Midstream solutions for water and energy

Sustainable Solutions for First Nations Water Needs

The Government of Canada has pledged to end boil water advisories within First Nations reserves within 5 years.  Currently 93 different communities are operating under 133 different advisories.  Advisories are administrative instruments intended to bridge temporary conditions such as equipment malfunction, excessive agricultural runoff or other water quality excursions.  As boil water advisories become stale, the risk of illness due to inattentive water consumption increases dramatically. 

 Action to eliminate the advisories will require the efficient and timely deployment of capital for repair or replacement of systems servicing FN communities across a broad landscape.  Systems are often small and remote: further challenging designer, builder and operators to maintain a high level of service and reliability.  

Through our work with FN communities within Treaty 7 and Treaty 8, we have had the opportunity better understand the challenges that our neighbours have faced.  We have seen that historical investments in FN water infrastructure have met with mixed results. Early gains in drinking water or effluent quality have been difficult to maintain in the absence of the funds and expertise required to anticipate deterioration and troubleshoot problems. Through our work, we have identified several keys to optimizing the upcoming investment by Government of Canada while assuring long term performance of these new investments.

First and foremost, it is important to accelerate execution of projects.  There are thousands of small systems in existence around the world that are coping with a vast spectrum of water quality issues including runoff turbidity, pathogens, odour and taste.  The key is to shift the emphasis from assessment to action by reducing the percentage of funds spend on administration/study and increasing the percentage spent on design/fabrication.  This can be accomplished by relying more on performance-based contracts with fixed targets for budget, schedule and water quality rather than traditional project execution models.

Secondly, modular technology can be utilized to reduce site construction costs and allow for reinvestment of the savings towards better technology.  The remoteness of many FN communities significantly drives up the cost of site construction and the carbon footprint associated with site-built installations.  Modularization can reduce site construction costs up to 80% - again these funds can be used to improve environmental performance and water quality.

Thirdly, the transfer of knowledge and expertise to the host FN community needs to being during facility design, not after handover.  The lessons-learned during facility design, construction, commissioning and startup are the most important in understanding the robustness and capabilities of a system.

Fourthly, the Internet of Things creates a new opportunity to provide 24-7 connectivity between the equipment, the operator , the owner and the expert resources that can help anticipate, troubleshoot and respond to issues as they arise.  Sensing equipment installed in modular systems with internet/satellite connectivity facilitate the access to expert advice needed to guide operators through understanding their system and responding to problems.

Finally, co-investment by the technology provider, host FN community, government and 3rd party capital in the assets provides a unique opportunity to leverage the Government's investment and ensure the commitment of all parties towards a sustainable solution.  The combination of an appropriate capital structure and informed governance can dramatically reduce the life-cycle cost of the investment and avoid premature deterioration of asset integrity and system performance.

Fast-Track Repair, Retrofit and Replacement of Municipal Water Systems

The Government of Alberta has set aside $545 million over 5 years to repair and update rural water treatment facilities through the Alberta's Water For Life program.  Municipal governments have a number of options available to accelerate access to these funds and improve the speed of execution for water and wastewater solutions.

Firstly, the use of advanced 3D design and prototyping tools facilitates the fast-tracking of grant applications and reduce approval times.  Traditional design tools are based on two-dimensional software chassis that do not lend themselves to early visualization of the end product.  As such, consultation, notification and application processes consume valuable time as stakeholders struggle with the complexity of proposed systems that are not familiar to them.  Early creation of accurate 3D prototypes allows for meaningful engagement of all parties (constructors, operators, regulators, neighbours, First Nations) to understand the proposed solution, its impact on their interests and how they can contribute to more optimimal designs.

Secondly, a well-crafted design-build-operate-transfer contracting strategy can bring projects on line in less than half the time while ensuring the plant achieves fixed targets for budget, schedule and operational performance.  A variation of the dbot strategy has been utilized at award-winning wastewater plants at Banff and Jasper.  These plants are achieving superior nutrient removal targets and were delivered in less time than the Owners' original estimate.  In both cases, the contractor was allowed the flexibility to apply innovation to reduce CAPEX/OPEX while the Owner's engineer provided an independent verification without contributing to budget creep or schedule slippage.

Thirdly, the increased use of modular facilities can reduce site construction costs as much as 75%.  A modular execution strategy downsizes the budget for electrical/mechanical completion on site from "stick built" to "plug and play" levels.  Factory Acceptance Testing on completed assemblies combined with CSA-certification prior to shipment means problems are solved where the supply of specialty labour and replacement parts is much more readily available.

Fourthly, the use of life-cycle tools for estimating CAPEX and OPEX result in a better value proposition for the Owner.  By carefully evaluating the impact of lowest capital cost on long-term repair, replacement and operating expense, Owners can avoid the scenario of "penny-wise, pound-foolish".

Finally, a design-build-operate with a transfer back to the Owner upon "debugging" can yield the best of all worlds.  By taking a facility through a least one-cycle of extreme events, the design-build contractor remains committed to achieving performance targets in the most cost-effective manner and correcting any shortfalls.  For a surface water treatment plant, a high-turbidity spring freshet tests particle removal efficiency whereas a winter low-flow scenarios tests the vulnerability of systems to ice-in constraining water supply.  Likewise, operating wastewater plants through peaking events (such as Canada Day in a resort community) or low flow conditions (during mid-winter lulls) allows the design-builder to verify nutrient removal efficiency, address any equipment modifications and develop standard operating procedures for long-term operations.  The design-build contractor possesses the expertise on commissioning-startup-optimization while the Owner focuses on maintenance and routine operations - two very different skill sets that work best in a dbot.

As western Canada transitions from a "sellers market" inspired by high energy prices to a "buyers market" inspired by the need for better value, variations on a design-build-operate-transfer strategy offer Owners a mechanism to capitalize on the funding now being made available for infrastructure investment.