This article was originally published on Water Canada by Grahame Rivers

While innovative companies in the water sector are developing groundbreaking technologies aimed at providing solutions to municipalities, industrial enterprises, and consumers with practical ways to solve water challenges in an environmentally responsible way, these companies must also be able to demonstrate that their technology works outside of the lab and 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. Accessing existing infrastructure can require negotiating with conservation authorities or municipal, provincial, or federal governments—processes that can be difficult, since private sector collaboration is not always a prime mandate.

The Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) aims to foster that collaboration.

Work on the Grand River

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), one of the SOWC’s partners, is taking a proactive approach to collaboration.

The Grand River flows 300 kilometres through southwestern Ontario from the highlands of Dufferin County to Port Maitland on Lake Erie. The GRCA manages water and other natural resources on behalf of 39 municipalities and close to one million residents.

In the coming months, the GRCA will release its new watershed management plan. Partnerships with municipalities, First Nations, provincial ministries and the federal government have helped to define the needs for managing the watershed.

Leading up to the plan’s launch, the conservation authority is identifying data, science, and technology gaps. Instead of waiting for companies to knock at its doors, the GRCA is presenting those gaps as opportunities for organizations to research, develop, and demonstrate new solutions or technologies.

“We are seeking advances in probe technology for measuring dissolved phosphorus. Specifically, we are interested in understanding the causes of elevated winter nitrates in the Upper Grand River watershed; whether nitrate levels in groundwater are increasing or decreasing, new or historical. It is also interested in source tracking of pathogen spikes in surface water supply sources” says Lorrie Minshall, director of the water management plan, Grand River Conservation Authority.

Vital parts of this work would include the development of affordable, reliable technologies for removal of dissolved phosphate, nitrate, sulphate and chloride (in water and/or wastewater). The GRCA is also interested in the economics of slow release nitrogen fertilizer (and other best practices and solutions) and the development of affordable mini ‘package’ wastewater treatment plants for medium to large farms.

Collaborators + living lab

As part of the solution, SOWC is establishing a unique watershed-scale platform for the research, development, and demonstration of water solutions and technologies that will allow collaborators to prove breakthroughs to meet GRCA’s identified needs—and more.

This “living lab” platform includes instrumented sub-watersheds for smart monitoring in both the Grand River watershed and the highly urbanized Mimico Creek sub-watershed in Toronto. GRCA’s cooperation will grant collaborators access to GRCA monitoring facilities. Use of both the platform and the monitoring system will save significant time and money for SOWC partners looking to demonstrate or develop new technologies.

We’re looking for new partners. Are you one of them?