Monthly Archives: May 2016

RIO: The Polluted Water of the 2016 Olympics

rio7RIO’s ” Bay of All Delight’s” will be hosting several aquatic events during this summers Olympics. Today much of the area”s wildlife has been eradicated by untreated sewage and industrial waste. The greatest environmental indicator of the level of pollution is the “tucuxi”:(a fresh water dolphin). In 1995 there were some 800 animals in the Bay, 10 yrs later 400, and presently 35 remain. rio8

Rio promised to clean up the water to a great degree for the Olympics. Like many cities in middle income countries Rio treats only a small percentage of it’s sewage. Two investigations based on independent water quality testing found disease causing viruses and bacteria, and not in small amounts.


In pre-Olympic events held in the Bay athletes who have fallen in say the water stinks, sailors are advised to keep their mouths closed and wash their hands after they touch wet gear. What about triathletes performing in the swimming event?rio3rio9

Much is made of the problem of raw sewage being dumped into the Ocean around Rio, but it is not unusual. Around the world raw sewage finds it’s way into bodies of water. Many cities rely on marine outfalls. Just a few months ago Montreal dumped 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence so they could repair old pipes. For Rio there is a unique problem. Many of the beaches are connected to canals and storm water drains that are home to more raw sewage than is typically seen in more developed countries. Ipanema and Copacabana beaches team with fecal matter after storms. rio2rio4

In a short time sailors will be zooming across the waters of Guanabara Bay in heated Olympic competition…while underneath at a rate of 8,200 liters per sec raw sewage flows. Ingesting 3 teaspoons of this water would result in 99% chance of infection. On top of sewage issues, many of the cities that surround the bay have irregular garbage pick up. Olympic sailors have complained about hitting everything from washing machines to garbage bags. RIO

Suffice to say the IOC and RIO have their work cut out for them in improving the water quality so the athletes can compete without getting sick. Much is going on, but much still has to be done. Which begs the question, what will happen when the world leaves RIO, the cameras put away, back to the bad old ways?

2016 RIO Olympics Face Water Pollution Crisis:

Getting the Lead Out

Lead pipe Many Canadian cities still use lead pipes to bring water to homes , schools ,and businesses. Flint failed to treat it’s water with corrosion inhibitors, so it’s pipes started leaching lead into the water. This public health tragedy serves as a wake up call to governments, public health authorities, and municipalities.


Flint water crisis:


lead pipe 2

Lead has been used for most of the 20th century for service pipes, solders, and faucets because of it’s malleability or ease of use. Science found out it was toxic to us. Montreal reports that many houses built before 1970 could have lead service lines. Toronto had lead service pipes in use before the mid 1950’s. The cost of replacement is huge…and the cost of replacing the pipe from the home to the street is the home owners cost. ($1,000-$6,000 per household). Toronto has been changing city owned infrastructure street by street, approx half the lead pipes have been changed over the last several years.lead pipe3

Canadian researchers have been studying the short and long term impact of partial lead line service replacements on lead released into drinking water. The research shows that the number of lead service lines varies across our municipalities…and it is noted how unsuccessful  current initiatives. Critical is the financial and logistical support municipalities supply to consumers to ensure pipes on municipal land and private land are replaced at the same time. Importantly high levels of lead can appear in the drinking  water right after pipe replacement. This is due to the lead on the pipes getting jostled around and get flushed down the pipe to the home as the water service is restored.lead pipe4

Health Canada is set to release a new guideline for lead in drinking water later this year. Stay tuned, with Flint still ongoing there should be more pressure from the feds to make sure we don’t experience the same situation here.



GR May reduce lead pipe replacement.

Lake Mead Reachs Record Low

Lake meadWe have written other past blogs that show how the weather in the U.S. effects us here in Canada. Without rain pastures don’t grow as plentiful, feed becomes more expensive, and consequently beef, etc. becomes more expensive. I can’t help but think of this as I saw this hit the news.lake mead1

Lake Mead is a man-made reservoir that serves 20 million residents in Nevada,Arizona, and California. The water levels are at an all time low.

lake mead4The water level is currently at 1,074 feet and is expected to drop more in the coming weeks, losing another 5 ft by the end of June. The present depth is the lowest since the basin was built in 1937. The water contracts that depend on the lake have not been affected as yet, but the Colorado River Basin is in the midst of a 16 yr drought, which is the worst in 100 yrs of recorded history. The drought and continuing warming climate have contributed to the low run off levels from the Colorado River to Lake Mead.lake mead3

Several efforts to conserve water are now underway in the area. The lower basin states are looking to conserve 1.5 to 3 million acre feet of water over the next 5 yrs. One acre foot of water is enough to supply two average homes in Las Vegas Valley for just over a year.lake mead5

Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam still see millions of visitors a year and this popular tourist attraction remains open throughout the year.


Hoover Dam “Bath Tub Ring”

Tidal Power = FORCE

tidal power2 After years of preparation electricity generating turbines will soon be sunk into the powerful currents of the Bay of Fundy and linked to the power grid. To start, two five story tall, 300 ton turbines will be placed on the ocean floor in the Minas Basin off Parrsboro,N.S.tidal power3

The turbines will be the first installed at Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy(FORCE). There are four berths ready to house the turbines, all prepared with cabling to the power grid. After the initial two turbines are set up, three other groups are planning on testing other prototypes in the coming years. Getting the first two up and running will be a Canadian milestone. Tidal power has been talked up for decades , but not much has come of it. The few in existence are of a “barrage system”. Tidal water flows into a reservoir then released to drive traditional hydro turbines on the way back to the ocean.

tidal power6

The new idea is to place turbines directly in the tidal current, thus being able to generate electricity without big dams and huge environmental impact. Having this installation placed into one of the world’s strongest tidal current will give Canada a leading role in the development of this technology. tidal power

The initial two turbines will generate 4 megawatts of power ..enough to electrify 1,000 homes. By 2019 the hope is to have several more turbines up and running , generating some 50 mw. A key job will be to act as a watchdog to monitor the environmental impacts to the fish, mammals, and the tide itself. The local economic growth will be good with some 22,000 jobs be added…and a real look at being important to developing the market around the world. tidal power5

Tidal power is completely reliable and renewable…the tide comes in and the tide goes out. The tidal power industry has developed slowly, so Canada has the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a whole new power revolution.

Force: The Story of In Stream Tidal Energy Technology.

Incentivize a Change in Attitude

FloodCIn 2013 Calgary and Toronto had great floods, that following winter we had the great cold of a polar vortex. You might think that with these extreme weather realities that Canadians would want to protect themselves from potentially harsh new realities….but no.

Polar Vortex Freezes Niagara Falls:

In the RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study of 2014, which focused on extreme weather and flooding, 3/4 of the respondents realize the increasing frequency of these events, but only 9% have done anything to protect themselves and their homes.

What can be done? These findings indicate there is room for municipalities to modify water policy and practices to incentivize change. We know the next extreme weather event is coming , it is just a matter of when. There is a cost of doing nothing , and that number will grow. The flood in Calgary cost some $6 billion, with insured costs $1.7 billion and growing….plus the social, mental , and physical toll.stormwater5

Concerns about water issues and storm water management are growing, but only 1% view storm water  management as a funding priority. This may in part be due to a great many people not knowing where their water comes from or where it goes…it is just there at the tap. Educating the public about their water supply and the value of water may not be enough. Water permeable driveways can help mitigate the effects of flooding, but even when educated to this most Canadians would still go with paved driveways…


Permeable Pavement:

It needs to be communicated that water is not free, there is a cost to collecting it, treating it, delivering it, and those systems need to be maintained and upgraded. Municipalities and utilities have the responsibility for the service, and doing nothing is not an option, they will have to raise rates.LAWN

Halifax recently introduced storm water charges in the form of a service fee. If you do something that will increase the need for storm water service, like paving a parking lot instead of using a permeable surface, then you get dinged. On the other hand if you do something that will reduce the impact on the storm water system, through landscaping or on site storage, them you get a credit.

The benefits of these service fees are that we become regulated , educated, and rewarded. Everyone wins.

The Watly Solar Hub

Just saw this exciting new technology in the news.


The Watly Solar Hub is billed as the “world’s largest solar powered computer.” It can provide electricity, clean water, and internet service…and in the process transforming huge areas of rural Africa. There are some 625 million people in sub saharan Africa with no power, which is roughly 2/3 of the population..while 39% lack safe water.Watly2

This technology is an infrastructure solution. It captures solar energy and turns it into electricity. This power then is used to run a water treatment system using a graphene based filtering process, before the water is boiled and distilled. Up to 5000 liters of safe drinking water  can be produced daily. The power will also be used to fire up a built-in internet connectivity hub, providing free wireless internet access in a 800m radius, and charging station for cell phones.Watly 3

With this new technology we can expect huge economic and social benefits, especially in Africa. A prototype has been tested in Ghana..with plans to grow into Nigeria and Sudan. In 8yrs the hope is to have 10,000 units up and running providing an increase in standards of living, including 50,000 jobs in  construction and maintenance.Watly4

We can only wish the best for Watly with their Solar Hub, and can only imagine that they are in the vanguard of new technologies to come.

Watly : the next Big Thing.

The Urban Food Cycle

Lufa5Rural grown produce can spent weeks traveling thousands of kilometers to reach the supermarkets of the cities, so we have the development of urban farms. Fresh product ,free from chemical spraying and genetic modification. Urban farming , if not certified organic, is for the most part done naturally, with water conservation and other environmental efforts driving the growth and cutting costs. Lufa

Lufa Farms of Montreal grows a wide variety of vegetables on top of two low rise commercial buildings. A commercial greenhouse can use a large amount of water and other resources. In Lufa’s 31,000 and 43,000 sq. ft. facilities they recirculate water through closed loop networks of tanks, pumps, pipes , and filters. Their hydroponic greenhouses use up to 90% less water than comparable ones that do not recirculate. Drip lines are used to irrigate the plants, with the water that is not absorbed or lost to evaporation captured, sent to the tanks, filtered and reused. To decrease the need for city water they harvest rainwater and indoor condensation from the greenhouses using a system of gutters.Lufa 2

Lufa also composts on site,saves energy through biomass heating systems and semi transparent energy curtains, and employs biological methods of pest control…ladybugs prey on anything competing with humans for produce.Lufa4

The Lufa project  is showing good results , and there are other similar facilities beginning to appear. Drip tape feeds seem to be the way to go, as well tent like fabric are used to contain moisture and prevent evaporation, and mulch. These are still early days for commercial urban agriculture. Drip tapes , closed loops in a hydroponic green house are the norm. Collecting rainwater and condensate harvesting are less common. This is because of the risk of contamination from air pollution, bird feces, and decaying organic matter. Making the water potable requires investment in storage tanks, pumps, filters, and some for of disinfectant which drive up costs.Lufa 3

The challenge is that urban farming to a large degree is still a marginal business.



How A Roof Top Farm Feeds A City: Mohamed Hage



Urban Rivers support Nature and People


Ottawa Locks 1 to 8. Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, Ontario, Canada

Ottawa Locks 1 to 8. Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, Ontario, Canada

Urban rivers face unique challenges that often leave them a little worse for wear. the rivers are impacted by what we do on the land. how we build our cities and industries. The natural needs can finish a distant second to our needs , with the resulting negative effect on the waterway. With a little help, these natural needs can rebound and not be lost



Who Cares About Urban Rivers?



Let’s take a look a the Humber River in the west end of Toronto. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released it’s Fresh Water Health Assessment of the Humber that found the waterway to be in fair condition, with good /fair scores in water flow and quality, as well as, fish and bug populations. No bad for a river whose health was very much in doubt. To achieve this local organizations worked hard to monitor and restore the river, in conjunction with good public policy choices from the city and provincials levels. Fair condition is not the goal, so more community engagement will be required to push forward more projects and policy for healthier water.urban river5

WWF is helping to build community engagement through the Loblaw Water Fund, which contributes to critical projects that aim to conserve , protect, or restore freshwater and riparian habitats and the species within them. One of the first projects to be funded will be engaging the multicultural Humber community on urban water issues by creating educational material in several languages and sponsoring activities as diverse as shoreline restoration and fish tagging.urban river2

Over the next few years WWF will assess the health of and the risks to more of Canada’s urban rivers, including the entire St. Lawrence watershed. This is a large undertaking that reflect’s WWF’s conviction that cities have a role to play in supporting and safeguarding nature. This project will provide a blue print for action, giving a clear picture of how are rivers are faring, and perhaps guiding policy to secure their long term health.urban river

With 20% of the world’s fresh water  we have a responsibilty to take care of the resource. Once we know how healthy are rivers are, and what will it take to make or keep them healthy, can we develop policy to pass on healthy water to the next generation.

Atwater Riverwalk: How Restoring Rivers Can Revitalize Cities.