Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

When Adrienne Campbell first saw the new movie “A Plastic Ocean,” she was left speechless. “Even in the middle of a vast ocean, where you think it’s just a big blue sea and pure, clean water, they find bits of micro-plastic.”

Although she’d been aware that plastic pollution was a problem, she hadn’t realized how big the problem really was.

Yet rather than be overwhelmed, she started thinking about her own habits, and how simple it is to change them. And she decided to spread the word by helping to organize the first Quebec screening of the movie in Montreal. The date: June 8, 2017, to coincide with World Oceans Day.

In “A Plastic Ocean,” an international team of divers, adventurers and researchers go on a mission to discover what lurks beneath the surface of our seemingly pristine ocean. The feature-length documentary was made by the Plastics Oceans Foundation, an international network of independent not-for-profit organizations. Filmed in 20 locations around the world, “A Plastic Ocean” gives a global perspective on the issue of plastic waste in our oceans and examines the extent of the problem. Most importantly, it shows how we can turn it around, through knowledge, behavioural changes and technology.Poster snippet

The screening, to take place at Concordia University in downtown Montreal, will be followed by a panel discussion, led by Peter Stoett, director of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre and a senior research fellow with the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. He and other local experts will talk about plastic pollution in a Montreal context.

The event is being organized by a team including Jordan Keenan from the 5 Gyres Institute, Emma Langson from the Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada, Adrienne Campbell and other concerned citizens. Sustainable Concordia and Life Without Plastic are also contributing.

Plastic-Free Fair

Just before the screening, the public is invited to a Plastic-Free Fair to meet people from different organizations and businesses and learn about local resources for reducing waste. The evening will end with a raffle draw for a variety of gift certificates and sustainable supplies. The raffle will help cover the event’s costs, and any profits will support local projects of the Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada.

“There are so many causes, and you can’t be invested and involved in all of them,” says Campbell. “But this is something where even people who are busy . . . can have an impact, just through their own day-to-day actions. It doesn’t require a whole lot of effort.”

The event is FREE but tickets can be reserved through EventBrite, where you can also purchase raffle tickets ($3 each or five for $10).

And there’s still room for other local groups or businesses to participate! If you’d like to have a table at the fair or contribute to the event, contact Adrienne Campbell. She also encourages people to share the poster, spread the word and bring their friends!

WHEN: Thursday, June 8, 2017
WHERE: Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Alumni Auditorium (Room H-110, Hall Building), 1455 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West, Montreal, QC
6 – 7 p.m.: Plastic-Free Fair
7 – 8:30 p.m.: Screening of “A Plastic Ocean”
8:30 – 9:00 p.m.: Panel discussion, Q&A and raffle draw for prizes

RESERVE your tickets
SHARE the Facebook event page

From the Plastic Oceans website:
• We use over 300 million tonnes of new plastic every year. Half of this we use just once and usually for less than 12 minutes.
• 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year.
• Over 600 species of marine life are known to suffer directly from plastic pollution. . . .  Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs.

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Last week I attended the 7th annual Canadian Water Summit, a day-long event bringing together water leaders from government, industry, non-profit organizations and academia. Held June 23, 2016, in Toronto under the theme “The Business of Water—Innovation Across the Entire Life Cycle,” this year’s edition focused on best practices in water innovation and the latest trends in managing water-related risks.

In a keynote address, Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, talked about how, in Canada, we tend to take water for granted. “No one here was surprised when they turned on the tap this morning and clean water came out,” he said. Yet the sad reality is that nearly all of Canada’s once pristine lakes and rivers are now polluted.

On this topic, Ontario recently passed the Great Lakes Protection Act, which aims to strengthen the province’s ability to keep the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River clean, as well as to protect and restore the waterways that flow into them.

Murray referred to climate change and environmental problems as “a cultural problem.” The Indigenous people have treaties with nature, he explained: they consider all of nature’s creatures of equal importance, and they consider water sacred. “Can you imagine if we started treating water as sacred?” he asked. Instead, decisions are made according to four-year election or business cycles. We need to evolve not just in terms of technology: “We need to advance our culture to be sophisticated enough to live on this planet.”

Water tech challenges

Among other things, Summit panelists and participants discussed the challenges of introducing new technologies in the water sector: for example, no municipality wants to take the risk of being the first to implement a new wastewater or drinking water treatment technology. As well, procurement policies often require going with the lowest bidder but may not take into account full life-cycle costs or environmental impacts; moreover, when preparing specifications for calls for tender, engineers tend to go with the technologies they know.

The Summit also looked at how water issues affect businesses, and offered a glimpse into the fascinating ways in which some companies are reducing their water use, using rainwater or grey water, or recycling their wastewater—often generating substantial dollar savings in the process.

In a session titled “The Big Picture: Engaging water users in a conversation about sustainable water use,” Matt Howard, Director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship–North America, explained that no one is immune from water risks. The issue is not always scarcity; it may be regulatory, or quality—he pointed to recent examples of toxic algae in Lake Erie (causing Toledo, Ohio, to declare a state of emergency in 2014) and the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, both within the Great Lakes basin.

“We need to move beyond the fact that we have abundant supply of inexpensive water,” he stated. He noted that in a survey on global risks, businesses ranked water as third most important in terms of impact, and second in terms of likelihood.

Jonathan Radtke is the Water Sustainability Program Director for Coca-Cola North America. The company is present in nearly every country in the world. Their number one ingredient: water.

The company has a multi-component water strategy, which includes making sure its plant is efficient and discharges clean wastewater, working on these same issues with suppliers, and collaborating on projects with municipalities and communities worldwide.

What I found most interesting, however, was its “replenish” strategy. “Our goal is return to nature and communities the same amount of water that we use in our products and production process,” explained Radtke, “that is, to be water neutral by 2020.”

This is being done through a number of projects and partnerships, from donating its syrup barrels for use as rain barrels to supporting wetland restoration projects. Recent Canadian projects include funding to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to support four conservation projects in Alberta’s Bow River Watershed, and funding to support the Tommy Thompson Wetland Park in Toronto. Here in Quebec, in 2012, the company pledged $250,000 to restore the damaged St-Eugène marsh and help improve the natural flow in the St. Lawrence River.

Circular systems

Canada has much to learn from other countries, too. Alex van der Helm is with Waternet, the public water utility of Amsterdam. With its dense population and nearly half of the country below sea level, the Netherlands has become renowned for its water technology expertise.

Van der Helm described a number of sustainable initiatives they’ve adopted, adding that Amsterdam’s ambition is to become climate neutral, “the circular city of Europe,” by 2020. He touched on concepts such as circular water and energy systems, aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES), and capturing heat from showers. “Forty percent of total energy losses come from warm wastewater leaving houses,” he noted.

In a panel on “The Value of Water: Overcoming Challenges to Innovation in the Water Industry,” Bruce Taylor, President of Enviro-Stewards, gave numerous examples of how his consulting firm has helped large companies reduce their water and energy consumption.

In one case, a food manufacturer was using tremendous quantities of water to dilute the fat waste going down the drain. By recovering and transforming this fat into lard that could be sold, the company reduced the fat going down the drain (good for the municipal wastewater system, where Fats, Oils and Greases, a.k.a. FOGs, are a huge problem), reduced its water requirement (water fees are rapidly increasing), and now generates some additional revenue by selling the lard.

A few years ago, Enviro-Stewards designed a project for the City of Guelph to harvest rainwater to wash its buses. Not only does this save water, but it reduces the amount of chemicals used for removing calcium spots, for example.

These were just a few of the many projects mentioned, offering an inspiring glimpse into the world of water technology and innovation.

About the Canadian Water Summit


 “Treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship, including by working with other orders of government to protect Canada’s freshwater using education, geo-mapping, watershed protection, and investments in the best wastewater treatment technologies.” Excerpt from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Mandate Letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.


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When it was time to have our cracked and dripping gutters repaired, I piped up with, “Hey, let’s set up a rain barrel!” I was thinking about those tomato seedlings I had just ordered: they were going to need water, and we didn’t even have a working outdoor faucet. A rain barrel seemed like the perfect, enviro-friendly solution.

“A rain barrel is an easy way to reduce tap water consumption,” says Janis Crawford, co-owner of Alter Eco, a local company that makes rain barrels from recycled materials. You can use rainwater to water your plants and lawn, clean your entranceway or fill a pool. Her company estimates that you can collect about 800 litres of rainwater per month from April to October, with just one barrel.

Founded in 2001 by Jean-Martial Bonis, Alter Eco is “a Quebec business with a positive view of environmental change.” Crawford says interest in rain barrels has really grown in the last three to four years. Last year, they made 7,000 rain barrels. Many were sold to municipalities that have set up programs to promote rain barrel use.

Happy tomato plants

Restoring the natural cycle of water

Not only are costs for producing drinking water astronomical, but Crawford points out that, with some cities experiencing tap water shortages or placing restrictions on water use, collecting rainwater is becoming a necessity.

There is also a global water management aspect. “Because we’ve paved over everything, and because of the way our houses are built, rainwater goes from our gutters straight into the sewer system, rather than into green space, where it can filter through the ground down into our aquifers,” says Crawford. “This is one of the reasons that the aquifers of some cities are emptying. We’ve sealed off a whole part of the natural cycle of water.”

Choosing a rain barrel

There’s a wide choice of rain barrels at home renovation and hardware stores, but I like Alter Eco’s Rain Saver because it is made here in Quebec from recycled, food-grade plastic.

“We’re giving a second life to an olive or pickle barrel,” Crawford explains. “So it’s not just that we haven’t produced new plastic, and all the pollution that comes with that, but it means the barrels are very solid compared to many of the other barrels out there. They were made to carry olives and pickles in cargo ships, so it’s a very thick plastic that doesn’t get altered by sun and rain.”

Her company adapts the cover, adding a double screen to keep out mosquitoes, insects and leaves. They install a tap at the bottom, for filling a watering can or attaching a hose, and an overflow valve at the top, so that you can direct excess water away from your house’s foundation.

Installing the barrel

Happy kids

Alter Eco will deliver the rain barrel to your door, but you have to install it yourself. I’ll admit that in our case, my husband did all the dirty work: he levelled out the ground with a shovel and set up a base, composed of two concrete bricks topped by a square patio stone, which he had picked up at one of the major home renovation stores (“pick up” being the operative phrase, because those stones are very heavy).

Now, we are all enjoying the benefits of our new rain barrel. Not just me, as I fill up my watering can to quench my garden’s thirst, but my children too: on hot days, watering the plants has become their favourite activity!

Facts and tips on water usage

According to Environment Canada, during the growing season water use can increase by as much as 50%. “While lawns require a lot of water, much of this water is wasted — lost due to over-watering and evaporation,” their website notes. For some interesting facts and useful suggestions, see Wise Water Use.

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Lately, when I wash dishes, take my shower, or turn on the washing machine, I’m thinking about my walk though the vast, dark, cavernous filtration gallery at Montreal’s Charles-J. Des Baillets water filtration plant. I’m thinking about the sixty basins of water filtering through their four-foot-deep beds of sand. I’m thinking about the deafening noise of the plant’s pumps. I’m thinking about the molecules darting around in the gigantic ozonizers that kill bacteria and viruses. I’m thinking about the 20 Megawatts per day it takes to do all this.

And that’s just one of seven plants serving the Montreal territory.

Each day, pumps draw water from the St. Lawrence River, Lac Saint-Louis, Rivière des Prairies and Lac des Deux Montagnes to supply the island with drinking water. The water is filtered, disinfected and chlorinated, sent to water reservoirs for storage, and then carried though a distribution network of pipes to businesses and homes.

Filtration Gallery tech sheet: "60 filtering beds divided into four units of 15 double filters, each having 4.9 m by 16.5 m tanks"

After we’ve used the water and flushed our toilets, it goes through another network of pipes to the island of Montreal’s wastewater treatment station, where it is cleaned as much as possible before being dumped back into the St. Lawrence River. (But we’ll talk about that another day.)

Like last fall’s excursion to the city dump (um, sanitary landfill), my visit to the Charles-J. Des Baillets filtration plant in LaSalle was organized by the Société environnementale Côte-des-Neiges (SOCENV). These visits are part of a program for integrating immigrants into Quebec society, but anyone is welcome to participate.

Noisy pumps. For the tour, our guide spoke into a headset and we wore earphones.

The Des Baillets plant is the island of Montreal’s second biggest, producing 1.136 million cubic metres of drinking water per day. The biggest is the Atwater plant, producing 1.364 million m3.  Both plants draw their water from the depths of the St. Lawrence River, just upstream from the Lachine Rapids. Together, they produce 88% of the island’s potable water.

The water treatment process

In operation since 1978, the Des Baillets plant is a bit different from the Atwater plant because it uses ozonation to disinfect the water. “Ozonation . . . produces water of superior quality than that obtained from the classic chlorination process,” the plant’s literature states. Some chlorine is added at the end of the process, but this is just to make sure the water remains sterile until it reaches your tap (or the tap of your friend who lives on the far end of the distribution system).

Here’s how it works:

1. Water goes through a rough screening at the point of intake to prevent the passage of larger substances or objects. It is then pumped up to the top of the filtration plant, so that gravity can carry the water through the rest of the plant’s processes.

2. In the filtration gallery, the water goes through double filters that use 1.2 m of siliceous sand, eliminating about 80% of organic substances, bacteria and viruses.

The insides of an ozonizer (one not currently in use, that is!)

3. Next, ozone is injected. This destroys any remaining bacteria and viruses. The ozone is then destroyed in powerful ovens. Note: at the moment, the ozone is extracted from the air; however, the plant is undergoing renovations to use pure oxygen instead.

4. At this point, the water is suitable for human consumption. However, to keep the water sterile throughout its distribution, a small dose of chlorine is injected before it is pumped out to the reservoirs. (In the plants that do not use ozonation, chlorination is part of the disinfection process.)

Montreal has seven drinking water production plants. The five on the west of the island have reservoirs, at the plants or along the network, with a total capacity equivalent to 32 Olympic pools. The Des Baillets and Atwater plants have on-site reservoirs with capacities equivalent to 121 and 66 Olympic pools respectively. But they supply six reservoirs located on and around the summit of Mount Royal, with a total capacity of over 600,000 m3 (160 Olympic pools). Gravity is then used to send the water through the city’s distribution system.

Mmm, mmm, good

The water is tested when it comes out of the plant, of course, but also all along the network, every day. Standards and parameters (including those relating to chlorine) are set out in Quebec’s Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water. During the visit, our guide noted that the plant will soon be adding UV treatment, to further improve the water quality.

I’m not going to get into the tap water vs. bottled water debate here. But I think it’s safe to say that (1) Montreal has excellent tap water; and (2) the environmental impact and energy costs of bottled water far exceed those of potable tap water.

On the issue of whether tap water or bottled water is better for your health, the Quebec organization Eau Secours did a study a few years ago, comparing applicable laws, regulations and quality controls for the two types of water. You can read their conclusions online : “Eau du robinet versus eau embouteillée: laquelle est la plus sécuritaire?” They also have a campaign about the safe reuse of plastic bottles: see their brochure, “La réutilisation des contenants de plastique d’eau embouteillée et la santé.” (Both links in French only, sorry.)

And now, I’m off to have a cup of tea — made from freshly boiled and brewed Montreal tap water.


City of Montreal: “Production de l’eau potable” and in particular, “Le saviez-vous?” (a sort of FAQ page)

Eau Secours, a Quebec coalition that advocates responsible water management

Info about the UN “Water for Life” Decade

Aquanomy, a site devoted to water conservation in the home

And an interesting article that appeared recently in The Economist, reminding us that not everyone has free and easy access (or any access) to safe drinking water: “The worth of water.”


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