Half Underwater View Sunset

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink! How Can Digital Tech & Collaborations Help Us Preserve and Restore Our Precious Freshwater?

By Alejandro Martinez-Ramos
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“Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” ― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

In Canada, freshwater can be found in lakes and rivers, underground or frozen in glaciers or polar ice caps, and even in the air when precipitation falls on us. Despite the apparent abundance of water on earth, with the impacts of climate change and the resource demands of an ever-growing global population, reliable access to clean freshwater is a critical global problem. We saw this with the severe case experienced in Monterrey, Mexico, this year and urgent examples here in Quebec, with water shortages reported in communities in the Eastern Townships.

Do existing technology approach work?

While there are many ways that the health of freshwater can be preserved and restored, these technological approaches cannot secure its availability and cleanliness for everyone in the long term. For example, reverse osmosis is costly and highly energy intensive. And while we may be able to clean wastewater for drinking purposes, removing all pollutants is expensive and time-consuming. These are only two examples of the challenges municipalities face to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water for all. Cities face multiple situations to supply citizens with clean drinking water from the source to the destination. For example, in the Atlantic region, utilities constantly need to find effective ways to avoid saltwater intrusion and aquatic invasive species, to mention just a few examples. (Click here to learn more about freshwater issues in this region).

Solutions to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change

If we don’t act now, these current conditions could have disastrous consequences for our environment and the sustainability of freshwater supplies. To reduce the stress on freshwater supplies and decrease risks associated with climate change, we need innovative solutions that are sustainable, viable and scalable. Start-ups are leading the way in innovating sustainable solutions for water scarcity and water testing to help alleviate some of the stress on our freshwater supply and ensure the safety of freshwater for human consumption. For example, Sherbrooke-based start-up Permalution is designing rain and fog harvesting tools; Halifax-based Drinkable is launching pocket-sized smart water testing devices.

Drinkable’s pocket-sized smart water testing devices.

How digital technology can help solve freshwater issues?

Today, many startups have found creative ways of using digital technology to help preserve fresh water while also reducing water management operating costs. For example, Clean Nature, based in Quebec City, has developed guiA, an innovative artificial intelligence decision-making tool to increase the efficiency of road salt applications on winter roads, thereby reducing both costs and environmental impacts. A second example is CANN Forecast, headquartered in Montreal, which uses machine learning models to predict water quality on public beaches and identify vulnerabilities in main water infrastructure both in real time, reducing public health risk, water loss and water main rehabilitation costs.

What People Can Do Today to protect freshwater?

Every day we rely on, and take for granted, the freshwater supply for our livelihoods and our health, not to mention the functioning of our communities. More and more we are coming to understand how fragile this supply is. While there are various promising technological solutions, like those described above, the human factor is often overlooked. The implementation and development of new solutions need sustainable human collaboration to work– technology alone is not enough. The combination of both – people and technology – holds the key to ensuring that tomorrow’s cities will continue to be livable places for all. It’s time for communities to come together with the best technology available to ensure our freshwater resources stay clean and accessible.

How can we enable municipal, private, and public collaborations to solve the freshwater problems?

Following the recent sanitary crisis, society has demonstrated its capacity to solve massive problems when working together with a sense of urgency. At AquaAction, we firmly believe that freshwater supplies can be resilient if multiple stakeholders collaborate. To explore this subject further, we are hosting a panel discussion between municipal, private, and public experts on how collaboration and digital innovation can drive us in a new era to tackle freshwater challenges. We will discuss the importance of engaging and enabling a new generation of innovators to solve the critical water issues we face. During this conversation, we will also discuss four main points:

  • How does the climate crisis relate to the water crisis?
  • Could digital technologies, innovation and entrepreneurship contribute to building sustainable cities?
  • How can we enable municipal, private, and public collaborations to solve the problems?
  • What can you do to move from concern to action?

Please, join us in the discussion on October 20 at 11 h 00 and learn how to move from concern to action. To save your seat, please visit https://mtlconnecte.ca/ and use the discount code mtlc22_aqua_action_community_cr30