This article was originally published in the Daily Commercial News by Mary Baxter

A testing facility at a London sewage treatment plant is one of the projects a partnership of eight Ontario universities is undertaking to establish southern Ontario as a hub for companies to research, demonstrate and test new water technologies.

The facility will be located in London’s already existing Greenway pollution control plant and will cost $8.5 million to build. Funding is coming from the city and the partnership, the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, which has obtained its share from the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario.

Grahame Rivers, the consortium’s spokesman, says construction will take place inside of the already fully operational plant. The facility will occupy 300 square metres.

“We’ll probably break that down into 50-square-metre reconfigurable modules for companies,” he says.

The big challenge in construction will be to not affect the plant’s regular operations. The plant, the city’s oldest and largest, has the capacity to treat 152,175 cubic metres of waste a day.

“It’s a very challenging thing from the city’s perspective,” says John Braam, London’s city engineer, pointing out that each time a plant is modified or its capacity is changed, new provincial certification is required. The tender for the work closed in late February. The job was set to be awarded in early spring.

The city is in charge of the bricks and mortar work, including adding diversion lines so effluent can be extracted and returned during different stages of the regular treatment process.

The city’s tender also calls for: adding new interior and exterior supply and return piping and pumps, insulated and heat-traced outdoor supply, return and drain piping; installing supply and return pumps; adding heat-traced and insulated FRP tanks; constructing a new wall and establishing a new hoisting system.

Braam says once complete, the facility will allow testing of new, innovative products and sewage processing for those who want to test at higher volumes or full-scale models.

The facility might be new but the city has been involved in working with companies on developing innovations “for years,” says Braam, and about three years ago, formed an international water centre of excellence.

“We partnered with the southern Ontario consortium for many reasons but obviously again of keen interest is to try to bring innovation and those that want to test innovation to London,” he says.

The consortium has other infrastructure projects underway, such as adding cells to a unique, contained aquifer at Canadian Forces Base Borden to allow field condition testing of water remediation technologies.

The consortium may be the first in the world offering such a range of applications, says Rivers. Applications range from contaminated water remediation and detecting new contaminants as well as quantifying their impact on the environment to wastewater treatment and reuse, sensor development and watershed management.

Most of the facilities will be located in the Grand River watershed and will be linked with a computer system to be housed at the University of Toronto to provide access to data, processing and analysis. The consortium’s university partners are University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Western University. University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Ryerson University, McMaster University, University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier University.

The goal is to have the consortium operational in January 2014.