Many of us take our water system for granted — we expect clean drinking water to flow from our taps, our waste water to be treated, and our rivers and lakes to be clean. But those things don’t just happen on their own. They require constant attention, and decisions backed by sound science.

For the past four decades, the 1,300-member Water Environment Association of Ontario has guided policy-makers in government and industry. Through research and collaboration, they help ensure our water system is safe and can handle our changing environment and increased growth of our communities.

“The protection of our water environment is critical,” says John Presta, the association’s President. “We don’t advocate a particular position, but we provide science-based information. Water infrastructure is capital intensive, and if we are not investing in the right strategies, government and organizations can find themselves wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Pressures on our water system

There are a lot of factors that create challenges for our water system, including climate change, urban growth, and the health of our lakes and rivers.

“Climate change has a direct impact on water management through the effect of melting glaciers or sea ice and more frequent rainfall events with higher frequency, intensity and duration,” says Edgar Tovilla, who sits on the association’s Climate Change Committee. “These effects have a direct impact on our  stormwater management and sanitary infrastructure.”

Stormwater management is becoming more important, as extreme storm events are overloading our current infrastructure, resulting in flooding and property damage. The Water Environment Association of Ontario studies the impact of these weather events so we can better prepare and reduce potential risks of our water system overflowing.

A duty to protect our water resources

And if we think that events happening elsewhere in the world won’t impact us, we need to reconsider our assumptions because climate change is a global problem. “We need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough here in Ontario and Canada to address climate change,” says Tovilla. “Canada has 20 percent of the world’s fresh-water supply, which poses an additional burden of responsibility to protect our water resources.”

Much of that fresh water is stored in the Great Lakes. Fortunately, the collaborative efforts of Canada and the United States have created policies for the protection of these lakes. One recent joint agreement commits to a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus entering Lake Erie. There is scientific evidence that excess phosphorus, as a primary indicator of excess nutrients, leads to algae blooms, which in turn depletes the lake of oxygen— impacting fish and other water life.

The Ontario government created the Lake Erie Action Plan, which the Water Environment Association of Ontario is actively supporting by offering advice and consultation. The members of the association will play a key role in  to reduce nutrient levels in the lake as they implement the ideas to make it happen.

Urban development is another challenge that can put added strain on the pipes in our water systems. The health of our communities is directly associated with the health of our water system. As our communities grow, so too does the need to expand and protect our water infrastructure. This is especially critical in southern Ontario where the population is increasing.

By monitoring our infrastructure and conducting research, the Water Environment Association of Ontario has collective finger on the  pulse of the environment so government and industry leaders have the best information to keep the water flowing.