“A WATER SOLUTIONS COUNTRY – Strategic steps for a more competitive water sector in Canada lead the way to global opportunities” – excerpts taken from the May/June issue of Water Canada by David Crane.
The availability and quality of water is the overarching challenge facing the global community in the 21st century. It is also Canada’s opportunity.
A world population that is projected to add 2.5 billion people by 2050, a global economy that is forecast to quadruple in this same period, the prospect of adding one billion people to the global middle class, and a sharp increase in the number of people in big cities will mean a an unprecedented demand for water. As well as more people, which will mean much greater need for clean water and sanitation, a bigger population with rising incomes means a much higher level of consumption of food, energy, natural resources, and industrial products—all of which will also increase the demand for water.
Add the expected impact of climate change on the distribution and availability of water, which could leave large numbers of people facing severe water stress, and the threats of drought and floods to food production, and it’s clear water is the most serious challenge we face. We can substitute batteries for oil in automobiles, but there is no substitute for water. So we face a water-stressed world.
Need, however, equals opportunity. The challenge is for Canada to contribute to water strategies and help the world meet the global water challenge. How do we utilize our strengths—the excellence of our engineering and technical Graduates, our proven academic research capabilities, and our innovative companies that can deliver water goods and services to build up a strong water sector—to generate new jobs and competitive companies while helping to meet the overarching global challenge?
Steps for a world water strategy: First, Canadians need to raise the level of understanding, not only among policymakers but also among the wider public; that there is an enormous challenge facing the world and that there is also a significant opportunity for Canada, by strengthening our research base and the strength of our companies. This is the first great challenge—to identify our water champions who will provide the leadership to make Canada a water-solutions country. These champions must come not only from academia and our clean water companies but also from the user community, our municipalities, and businesses that need a safe and reliable water supply. Water users have a significant stake in a solutions strategy. There is the risk of complacency due to a widespread public assumption that Canada’s abundant water supply means we don’t face water challenges. Yet Canada itself faces challenges—to improve water quality and sanitation performance, meet the threats of droughts and floods in agricultural lands, ensure the efficient and sustainable use of water in energy and mining industries, meet the water needs of First Nations, and improve water efficiency and conservation technologies and practices in the economy and society. Meeting domestic challenges through innovative solutions will strengthen the research base and the capabilities and competitiveness of Canadian water companies. This means efforts to balance federal and provincial budgets must not come at the expense of research or improvements in water infrastructure. Cutting these investments would mean a weaker future Canadian economy. Research and infrastructure spending are investments in a more secure and sustainable future. Another challenge needs to be addressed: How do we grow more small companies into mid-size or large companies? Canada is very successful in starting companies, but many water companies are small and remain small. They face significant challenges in obtaining the capital needed to develop new products or services, pursue new domestic and foreign markets, build the management strengths they need for success, and scale up so that users and systems integrators in Canada and elsewhere are confident in using their products or services. Many promising smaller companies fail to make the transition to significant scale, which means they can become takeover targets by large multinational corporations seeking their proprietary technologies. While federal and provincial programs that support company technology development are important, we also need to find ways to strengthen the equity base of promising Canadian companies. It is equity rather than debt that enables companies to innovate and to pursue new products or markets.
There are many advantages in Canada, including a well-developed research base, a significant number of companies with proprietary technologies and experience in the global marketplace, easy access to the U.S. and Mexican markets (which have huge future water needs), universities and colleges that graduate high-quality engineers and technicians, and some well-targeted government programs to assist small and mid-size companies. Given these strengths, failing to capitalize on them to meet the enormous world need for water solutions would represent a huge lost opportunity for Canada.