This article was originally published by IBM.

More than a decade ago, in the small town of Walkerton, Ontario, seven people died and more than 2,500 fell ill. The culprit? Farm runoff contaminated with E. coli had been captured by the water wells that provided the town’s drinking water supply. A public outcry prompted revamped water legislation across the country.

Since then, the province of Ontario has transformed its reputation for water management. Recently, it was recognized by national environmental watchdog Ecojustice for “implementing the most ambitious source water protection program in Canada and

[having] some of the country’s strongest treatment, testing, operator training and public reporting standards.”

Building on the world-leading research in water being conducted by Ontario universities, Ontario companies are rapidly becoming leaders in water services and technologies, recognizing the potential to create economic growth in the water sector and promote better conservation and management of water resources. One of these initiatives is the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC), which is spearheading a new way of incorporating innovative technology and understanding into the management and treatment of water across an entire watershed.

A collaborative team involving more than 70 private sector users and testers, five municipalities and eight universities — with substantial financial support from the government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and IBM — is constructing a $52.8 million integrated platform for the development of new water technologies in Southern Ontario. Dr. Jim Barker and Dr. Dave Rudolph, both of the University of Waterloo, are two of the project leads for the consortium.

When IBM stepped in with a $20 million in-kind contribution, it was matched by $19.5 million from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, along with a $9 million grant from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. “IBM’s contribution helped us shape what became the SOWC — a much bigger, richer program,” Dr. Rudolph says.

The platform will provide living labs for Southern Ontario’s industry to develop, test and demonstrate new water technologies and processes for local, national, and global markets, in collaboration with university and government.

“We are taking steps to turn around the degradation of our water resource,” Dr. Rudolph says. “In these living laboratories, we hope to immediately transfer what we learn to other jurisdictions and locations so we can start building a sustainable water strategy to pass to the next generation.”

He continues, “The whole world is trying to achieve integration of surface and ground water and how we treat it. All members of the consortium are experts in different areas, working together to understand how water is managed in an urbanizing, growing watershed. It will be a game-changing project.”

The collaborative R&D effort already underway among universities and companies can now take a giant leap forward, thanks to an integrated platform across all elements of water management, enabled by a sophisticated data generation, processing, and management environment.

The platform will enable the development of technologies and services in water and in the collection, management, and reuse of data in an integrated, intelligent, instrumented watershed. These new water technologies will meet the needs of potential markets around the world. The intelligent use of data from the instrumentation in the platform will position consortium participants as world leaders in the services and technologies required for natural resource and environment management.

“Ultimately, an entire watershed will be instrumented,” Dr. Rudolph says. “Many different groups want to use the resulting data for multiple purposes, ranging from land management, water conservation, public health and safety, to economic development.”