Water is big business in Ontario. Over 900 water technology companies call the Canadian province home, including Grundfos Canada, Purifics, UV Pure, TrojanUV, Eco-Tec, and Echologics. Ontario also boasts more than 300 engineering and consulting firms with a focus on water, including Black & Veatch Water, CH2M Hill, and AMEC Earth and Environmental, and over 100 water research, education, and training facilities. More water-related patents have been issued in Ontario over the past 30 years than in any other comparable jurisdiction in the world.
With so many big players, Ontario is already making a big impact on water innovation. But the province is looking to do even more.
The Water Technology Acceleration Project — known as WaterTAP — was created to do just that. WaterTAP was a result of Ontario’s Water Opportunity Act of 2010.
“The government recognized a number of water technologies coming out of Ontario and wanted to encourage further innovation and make investments in what is already happening,” explains Dr. Brian Mergelas, the CEO of WaterTAP. “We didn’t really try to create something that wasn’t already there, we’re just trying to make what we are already doing even stronger.”
WaterTAP was created to “assist in promoting the development of Ontario’s water and wastewater sectors; to increase their capacity to develop, test, demonstrate, and commercialize innovative technologies; to provide a forum for governments, the private sector, and academic institutions to exchange information and ideas; and to encourage collaboration and cooperation in Ontario’s water and wastewater sectors,” according to the Water Opportunity Act.
The WaterTAP initiative became fully operational in the fall of 2012. Since its creation it has focused its efforts on a large variety of technology clusters within the water space. These include water and wastewater treatment, membranes, biogas and resource recovery, ultraviolet disinfection, stormwater, water efficiency, and pipeline inspection and rehabilitation.
Working to improve and fund water infrastructure is also a focus of WaterTAP. The Sustainable Infrastructure Working Group was established as part of WaterTAP’s mission to develop, understand, and make recommendations on how to incentivize innovative infrastructure solutions.
“I don’t think there is enough money in the sector to replace everything we need to do,” says Mergelas. “So we need to discover technologies to pinpoint the things we do need to spend the money on and look into retrofitting and optimization opportunities to improve plant efficiency."
WaterTAP has also established a working group focused on smart water technologies and a global market insight group that reports on global water developments and serves to promote the Ontario water sector.
“We recognize that we can’t do it all, so it is important to have the ability to collaborate and bring what Ontario is doing to the attention of the world,” explains Mergelas.
A fourth working group, the Approvals Best Practices Working Group, was also created to “understand the regulations in Ontario that have enabled it to promote the creation of new water technology while ensuring the protection of water resources and supply” and to “evaluate what regulations and laws have helped to foster growth in this industry,” according to WaterTAP materials.
“We communicate with regulators about what the industry’s needs are,” says Mergelas. “We try and make recommendations on how money should flow into the sector and where.”
Differing regulations across jurisdictions often limit the advancement of technology, explains Mergelas.
“You might have the federal organization setting the regulations, but each state is responsible for implementing this rule,” he says. “The various jurisdictions don’t always recognize test data from other jurisdictions, so companies sometimes have to jump through the same hoops over and over. We are trying to figure out how to solve that.”
Bringing The Industry Together
Another hurdle facing the water industry is simply a lack of communication between the end-users and the vendors, across sectors, between investors and inventors, and across state and national lines.
WaterTAP hosts networking events, conferences, and other programs that bring those looking for new technology together with those in need of it. As a neutral party, WaterTAP asks utilities to talk about what technologies and techniques have been successful to help others overcome their concerns.
“There is a risk adverse nature in the water sector,” says Mergelas. “You reduce the perceived risk of trying something new and you hopefully shorten the sales cycle for a business because they are having the right conversation at the right time with the right people.”
WaterTAP also helps new technologies get to the market faster. The organization assists start-ups in creating a business model and determining the best way to commercialize their products.
“A lot of the companies out there doing great things are small and need help on the commercialization side,” says Mergelas. “Our focus has been helping companies get what they have created out there to the market.”
So far the organization’s efforts have paid off.
“It is hard to quantify the impact of WaterTAP so far, but there is a lot more connectivity in the industry today than there has ever been,” says Mergelas. “Companies that had not even known each other are signing partnerships together. We certainly see some interesting growth and we are able to share the successes in Ontario today with the world.”
Image credit: "Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.," Hobolens © 2012, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/