The Economic Opportunity That Lies Beneath (Your Streets)
Municipal water and wastewater infrastructure keeps the families that live in Ontario’s cities, towns and municipalities safe. This same infrastructure allows businesses to operate, creating economic opportunity and employment, while it also protects the surrounding environment.
Two progressive municipalities in Southwestern Ontario have begun to view the operation of their wastewater infrastructure as an economic opportunity, creating a platform for innovation for companies with new ideas to reduce operating costs and improve wastewater treatment. And the opportunity is great; the global market size of the water industry is currently estimated to be US$360 billion and is forecasted to rise to US$1.6 trillion in 10 years.
Ground Breaking Technologies
Innovative companies in the water sector are developing groundbreaking technologies aimed at providing solutions to municipalities, industrial enterprises, and consumers. But these companies must be able to demonstrate to their customers that their technology works, outside of the lab, in the real world. There are significant costs in terms of the time and money needed to obtain land access, build infrastructure and work through environmental and other approvals for on the ground research, development and demonstration.
Working with municipal partners that include the City of London, City of Guelph, Region of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, City of Waterloo and the City of Cambridge the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) is establishing Southern Ontario as a hub for water research development and demonstration.
“The partnership through SOWC is creating a ‘living lab’ in Southern Ontario, which is bringing researchers, municipalities and the private sector together to collaborate on solutions to challenges faced in Ontario and around the world” said Ed McBean, Canada Research Chair in Water Supply Security at the University of Guelph.
As SOWC partners, the City of Guelph and the City of London have opened their wastewater treatment plants to academic and private sector research, development and demonstration. Southwestern Ontario is a hub for water research and private sector activity and opening these facilities will help to attract even more companies to the region, creating economic growth and employment.
The Guelph Wastewater Facility will allow for testing of treatment technologies through five testing stations where users will have access to wastewater at different stages of treatment. The SOWC is investing $3 million in the facility which will be complemented by an ecotoxicology facility onsite and a state-of-the-art lab at the University of Guelph.
Working in collaboration with Western University, the City of London recognizes the economic opportunity of attracting innovative companies to their community. In addition to making their wastewater facility available for research, the City is investing $3.8 million to complement the $4.7 million SOWC is spending to renovate the London Wastewater Facility which will provide users with access to municipal sewage streams at full scale flows. For the first time, companies will be able to access facilities to test their treatment technologies in a real environment, from pilot scale to full scale.
John Braam, Managing Director, Engineering and City Engineer for the City of London says “sustainability is at the heart of every decision that we make in London… it needs to be the best, newest technology with the best value for the long term. Working with SOWC we are creating a hub for water innovation that will benefit London and Southern Ontario.”
Research and demonstration projects such as those in the City of London and the City of Guelph will be sustainable if they create financial value for both the municipalities and business. That’s the model: turning a treatment plant into a demonstration facility will benefit companies through providing the capacity they need, and benefit municipalities through the growth of local companies and attraction on news ones, increasing the tax base and creating employment. Progressive cities recognize that supporting innovation will realize solutions they can use in the provision of municipal services, create economic growth, and increase the attractiveness of the region to this growing sector.
Now is the time to look at water infrastructure as more than simply a service offered in your municipality and look at the economic opportunities that can be found through new approaches to academic, public and private sector collaboration.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Since historically marginalized communities are already being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am frustrated to see these communities also negatively impacted by the lack of on-the-ground public engagement. While I realize the threat of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make conducting on-the-ground public engagement challenging, I want to encourage fellow planners to think more creatively. I will admit that I struggled to think creatively when I first heard that Clackamas Community College (CCC) would continue having mostly online classes in Spring Term 2021. CCC has had mostly online classes since the end of Winter Term 2020 when COVID-19 first started impacting Oregon. CCC’s decision about Spring Term 2021 became more stressful when Clackamas County staff told me that public outreach for their new shuttles could not be delayed until next summer.
A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.
Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.