From The Editor | November 23, 2015

Guidance From Above: Lessons In Water Technology Innovation


By Kevin Westerling,

Guidance From Above: Lessons In Water Technology Innovation

Ontario has become a world leader in water and wastewater technology development. Learn what policies and practices have facilitated success and which innovations are primed for impact.

While the U.S. has its share of water technology hubs — Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Massachusetts spring to mind — Ontario, Canada, has generated more water-related patents over the past 30 years than any of its “water cluster” peers. The secret to the region’s success in developing potentially transformative water technologies is in the support provided from the Government of Ontario and from within the cluster itself.

The main vehicle for government support is the Water Technology Acceleration Project, or WaterTAP, which pulls together private, public, and academic resources to promote water quality and security — and Ontario business. Though WaterTAP was initially created for economic reasons, the effect of water technology innovation is universal. True breakthroughs pay dividends for us all.

I spoke to Peter Gallant, president and CEO of WaterTAP Ontario, to learn more about the commitment put into the program and the outcomes it has inspired. But first, some stats to appreciate the scope of Ontario’s water cluster:

  • 300 early-stage innovation companies
  • 900 established companies
  • 100 water-related research institutes
  • 8,200 annual post-secondary grads with water-related degrees
  • 6,000 operators trained annually.

That’s the prologue. Now what does the future hold?

The Next Big Thing(s) In Water
According to Gallant, “The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), such as real-time sensors and the cloud, is changing the way the world manages water.”

As a testament to the type of collaboration fostered by water clusters, Gallant offered a real-world example of IIOT (and WaterTAP) at work: Ontario-based Echologics is partnering with AT&T and IBM to connect water pipes to the cloud using acoustic sensors, a wireless network, and software to help water managers make data-based decisions.

“Understanding the condition of your underground infrastructure is critical; you can’t afford the luxury of digging up the wrong section of pipeline,” Gallant noted. “Continuous monitoring technology allows utilities to be proactive.”

Contaminants are also being monitored in real time, thanks to technologies developed by WaterTAP companies including Real Tech and ManTech.

“This is a giant step forward for the industry,” explained Gallant. “Utilities can optimize the efficiency of chemical use, which can be one of the highest operating costs of treating water and wastewater. Timing can make a huge difference.”

In line with emerging industry trends and global needs, WaterTAP is also pouring resources into biogas energy generation, nutrient recovery from wastewater, and stormwater management and treatment.

The Role Of Government
In addition to merit-based funding programs for promising water technologies and the financing of state-of-the-art facilities to conduct municipal training and pilot testing, the Government of Ontario promotes water innovation by essentially mandating sustainability at utilities.

The Ontario Water Opportunities Act “enables the authority to require municipalities and other water service providers to prepare municipal water sustainability plans … [to] promote water efficiency as a cost-effective way to generate additional water and wastewater capacity,” the act states. Specifically, the mandate tasks utilities with “identifying innovative, cost-effective solutions for drinking water, sewage, and stormwater system challenges; optimizing systems and improving water conservation; [and] identifying opportunities to demonstrate and carry out new and emerging Ontario water technologies, services, and practices.”

To some ears, this “support” may sound overbearing, but it has certainly worked for Ontario — and there are lessons to be drawn, whether wholesale or piecemeal, from every exploration into water innovations.