How Blue is Your Bottom Line?
August 28, 2012
UN 'Water for Life' Best Water Management Practices Award
August 24, 2012
A sustainable water strategy is good for business
July 27, 2012
The 3rd Annual Canadian Water Summit Report
July 23, 2012
Time to plug biggest leak in city's budget bucket
December 28, 2010
A resource worth more attention
September 4, 2010
Water sources do not obey political boundaries
September 3, 2010
By Thomas S. Axworthy
President and CEO, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation
Reprinted from the Kingston Whig-Standard
In a recent Whig-Standard article, Kingston's public health environmental manager laments the presence of toxic blue-green algae blooms in the Cataraqui River and says, "there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. There's nothing anyone can do." I disagree.
Algae blooms are caused by the excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer run-off and sewage overflow. Both of these contributing factors can be mitigated with proper regulation and investment in water and wastewater infrastructure.
The City of Kingston has made progress in avoiding combined sewer overflows (CSOs) through gradual sewer upgrades and its downspout disconnection program; however, this recent algal bloom is evidence that more needs to be done.
First, enforcing proper buffer zones and regulating the content and use of fertilizers can greatly reduce the level of nutrients these algal blooms rely on to survive. Second, there is a host of innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce the likelihood of sewage overflows after heavy rainfall events -an issue that plagues many of Canada's older cities.
Traditionally, cities have preferred 20th century "hard infrastructure" solutions to these problems, such as constructing large underground storage tanks and tunnels to capture the storm water at great expense. Progressive cities are now using more modern solutions to address problems at their source by enhancing ecosystems within urban areas to naturally regulate storm events.
Examples of the types of investments Kingston could make in this new 'green' infrastructure include green rooftops, rain gardens, permeable pavement, human-made wetlands (that filter pollutants and absorb phosphorus and nitrogen), and bioswales (a landscaping method that filters sediment and other pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from surface runoff before it reaches local sewers and waterways).
One development critical to Kingston's future is the connection between water conservation and water quality, a connection clearly evident in managing heavy rainfall.
For example, avoiding unnecessary overuse of water translates into less burden on local water treatment systems, and as a result, reduces the chance for sewage overflows. Moreover, many of the afore-mentioned 'green' infrastructure solutions also have the effect of conserving water. Capturing rainwater to flush toilets and irrigate gardens and parks not only intercepts rain that would otherwise overwhelm storm sewers; it also means less water is taken out of the municipal system unnecessarily, thus saving taxpayers from paying to treat water that didn't need to go down the drain in the first place.
Instead of regarding rainwater as an inconvenience, this new way of thinking treats it as an asset, one that can be used for watering gardens and parks, flushing toilets, and building natural resilience to a changing climate. In addition to the many ecological and societal benefits of this approach, entrepreneurial businesses are also realizing the substantial benefits of new economic opportunities created by investment in innovative solutions in a range of services and industries such as green rooftops, manufacturing cisterns, and other techniques for rain collection.
However, it shouldn't just be left to cities to make this transition to a new way of thinking about water. The provincial government has an important role to play in supporting and enabling this effort. Fortunately, there is an Act making its way through the Ontario legislative assembly that could promote these types of innovative approaches to water management.
Introduced on May 18, 2010 by John Gerretsen, our local MPP, the Ontario Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act (Bill 72) is designed to encourage the development of innovative water technology solutions -a global market estimated to grow to nearly $1 trillion over the next decade -and to improve the efficiency of water use.
In order to make meaningful progress along this 21st century path, the Ontario Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act should be strengthened for setting and meeting specific targets, with infrastructure grants being contingent on demonstrable water conservation plans and projects. In addition, for the sake of transparency and information sharing, an independent water conservation officer should be appointed with the responsibilities of monitoring and advising Ontario's water conservation efforts and reporting directly to the Provincial Legislature and the public.
Water is the root of all life. We need to take care of our water in order to take care of ourselves. Algal blooms disrupt the enjoyment of public beaches and fishing, wildlife habitats, and are a health concern to residents and pets. By setting tangible water conservation targets to measure performance, requiring and establishing local conservation plans, and defining and supporting green infrastructure, cities like Kingston can reduce costs, create jobs, and ensure a sustainable and healthy supply of water for their current and future residents. The Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act will be a great vehicle for accomplishing these goals if it is strengthened to reflect this more modern, ecological, and cost-efficient approach.
Thomas S. Axworthy is Chair of the Advisory Council at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University and President and CEO of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.