In Canada, there is a perception that there are large and readily exploitable sources of fresh water. This perception, coupled with growing worldwide scarcity, leads to statements such as “we must start planning for the future when we will face water shortages.” This perception is unfounded; in any year, populated parts of Canada may be in drought, and floods contaminate fresh water.
Quality fresh water is becoming scarce. This scarcity is a growing crisis. As a consequence, regulations on freshwater use also become more onerous and unpredictable, and abiding by such regulations becomes a substantial business expense.
As fresh water is becoming scarce, it becomes profitable to reuse suitably treated water from wastewaters, in applications where potable water is not actually needed.
The manner in which fresh water is managed needs to change. For that purpose, in 2011 several businesses, academics and government members worked together to form a non-profit association called Saskatchewan Wastewater Network (SWN). This network investigated waste water treatment approaches that produce usable water for domestic and industrial applications.
The network quickly evolved and went through name changes and is currently called Sustainable Water Action Network (SWAN). This organization brings together interested members of the business community, governmental and academic personnel, and customers that want to better-manage our precious water resources.
SWAN’s mandate includes
Support private industry to deliver water and wastewater business opportunities;
Provide support to all members to enable projects to move forward in a more rapid timeframe.
Sources of and Demands on Freshwater
In Canada, much of the available freshwater is in lakes in the north, and is not accessible to the majority of the population. The majority of rivers also flow northward, These rivers are fed by glaciers that are rapidly depleting. Thus rivers are not a long term solution to water shortage.
Fresh water is contaminated by old and new pollutants, such as agricultural run-off and new constituents of sewage, such as nano-particles from consumer products and endocrine disruptors, that may enter fresh water due to leaking or run-off of [dug-outs] and failed wells which coupling aquifers.
Due to population and industrial economic growth, the volume of usable water needed per year increases. The supply of needed freshwater to meet this need does not grow, but becomes more scarce. If wastewater can be processed to be reused, the need for freshwater can be reduced.
Sources of wastewater of interest include municipal sewage, livestock wastewater and industrial wastewater. Such wastewater is treated to improve the water, by removing nutrients and then bacteria, in the case of sewage.
The reuse of wastewater is constrained by the source of the wastewater. In general, wastewater may be used in applications where the wastewater is produced, or in applications with less demanding water source requirements than that of the wastewater source. For example, treated industrial wastewater may be used in an industrial process, and treated sewage wastewater may be used in irrigation.
Thus wastewater that would contaminate freshwater in previous solutions, now becomes a replacement of freshwater. Thus freshwater contamination is removed, and less freshwater is drawn.
SWAN exists to help manage the water shortages that Canada and the world faces, using advanced treatment and reuse technology. To this end, SWAN will build relationships between member companies, governmental bodies and research institutions and associations.
To execute this broad mandate, SWAN will provide service and support , project management & engineering and tools, templates and relationships.
Through specialist knowledge shared in relationships formed between complimentary SWAN members, better quality and lower cost may be obtained, and new patenting and research commercialization opportunities arise.
SWAN shall deliver a platform in which members from the interested public and environmentally focused academia can seek solutions to existent problems, member governmental bodies can provide input on regulation-based restrictions and guidelines on funding, which member businesses can use as business opportunities by providing solutions.
The acceptability of the platform is maintained by successful delivery of solutions. To successfully deliver solutions, SWAN shall provide project management training and support to members. Such support includes project management tools, software and techniques, and upon request, direct project management intervention [support---see charter].
SWAN shall also serve as an advocate for small to medium business and water-related academia. Such advocacy shall be to assist business growth, guiding avenues of new research, and commercialization of mature research.
The projects executed by SWAN members shall offset the use and reduce the contamination of freshwater. This offset shall be obtained by upgrading and recycling wastewater. By not placing wastewater in sewage streams, the risk and incidence rate of freshwater contamination is reduced.
Education, research, development and business projects executed by SWAN members shall include increasing reuse volumes and proportions of wastewater. This may include closing water use cycles that are presently open (fresh water in, sewage out), and improving the fraction of wastewater reused, and the quality of the treated wastewater. Education may often be part of marketing, as much of the public and many water using enterprises are not aware of opportunities and technology for water reuse.
SWAN must drive the abandonment of the practice of dilution-based water-treatment, which relies on the ability of receiving water-bodies to purify themselves. These water bodies lack mechanisms to purify new contaminants such as pharmaceutical compounds, nano-particles from personal care products and endocrine disruptors, on a time-scale sufficiently short for water-body supported ecosystem survival. Traditional dilution and biological treatment is not adequate for treating these new wastewater constituents.
Currently wastewater treatment is seen as large scale infrastructure engineering, in which large volumes are treated according to legally current yet technologically obsolete regulations, prior to discharge into the environment. This approach favors a large engineering consultancy approach in which wastewater projects constitute a cash cow for such consultancies. A new paradigm of wastewater treatment is needed, and SWAN shall drive the change.
The new paradigm of wastewater treatment is that the treated water is the product of value, produced for the purpose of consumption in the application for which the treatment system is designed. Thus the parameters of the treated water are determined by the water reuse application, rather than by discharge regulations that are as a rule technologically no longer current. As the water is not intended for discharge, regulations may be less onerous than that for discharge, and design efforts are determined by application requirements rather than regulations.
In applications where large volumes of water are used, water price and shortage may inhibit projects that become feasible when process water is treated and reused. An example of such an industry is energy extraction.