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It is time to recognize our wealth of water

By Derek Coronado, Special to The Windsor Star November 4, 2010

Recently, the Ontario government's Standing Committee on General Government reviewed an important potential piece of legislation regarding our province's most important resource -- our water. It's legislation that specifically affects Windsor.

In the editorial, of Sept. 20, "Tap runs dry," The Star highlighted a recent Statistics Canada report that shows declining fresh water supplies throughout southern Canada, including the Great Lakes. The editorial rightly points out that this is a wakeup call and that we must all work toward conserving this precious resource. Fortunately, doing right for water can also save money and create jobs, two things that would be especially welcome at this challenging time.

The need to conserve water may be hard to swallow for a city such as Windsor that sits next to one of the largest bodies of water in the world, but the Great Lakes are in a delicate balance. Most of the water in the lakes (99 per cent in fact) was left behind when the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age. Only one per cent is renewed each year by snow and rainfall.

Meanwhile, the lakes are under constant pressure from human consumption, pollution, and a changing climate -- this year saw disturbingly high temperatures for all the lakes with Lake Superior and Lake Michigan reaching record highs. The implications of the lakes turning into bath water are still unknown but are troubling to many scientists.

Conserving water helps to take the strain off our precious water resources; it also takes the strain off our aging water infrastructure. This summer's revelation that millions of liters worth of dangerous pollution -- such as sewage, diesel fuel, and petroleum products -- were being dumped into the Detroit River produced outrage among many people.

Much of this pollution can be blamed on heavy rainfall, which overloads our sewage systems and results in the release of untreated sewage into rivers and waterways.

Windsor has invested heavily to patch the leak in the water infrastructure, shelling out $110 million to expand the Lou Romano Water Reclamation Plant -- improving the facility's capability from primary to secondary treatment, and adding state of the art filtration and disinfection technology. And in 2010, construction of the $60-million Retention Treatment Basin (RTB) began, which will increase capacity to hold and treat water before it is released into the river.

While these costly solutions are necessary to fix a water system designed in the 19th century, the high price of playing catchup on water infrastructure is inevitably passed on to residents. As we look to the future, investments in innovative forms of "green" infrastructure and smart water conservation strategies offer a much more efficient and cost effective approach to managing our water supply.

Examples of green infrastructure include green rooftops, rain gardens, urban forests, permeable pavement, and constructed wetlands. As well as revitalizing urban areas, these inexpensive solutions intercept rain that would otherwise overwhelm sewer systems during heavy rainfall and substantially reduce the chances of sewage spills into our lakes and rivers.

While conserving existing wetlands and forests is the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable approach, these green infrastructure solutions also pave the way for the emergence of new entrepreneurial businesses in services such landscaping, and urban design.

Similarly, water conservation strategies create opportunities for manufacturing everything from low flush toilets to complex industrial metering and recycling equipment. According to the Conference Board of Canada, these new and exciting solutions offer a wealth of business and employment opportunity with the global market for water technology estimated at more than US$400 billion per year -- and doubling every five to six years.

Fortunately, it appears the provincial government is ready to support cities such as Windsor in positioning themselves as leaders in this new water innovation industry.

Earlier this year, the province introduced the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act and it is currently winding its way through the legislature.

In order to be effective, this new legislation needs to ensure it delivers on three key things. First, any good strategy requires meaningful targets and goals along with mechanisms to ensure accountability in meeting those goals. This must be the case with the new water Act. Second, the legislation needs to embed a 21st century approach to water infrastructure by making the development of green infrastructure and water conservation technology a priority.

Lastly, the government needs to implement a comprehensive public education campaign to ensure Ontarians work together to protect this precious resource. With these measures, the province can support cities such as Windsor in conserving our water wealth and creating wealth from water.

Derek Coronado is co-ordinator of the Citizens Environment Alliance, based in Windsor.

Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

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