Thinking Inside the Box
For Canada’s remote First Nations, smaller towns, and suburban developments, containerized sewage treatment promises plenty of benefits. Are we ready to rethink small systems?
This article was written by Julie Stauffer and appeared in Jan/Feb 2014 issue of WaterCanada magazine.
Across the country, small towns are facing the problem of sewage lagoons nearing capacity or reaching the end of their lives. On First Nation reserves in particular, more than half the wastewater systems have been classified as high or medium risk. Meanwhile, urban Canadian municipalities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to connect new outlying developments to existing treatment plants.
According to Trish Johnson, a senior environmental consultant at R.V. Anderson Associates Ltd., the status quo approach to small sewage systems no longer makes sense. “We have to do
things differently,” she says.
Bullish on boxes.
More and more companies are betting the answer lies in packaged or containerized sewage treatment. The concept is simple. Fit your technology—complete with plumbing and electrical—into a shipping container or trailer, transport it to your site via truck or barge, hook everything up, and suddenly, you’ve got a functioning system in a matter of days at a fraction of the cost of conventional plants. As an added bonus, the effluent that comes out the other end is just as good—or better—than in traditional facilities.
Take the example of EcoLibra Systems. A few years ago, this Saskatoon based company was building sewage treatment plants from scratch with all the contracting headaches and weather delays that accompany any construction project. CEO Jason Tratch then decided to package his company’s lime-based treatment technology in a standard 40-foot sea container. The resulting system serves roughly 300 people, and to scale up, the user simply adds another container.
Meanwhile, for the past 13 years, Calgary’s FilterBoxx Packaged Water Solutions Inc. has been providing water and sewage treatment in the work camps of Northern Alberta, “literally 500 miles north of nowhere,” CEO Larry Novachis says.
The packaged membrane bioreactor sewage treatment systems serve anywhere from 600 people to more than 5,000. Now, FilterBoxx is expanding its clientele to small communities, First Nations, resorts, and hotels. “If the camp people put their faith in a packaged approach day in and day out in –50°C, there’s no reason why a small town or an Indian reserve couldn’t either,” Novachis says.
There are dozens of other examples. Treatment containers from Canadian-owned Nomadic have seen action everywhere from fly-in fishing camps in British Columbia to mining camps in Siberia. Siemens has installed its Xpress system at Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Grey Eagle Casino in Calgary, while Quebec-based Bionest piloted their Kodiak system in the Arctic town of Iqaluit.
And whether the company uses an activated sludge process, rotating biological contractors, chemicals, or membrane technology to treat wastewater, the objectives remain the same: provide a packaged system that is effective, easy to transport, and simple to maintain.
‘It’s a slam dunk’
So how do boxed systems stack up against conventional approaches? When compared to lagoons—the go-to solution for most Canadian communities of 5,000 people or fewer—the big advantage for small systems is performance. While lagoons are a well-established technology, a 2006 Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment report cites problems with odour issues and high ammonia levels in the treated discharge.
As environmental regulations get stricter, Novachis expects more towns to look for alternatives to lagoon systems. Packaged or containerized systems are highly reliable, he says. They have a significantly smaller footprint than a lagoon, plus they’re enclosed, avoiding odour issues. Most importantly, they produce an effluent that can be reused for anything from washing equipment to watering golf courses. “Really, it’s a slam dunk going packaged versus lagoon,” Novachis says.
Packaged systems have advantages over bricks-and-mortar facilities, too. In remote communities where on-site construction costs can run 10 times as high as urban areas, packaged systems make financial sense. While the material costs are similar to a so-called “stick-built” system, Novachis says, the huge savings on installation cut total ownership costs between a half and two-thirds.
Tratch also points out the economies of scale created when a company manufactures standardized packages rather than constructing a custom-built facility. Packaged systems can be designed and installed much faster than the 18 to 24 months typically required to build a plant from scratch. “We can have a sea can at your door, ready to turn the key, within three to four months,” he says.
As for suburban settings, packaged systems allow municipalities to expand without the need to connect nodes of development to treatment plants dozens of kilometres away. Tratch says he’s
getting calls from developers putting in 100 or 150 houses on the outskirts of town. “This is a big new market,” he says.
And the advantages of small systems do not end there. Packaged systems don’t require specialized expertise, which is ideal for small communities where highly trained engineers and operational staff are not always available. Take the example of an EcoLibra system: “Every three to four days, someone’s going to have to go into the plant and add the green chemical to the green bin, the blue chemical to the blue bin, and then swap out the bag that was collecting the sludge,” Tratch says. Compared to more traditional systems, this process is relatively easy.
As for FilterBoxx, it has 35 certified water and wastewater professionals in Stony Plain, Alberta dedicated to running the plants it installs.
In a country still dominated by big pipe,
urban-focused thinking, manufacturers of packaged and containerized systems face a few hurdles. One of the biggest, according to Johnson, is policy. “Buttoned down” and “risk adverse” federal protocols require operators and backup systems that are exorbitantly expensive, she says.
And while some provinces do allow communities to manage private systems, others insist new suburban developments should be connected to existing sewage.
Then there’s the additional problem facing any new technology: unfamiliarity.
While the engineering companies that design and build municipal plants know all about bricks-and-mortar plants, plug-and-play systems are a different ballgame. “I think the next guys that need to change is the small and the large engineering firms,” Tratch says.
However, Johnson points to economic drivers, the data flowing in from pilot plants, the federal government’s willingness to look at alternatives for First Nations, and the growing number of qualified vendors as signs that attitudes are shifting. “Once we start to put out the information and the results, and the proof of the pudding is there, we’re going to see huge changes,” she predicts. WC
Julie Stauffer is an award-winning freelance writer and the owner of Cadmium Red Communications.
Posted in Art, Collage, Educational, Environment, Innovative technology, Photography
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Beach brothers back in the water for second season on TVO
This article, by Jon Muldoon, appeared in Beach Metro Community News, September 10, 2013
Alex and Tyler Mifflin star in The Water Brothers, which launches its second season September 10 on TVO. Photo courtesy TVO
Beachers Alex and Tyler Mifflin care mostly about three things – one is oxygen, and the other two are hydrogen. The Water Brothers, as the siblings are more widely known, are proud to launch the second season of their eponymous television show tonight, Sept. 10, on TVO.
The brothers sat down last week to talk about all things wet and adventurous, including learning to sail large boats, travelling to the largest festival in the world, ever, in India, and of course focusing on problems in our own back yard, such as the lack of clean drinking water in northern First Nations communities, a national shame in a country blessed with as much fresh water as Canada.
“There’s a vastly disproportionate impact on First Nations,” said Tyler.
So why focus on water to begin with?
“Everything is interconnected through water,” said Alex.
Even though social, environmental, economic and political issues all tie in to clean water, “we don’t see the connections. It’s not always obvious to us,” said Tyler.
While the brothers are passionate about water issues, they realize that working in television, they need to keep their message entertaining, particularly to reach a younger audience. That’s where the travel and adventure comes into play.
In one episode, the brothers travel to India for the Kumbh Mela Festival on the Ganges River, one of the most celebrated yet polluted rivers in the world.
On the same trip they carried on to Bangladesh, which Alex says is “the canary in the coal mine in terms of climate change.”
One adventure sees Alex and Tyler sailing to a remote area in the Pacific ocean, to visit “the great Pacific garbage patch.”
On a related recent trip in Lake Ontario, the boys travelled with a crew to measure the amount of plastic debris in their home waters.
“We don’t have the capacity to filter out small pieces of plastic in our wastewater stream,” said Tyler. “It’s being produced even faster than we can figure out where it’s going.”
Another episode involves farmed fish in British Columbia, which might also hit close to home, at least with Toronto seafood lovers.
“Salmon is such an iconic species in Canada, especially on the west coast. It’s a keystone species,” said Tyler.
Alex agrees, pointing out that what we eat in Ontario creates a measurable impact on water quality in western Canada.
“We aren’t necessarily directly connected to the ocean, but we make food choices every day which do connect us to the ocean,” he said.
Both brothers agree that presenting solutions is a key aspect to their show. From large scale changes to individual choices, Alex and Tyler always try to present viewers with tangible actions they can take to effect change.
Although the brothers are already in the early planning stages for season three, the current season is set to premiere on TVO tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m. The episodes can also be streamed any time after broadcast at tvo.org and thewaterbrothers.ca.
Alex and Tyler are also working on redesigning and expanding Quench, their mobile app which offers users a map of the closest taps to fill up on clean water in the GTA, to help reduce reliance on plastic bottles. Quench can be downloaded for Android and iPhone.
Anyone interested in helping out directly alongside the Water Brothers can join Alex and Tyler, and many others, at Woodbine Beach on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 21 for the annual Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.
Posted in Art, Collage, Conservation, Educational, Endangered resources, Geography, Global awareness, Nature, Travel, Water
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“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.
David Crane is an award-winning Canadian writer and the author of Canada as the Water Solutions Country: Defining the Opportunities, a discussion paper published by the Blue Economy Initiative.
Posted in Agriculture, Art, Collage, Conservation, Educational, Endangered resources, Environment, Environmental concerns, Geography, Geology, Global awareness, Health Concerns, Municipal water systems, Nature, Non profit organizations, Ocean, Precious Resource, River, Science and Technology, Water Ambassadors Canada, Water conservation
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Great Lakes United’s John Jackson on Ontario’s proposed Great Lakes Protection Act, by Meirav Even-Har of Water Canada November/December 2012 issue ~ excerpts ~
With the amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) recently signed between Canada and the United States …Ontario’s proposed Great Lakes Protection Act (Bill 100) comes at a crucial time… The ambitious goal to restore and protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin is no easy task. This proposed legislation is meant to enable the revision and implementation of the now expired Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem to execute the Province’s obligations under the GLWQA. It’s also meant to build on current work and existing laws and regulations to create a new set of tools that will be driven, to some extent, by a local, community based approach to protection.
As an enabling act, the GLPA will allow for the creation of regulations and specific actions based on consultation with stakeholders, government bodies, First Nations and Métis, as well as the public. According to the draft Great Lakes Strategy—a guiding document to accompany the Act—the key elements
to the proposed legislation include setting a direction on Great Lakes, establishing a Great Lakes Guardians’ Council, identifying priorities for action in a strategy, building on existing tools by establishing clear targets, and taking phased, targeted action with geographically focused initiatives… Water Canada: Is this the right time for a Great Lakes Protection Act? John Jackson: The value of a piece of legislation is to draw attention to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River as needing broad serious attention, not just as part of the overall environmental programs. It recognizes the special importance of the Great Lakes and helps draw attention to them. This legislation should not, however, be seen as the answer to all of the problems in the Great Lakes. The government must still focus on making sure it implements the already existing legislation and Agreements such as the Water Conservation Act and the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Water Sustainability Agreement with the U.S. Great Lakes states. How will the proposed Act work with current binational management of the Lakes? The Bill commits Ontario to participate in the binational activities and to play a leadership role. This is a very important step forward, since, with the exception of the Water Sustainability Agreement, the provincial attendees at binational meetings tend to take more of an observer role rather than being active participants. This is a problem that I hope this will help us overcome. What lessons, if any, have we learned? What needs to happen to protect and restore the Great Lakes? We need new long-term financial commitments by the federal and provincial and state governments to implementing Great Lakes programs and to monitoring and assessing progress. Instead we are confronted by all governments making promises while reducing the amount of staff and scientists working on the issue, et cetera. The new Ontario bill makes no financial commitments. This is a serious problem. We need commitments by all governments to strengthen legislation and regulations if needed. Unfortunately, all levels of government are now stepping back from strengthening anything that is a non-voluntary program. We need more serious engagement by the government of stakeholders and the public in decision-making on Great Lakes matters. This bill includes components that, if properly implemented, could be important steps forward on this matter.
Meirav Even-Har is a sustainability consultant and writer. She is also 3RCertified program manager at the recycling Council of Ontario.
Link ~ http://watercanada.net/
Posted in Educational, Endangered resources, Environmental concerns, Geography, History, Nature, Precious Resource, Water
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