Monica Emelko, Scientific Director and Principal Director of the forWater Network is giving two talks in December 2021 focused on the opportunities to build climate resilient communities by integrating 'green' watershed nature-based solutions with 'grey' in-plant infrastructure for drinking water security. The first talk is being hosted by WESTalks which is a collaborative initiative by IC-IMPACTS and the University of British Columbia’s Future Waters group. Monica will also be presenting at the Institute of Water's Science Festival which is held in the United Kingdom.
Thursday December 2, 2021 - 9am PST, 12pm EST
Techno-ecological Approaches for Treatment Resilience and Drinking Water Security in a Changing Climate
Climate change undermines a basic assumption—stationarity—that historically has facilitated management of water supplies, demands, and risks. Climate change-exacerbated landscape disturbances such as wildfires and hurricanes cause deteriorated, more variable water quality that requires not only technology, but resources and skill for effective treatment. These disturbances can exhaust operators and push drinking water treatment operations beyond their response capacities, sometimes leading to service disruptions or outages. They also affect water rates, which have increased 41% in North America since 2010. As a result, more than one-third of all households may not be able to afford water services on a full cost recovery basis in the next five to 10 years.
These threats impact large and small systems, and urban and rural settings. Their impacts are uneven, however, and more severe in rural and remote areas, and among marginalized populations, leading to uneven health outcomes.
Techno-ecological approaches that leverage both “green” watershed and “grey” in-plant infrastructure can enhance treatment resilience to ensure drinking water security now and in the future. Whether it’s the critical linkage between source watersheds and the challenges that unprecedented water quality shifts pose to treatment processes or the need to return “back to basics” to understand chemically assisted filtration and how it addresses—or not—key public health risks, climate change adaptation requires our industry to reconsider the ideas of treatability and resilience. This talk will address key questions and opportunities to tackle these challenges.
Thursday December 9, 2021 - 2pm GMT, 9am EST ($)
Science and the Global Environment – tackling climate change and investing in nature-based solutions
Keynote address from Dr Mark Fletcher, Arup.
In the following session, chaired by Dr Austen Buck from Southern Water, Dr Mark Fletcher will be joined on a panel by Kabindra Pudasaini, WaterAid Nepal, Professor Monica Emelko, University of Waterloo, Toronto and Dr Tony Harrington, Environment Director, Welsh Water. The panel will discuss the impact of climate change in developing countries, will take a look at some of the future threats to the water system, and will explore strategies to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Original article posted in six languages on Water Science Policy
Webb, A. (2021) 'forWater: Managing Canada’s drinking water from catchment to tap' Water Science Policy, doi: https://dx.doi.org/10.53014/HXNK9240
Many major cities worldwide source their drinking water from catchments that are largely forested. In general the quality of water from forests is higher, and consequently the cost of drinking water treatment is lower than for water sourced from other land uses. However, extreme events, such as wildfires, insect outbreaks, floods and hurricanes increasingly threaten the provision of forest watershed services in a changing climate. As such, sustainably managing the forest-water nexus is seen as key to achieving the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (ie SDGs 2, 6, 13 and 15).
‘forWater’ is a network of Canadian researchers from multiple institutions who aim to find innovative solutions to address climate change impacts on forested source water, the downstream effects, water treatability and resource economics. Professor Monica Emelko from the University of Waterloo is the Principal Investigator and Scientific Director.
‘Seventy to eighty percent of accessible freshwater in Canada is derived from forested systems,’ she explained. ‘Over the past 20 or more years we have experienced an increase in major landscape disturbances. Here in Canada, two prominent examples are the wildfires in the Southern Rockies in the 2000s and at Fort McMurray in 2016. The loss of vegetation causes a cascade of effects from increased sediment mobility to the transport of carbon rich material that can propagate downstream and challenge drinking water treatment. The delivery of sediment-associated phosphorus can contribute to the development of algal blooms in drinking water reservoirs and plants,’ said Professor Emelko.
The forWater Network commenced in 2017 and involves a partnership between the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), eight Canadian universities and multiple government agencies, water utilities, private sector and non-government organisations (NGOs) working across Canada’s major forest ecozones. The approach being taken is truly transdisciplinary and involves engineers, economists, foresters, hydrologists, pedologists, geochemists, fluvial geomorphologists and more.
‘We are all water scientists but we speak different languages,’ said Professor Emelko. The thing that unites the various network members is the desire and need to deliver safe and fit for purpose drinking water, from the source to the tap, now and into the future. She continued, ‘forWater network research is focused on leveraging the co-benefits of broad forest principles that underpin forest land management with drinking water source protection. Warming climate has changed how wildfires spread across the landscape, so we need to draw on all available knowledge including Traditional Knowledge held by Indigenous communities in Canada.’
Professor Uldis Silins from the University of Alberta is the theme leader for Watershed Science & Forest Management and Co-Principal Investigator for the forWater Network. ‘Changing weather conditions regulating fire behaviour have contributed to some of the devastating wildfires experienced in recent decades,’ Silins explained. ‘We are undertaking research examining alternative forest management practice effects on water quality, hydrology, and treatability in different forest types across the country. While these practices may help mitigate some of this threat, they will not prevent wildfires. Thus they will likely need to be coupled with other strategies such as developing resilient water treatment processes,’ said Professor Silins.
Results to date are promising and show that harvesting does not necessarily lead to long-term deterioration of water quality or drinking water treatability. Strategies focused on managing erosion and runoff appear particularly effective. This is in contrast to the significant and extended impacts experienced following major wildfires.
Professor Micheal Stone from the University of Waterloo leads the Downstream Effects Propagation theme and explained that in some ecozones the aftermath of disturbances, such as fires, has seen impacts propagated downstream over a long period of time. ‘In places like Alberta, we’ve observed that the effects of wildfires can persist for at least ten years or more,’ he said. ‘Whereas in some parts of the western US, streams can recover relatively quickly after wildfire. In glaciated systems dominated by fine-grained sediment, like many in Canada, sediment and associated contaminants can remain episodically elevated for extended periods. Near Fort McMurray, nutrient rich sediments are depositing in untreated water storage reservoirs resulting in ongoing algal blooms in places where we have never seen them since the waterworks were built in the 1980s,’ Professor Stone explained.
Coupled with increased post-fire carbon oozing from the burned landscape to the rivers, this presents ongoing problems for water treatment, something which Professor Monica Emelko, a treatment engineer, has been focusing on as leader of the Drinking Water Treatability theme. ‘In that example, we have passed a tipping point where the costs of treatment have skyrocketed, so as a collective research network we are trying to tackle the issue from multiple angles,’ she said. ‘It comes down to “grey technology” versus “green technology” where grey is investment in engineering and water treatment infrastructure, whereas green is investing in forest and catchment management.’
Research to date in the Resource Economics theme indicates that it is not necessarily the case that one solution is better than the other. It really does depend on a range of factors and trade-offs. ‘People often believe that ‘green’ is always good, but this needs to be supported by data and evidence,’ said Emelko. ‘In certain instances, it is cost-effective to treat the water, but in others there are huge savings to be made by investing in the catchment and forest management. The trick is to find the right balance. Water source diversification is common and often cost-effective, at least in the shorter term.’
Professor Mike Stone added that it is not always about finance and economics. ‘We need to come up with solutions that are financially viable, but also socially and culturally acceptable,’ he said. ‘As a regionally distributed research network, we are working with all communities, including those that are Indigenous, rural and remote, to make sure that forest management and water supplies meet not only public health guidelines, but community expectations.’
Another key aspect of the forWater Network is its focus on capacity building. This involves engaging young professionals and the training and development of postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers. ‘We are conscious that to address these issues into the future we need to invest in the next generation of water researchers and professionals,’ said Professor Emelko.
To learn more about the outcomes of research by the forWater Network, download the latest report at this link.
The Network provides insights into new scientific research for safe, secure drinking water---globally---which starts with resilient forests