Securing Availability of our Greatest Resource
Government of Alberta to release the Draft Water Reuse and Stormwater Use Policy Spring 2017
Fresh water makes up 4% of the water available on the planet. Life as we know it is threatened when fresh water grows scarce – particularly during drought and when contaminated by human or non-human events. It seems only practical and reasonable for a government to have enforceable policies in place to secure the availability of our greatest resource. Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces in Canada to boast water reuse guidelines and regulations.
Industry and agriculture are some of the biggest water users on the planet. As the desire to secure our freshest resources for our most vulnerable continues to rise, it seems some of the greatest opportunities for reclaiming or reusing wastewater and stormwater begins with industrial and agricultural users.
In the past couple of decades, potable and non-potable reuse projects have been implemented in the USA, Australia and Canada. Some of these practices include treating recycled wastewater and stormwater for the purposes of:
- Drinking water aquifer restoration;
- Well stimulation fluids;
- Dust suppression;
- Livestock watering;
- Sub-surface irrigation; and,
- Spray irrigation.
As the practice of using reclaimed water grows, potential liabilities around the benefits of reusing also must be considered. As the Produced Water Beneficial Re-use – High TD Water (Fossil Water, 2007) scoping study described, potential liabilities include, but are not limited to, riparian rights of downstream users, negligence where a reasonable standard of care isn’t upheld, contractual breach where quantity and quality discharge agreements are not met, and strict liability where a dangerous substance causes damage to the land of another party. As such, regulatory requirements for downstream discharge, health risks to the public and fit-for-use treatment must be addressed for all projects utilizing recycled water. Creating a policy framework for water reuse is no small endeavour.
There is a great opportunity for policy and best-practice intervention in the industrial sector due to its focus on production. Securing the cheapest and most secure water resource and not necessarily the freshest is of greater importance. Industrial water for processing is typically associated with minimal risk of direct human exposure, and not associated with direct withdrawal for consumption.
In British Columbia, Canbriam Energy Inc. has a water strategy that includes the use of recycled frac flowback water. There are holding ponds, pipe systems, mechanical water filtration and chemical treatment designed for reuse in completions. This is an innovative Canadian project that demonstrates how the oil and gas industry can be leaders in water reuse.
Also, trendsetting in the realm of best-practices is Suncor’s largest oil refinery in Edmonton, Alberta (formerly Petro Canada in 2009). The plant uses GE Water & Process Technologies to reuse clarified secondary effluent from a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for the refinery’s manufacturing processing needs. The trade-off is the WWTP can treat the wastewater to a non-potable standard, sell the resource to an industrial user at a discounted rate, and the industrial user can reduce the impact on the environment “by securing a safer and longer lasting supply of fresh water for the benefit of local residents”.
While more details will come into focus upon a release of the proposed policy, high-demand water using industries may benefit first from the proposed streamlined approval process for water reuse in Alberta. This is due to the indirect nature of the reuse as well as the perceived low-risk to human health. Through clearer guidelines for indirect, non-potable reuse, we may see a burgeoning business based on the transfer of one industry’s wastewater for reuse in another industrial practice in Alberta.
Through interviews with the Government of Alberta, the following can be expected from the first draft of Alberta’s water reuse policy:
- Providing a framework for justification of a project and a common language and dialogue between the proponent and the Government of Alberta
- Methods of treatment will not be the focus in the new policy
o Future innovations should be encouraged, therefore outlining prescriptive treatment methods is not a priority
- a risk based approach will be used to determine risks to the environment and/or human health of a specific reuse project
- When used as intended, the policy and risk framework will condense and clarify the regulatory framework according to the risks associated with the project
- Water quality criteria will be in alignment with what exists in current policy in Alberta and Canada. Where gaps exist, other jurisdictions will be referenced for best practices such as EPA in the USA, Australia and the European Union
- Proponent must be able to demonstrate that they meet acceptable standards. This may be accomplished by:
o Analytical methods
o Precedent and standard set by existing successful practices
- Low risk reuse and stormwater use projects may have streamlined approval processes
- Potable reuse and stormwater use project approval will not be streamlined at this time, as risks associated are considered high
We foresee that this new water reuse policy will become a platform for building a sustainable, water-secure future for all Albertans. It might be some time before direct potable reuse, however it is possible that indirect potable reuse will be fast tracked and soon on the rise in Alberta. The first draft will become a roadmap for exciting future innovation.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” — Leonardo da Vinci
What are you expecting from the implementation of the Water Reuse Policy? Feel free to email, tweet or LinkedIn message me. After the release of the draft policy, an article capturing first responses and details of the policy will follow in a subsequent Bow River Basin Council Preserving Our Lifeline newsletter.
Thank you to Harris Switzman and Mike Dixon with Alberta WaterSmart, Joey Hurley with Alberta Environment and Parks, and Bill Berzins with K-nowbe for allowing me to interview them for background information related to this article. Illustrations credited to Bob Mack who works from our office in Calgary.