot to develop a payment mechanism for benefits in the Chishui River Basin. It is also working on rural drinking water and purification of that supply for communities.

If you are searching for information on a specific area within the ADB it publishes an e-newsletter called Water for All News that covers a number of different topics. It also publishes a number of reports and studies on specific regions and topics.

The AfDB places a high priority on water as a means of development within its region. Its front page for Water, Supply, and Sanitation has some very interesting facts that both set the stage of the problem and note the gap in funding to solve it. For example in the AfDB region only 20% of irrigation and 6% of hydropower potential have been exploited. There is also a funding shortfall of $9 billion in order to reach Millennium Development Goals.

Source: NEPAD

AfDB currently has over 50 projects ongoing which account for roughly $2 billion in funding. There are four main initiatives; Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Initiative, African Water Facility, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) (see picture at right from their website), and Multidonor Water Partnership Program. These programs bring experts to bear on multilateral funding initiatives to ensure that dollars spent are being put towards improving Africa’s water use.

The IDB (formerly known as the IADB) is active in water and can proudly boast nearly doubling households water supply and increasing fivefold the number of households with sanitary connections between 2005 and 2008. The IDB has contributed further through its cutting edge innovation (jointly with FEMSA) the Water and Sanitation Prize. This prize is given to municipalities and awarded in 3 areas Water Management, Sanitation Management, and Solid Waste Management.

Like the other development banks, IDB has a number of more conventional programs to approach water from multiple angles. Its four programs include 100 Cities Program, Water for 3,000 Rural Communities, Water Defenders and Efficient and Transparent Utilities. As you can see the IDB has succeeded in its cities goal (see chart below).

Source: IDB. 100 Cities Program

The IDB also publishes a number of reports on projects and countries. I found it interesting that they have sectoral plans for a number of different countries that highlight areas of opportunity.

The ERBD supports a number of different projects. Water is not as big a focus of the ERBD because the majority of its member states live in countries with relatively high levels of access to drinking water and sanitation. If you are interested in a list of their projects here is a link to a search on their website.

Regional development banks play an important role in financing water infrastructure. They focus on all aspects of water and are on the cutting edge of new practices in water use and efficiency. From small scale irrigation projects for rural agriculture to large scale river basin IWRM these banks finance a variety of projects.

Posted in Agriculture, Data Links, Development Banks, Drinking Water, Irrigation, River Basin, Taxonomy of Water Organizations, Transboundary, Uncategorized, WASH, Water | Leave a comment

Friday Swim, links to 5 interesting water articles from the week of August 31st.

World food prices rose 10% in July, pushed by Midwest drought

By: Ricardo Lopez

This article describes the rise in global food prices. Hardest hit are those in some of the poorest places in the world such as South Sudan.

Freshwater from the sun

By: Rivka Borochov

This article describes a new way of creating water through solar technology. This version of desalination uses advanced membranes which use less energy meaning they should be more affordable to developing countries.

Water shortage causes mass layoff in Twillingate

CBC News

The drought and high temperatures have caused havoc on a processing plant in a small town in eastern Canada. The lack of freshwater had resulted in a severe reduction in the town’s ability to process shrimp catches.

Isaac leaves lots of water and power outages in its wake

By: Cain Burdeau and Michael Kunzelman

This article describes the destruction caused by hurricane Isaac which is causing flooding and destruction to infrastructure such as water supply and power.

Maker of Fat Tire Beer raises concern about water quality after wildfire

Fox News

The New Holland Brewery may be forced to use low quality water from a river polluted by recent forest fires. Fat Tire is a favorite of those within its distribution area (including myself when I visit the area within its reach).

Posted in Agriculture, Article Links, Drought, Irrigation, Rural Water Access, Water | Leave a comment

Friday Swim, links to 5 interesting water articles from the week of August 24th.

Thousands being moved from China’s Three Gorges dam – again

By: Sui-Lee Wee

The Three Gorges Dam which has already displaced 1.3 million people may require the relocation of 100,000 more. This is due to the variation in water levels causing certain areas to be unstable.

Water footprints: lessons from Kenya’s floriculture sector

By: Wayne Visser

This article details the impact of growing flowers for export on the water systems in Kenya. There are many areas where Kenya has proven to lessen the water footprint of flowers since issues were discovered in 2002.

In Midst of a Drought, Keeping Traffic Moving on the Mississippi

By: John Schwartz

Ships are dredging the Mississippi, on of the world largest inland water ways, in order to maintain its ability to transport goods. Some areas are nearing record lows which could halt passage in parts of the river.

Where Did Our Water Go? Trading Public Water Fountains for Private Bottled Water

By: Peter Gleick

In this article Gleick details the change over from fountains to bottled water in various public sporting arenas in the US. Now the largest stadium in the US The Big House, home to Michigan Wolverine football, is doing away with the majority of its public fountains.

Aging City Pipes in Need of a Plumber’s Touch

Radio Program

This half hour radio podcast details the issue of fixing aging pipes. There are huge water losses through leakage and aging plumbing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment