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Water Treatment: Aging infrastructure a shared responsibility


January 3, 2016  


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As we start to more closely look at the impacts of our actions on the environment, and determine the level to which we find a balance, we will, inevitably, be looking to regulation and membership associations to lead the way for change. After all, it is only the most dedicated who look to solving the problem themselves. For the rest of us, we lack the direction or motivation to make change.

Just look at our aging infrastructure: the largest cities have decayed from the core, as the suburban areas have sprawled. Centrally located infrastructure has become a mishmash of weathered systems left to rot due to their costly replacement price tags. Simply put, we suffer from analysis paralysis, cost avoidance and conflicting priorities.

In Metro Vancouver, for example, residents were asked to vote on whether they supported a tax increase to fund new transportation infrastructure. They soundly struck it down. On south Vancouver Island, residents also voted against new water treatment infrastructure in their backyard because there would be a disproportionate sharing of “smell.” There can be a certain desire to punish government for poor management, but there is also a significant resistance to having to pay the true cost of infrastructure. This is further exacerbated by governments looking for political favour through infrastructure grants that reward communities that either have not allocated adequate resources to maintain their existing infrastructure, or simply delayed any sort of action in anticipation that funding is on its way.

The means by with the government of the day determines projects of merit is not always based on the best use of our taxation, or specifically their responsibilities to the communities they serve. Should we allocate all of our resources to going green because it is high profile at the moment? And in doing so, should we wait for someone else to pay for our failing sewer and water systems? Or is there a balanced approach, where it is understood that we have choices. Do we, as a country, pay the true cost of infrastructure replacement, as well as the additional needs to address the environmental damage our past actions may be causing? Or do we allow our tax contributions to move to sunnier ways? The answers, again, might exist within our member organizations such as Western Canada Water (WCW) and the Canadian Water and Waste Association (CWWA).

These various associations lobby on industry’s behalf on everything from how to improving water treatment efficiencies to how to reduce industry’s environmental footprint. Now, we need them to address the needs of all infrastructure priorities — not just largecity infrastructure, but also small private utilities, which are in much worse condition due to inadequate replacement reserve funds and lack of access to sufficient taxation or a loan-authorization mechanism.

We also have to look at the many former industry towns which had infrastructure installed mid last century, and insufficient tax base and users to maintain the systems. Should we allow these towns to die? At the federal level, the water and wastewater industry needs to direct its committees to raise the provincial issues and advocate direct to Parliament to make sure it is heard among the many voices.

As a member of these various associations, you can become involved, and bring forward your ideas and support. Develop solutions that can optimize infrastructure through process improvements, controls and monitoring.

About the author: Mike Seymour has more than 25 years’ experience in water and wastewater treatment for small decentralized systems throughout B.C. He is currently involved with the BC Water and Waste Association. Seymour is also the principal with MSR Solutions Inc. in Victoria. He can be reached at 250.479.5164.