Climate Change and Water

Water and Wastewater Services is taking steps to better understand climate change impacts on the water and wastewater systems and measures to implement that ensure the continuous delivery of clean drinking water and treatment of wastewater while protecting our natural resources.

Climate change is a global challenge with local impacts. The University of Waterloo climate change infographic shares how our local climate is projected to get warmer, wetter and more extreme. Without planning and actions, these changing weather events can impact services we depend on including our water supply.

In June 2021, the Region of Waterloo Regional Council endorsed the TransformWR strategy, a region-wide climate action mitigation plan, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

How climate change can affect our water systems

There are a number of possible scenarios that we will face as a result of climate change. In Waterloo Region, all of these scenarios were accessed with seven scenarios likely to impact this region. These scenarios align well with the University of Waterloo findings.

Weather scenarios likely to impact Waterloo Region

  1. More extreme heat
  2. More freezing rain
  3. Up and down freeze thaw cycle
  4. Less extreme cold
  5. More heavy precipitation
  6. Less annual snowfall
  7. Increased strong wind

How weather scenarios can affect our water systems

Unpredictable and extreme weather events can affect water quality, water quantity, the treatment process and longevity of the equipment.

How climate change can affect the water supply

  • More intense rainfall and rain from snow events creating more wastewater than the treatment process can handle. This can impact water quality with untreated water bypassing treatment and returning directly to the natural environment.
  • More intense storms can stir up soil in the Grand River making the water too cloudy to treat. This can impact water quantity and put more demand on groundwater wells.
  • Extended periods of hot weather increase water temperatures and potentially impacting the effectiveness of the water disinfection process
  • Extreme heat events can lead to equipment failures and water service disruptions
  • Freeze thaw cycle can weaken the integrity of the underground pipes causing water main breaks and water service disruptions
  • More freezing rain and freeze thaw cycles in the winter requires more de-icing salt that impacts water quality

Actions Water and Wastewater Services is taking to deal with climate change

Water and Wastewater Services is taking steps now to understand and plan for climate change impacts through event monitoring, training and studies, and implementing long term measures. To ensure a safe and reliable water and wastewater service, Water and Wastewater Services is including both mitigative and adaptive measures.

mitigation and adaptation diagram

Many organizations focus on mitigating their contributions to climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions through measures such as electric vehicles, energy efficient lighting and other forms of clean energy. Organizations are also adapting to climate change by managing risks through flood protection, enhanced infrastructure and other related investments.

To operate a water and wastewater system that meets or exceeds provincial regulations and the needs of our community, it is important Water Services includes both approaches.

Mitigation measures support the goals of reducing greenhouse gases while adaption measures will allow Water and Wastewater Services to address the impacts of climate change specific to the water and wastewater systems and ensure an ongoing service.

Measures that follow a mitigation approach

Using pressure and gravity to move water in place of electrically powered pumps
  • Using water towers in place of electrically powered pumps to move water using pressure and gravity
  • Building the Mannheim Water Treatment Plant on a higher elevation area to reduce power use by moving water through the treatment process using pressure and gravity
Converting greenhouse gases to renewable energy

Converting biogas to renewable energy at the Galt, Kitchener and Waterloo wastewater treatment plants

Climate change measure: using technology that converts off-gases from the treatment process to renewable energy to power equipment

Problem: During the treatment process, wastewater solids coming from your toilet or sinks, for example, enter a tank where microorganisms digest the organic matter. This process produces gases made mostly of methane and carbon dioxide — two harmful greenhouse gases. The Galt, Kitchener and Waterloo wastewater treatment plants produce a combined total of 13,000 to 22,200 cubic metres of gas daily — roughly the carbon footprint of 2,700 people.

Solution: With this new technology in place, the system captures 100 per cent of the biogas and converts it to green energy to power the plant’s electricity, and heating needs saving approximately $1.5 million per year in utility costs. In return, it will also reduce approximately 1,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Wastewater cogeneration technology converting biogas to renewable energy

Measures that follow an adaptation approach

Building infrastructure above the flood line due to more flooding

New well house for William Street Pump Station

Climate change measure: Building new important infrastructure above the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) flood line due to more flooding.

Problem: existing well house is in a flood plain below the 100-year flood elevation of 324.3 m above sea level (asl.). Increased flooding could cause extensive damage to infrastructure inside the building.

Solution: new well house is designed with process equipment resilient to flooding in the basement and sensitive electronics and control equipment on the upper floor, located above the flood elevation at 324.9 m asl.. Equipment in the process area, such as flow meters, pressure gauges and lights will be either flood rated or water resistant.

new William Street pump station design

Treating wastewater during increased rainfall events

Researching new technology for the Elmira wastewater treatment plant

Climate change measure: Managing peak flows in wastewater treatment plants from increased rainfall.

Problem: Wastewater is any water and solids that leave a building through a drain such as a toilet or sink. This wastewater travels through sewer pipes to a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for treatment before returning to the environment.

During increased rainfall or snowmelt, stormwater can enter the sewer pipes and create more wastewater than the WWTP can treat. When this occurs some of the wastewater could bypass treatment and return directly to the environment. However, with more severe rainfalls and/or snowmelts because of climate change, peak flows may still overwhelm the treatment process resulting in the bypass of treatment of some wastewater.

Solution: At the Region’s Elmira WWTP, a Facility Plan examining all unit treatment processes was recently undertaken, including management of future weather flows. The Elmira WWTP can currently handle high flows. However, with climate change, peak flows may overwhelm the treatment process and could result in the bypass of treatment of some wastewater.

The Facility Plan explored options to handle flows during normal conditions with the flexibility for partial treatment during high flows.

One option might be cloth filtration disc filters. Although this technology is used throughout North America, it is not widely adopted for this application. The Region, in consultation with Ministry staff, completed a pilot study to better understand the technology and its potential to reduce bypass flows, improve WWTP resiliency and improve overall treatment quality.

diagram showing different flows of wastewater through treatment plant

In the hypothetical drawing above, the solid lines show the flow of wastewater treatment under normal weather conditions while the dashed lines show the flow under a storm condition with partial treatment using a new technology. 

Proactive sewer pipe inspections and repairs to stop leaks from increased rainfall

 More information to come.

Greater salt management from more freeze-thaw cycles

The de-icing salt we put on the ground to keep us safe can end up in our drinking water and cause it to taste salty. And as weather patterns change with more freeze-thaw cycles, more salt will be used to deal with the ice. Find out why salt is a water quality concern and the actions you can take to keep salt out of groundwater.

Greater emphasis on air conditioning design to address more intense heat

More information to come.

Improved recirculation and rechlorination design of water systems from more intense heat

More information to come.

Exploring residential grey water use to lessen water demand from heat wave

Could Grey Water Use be Practical in Waterloo Region?

Climate change measure: Tiny steps – looking to see if grey water use could be used in our homes; reusing water could reduce pumping of fresh water. 

Problem: Providing treated water to our homes consumes a lot of energy.  A technology scan revealed that use of grey water (water from our sinks and drains; not the toilet) is used in Europe.  It would be good to know if the technology can be translated to Waterloo Region.

line drawing showing relationship between water fixtures and grey water applications

*Note: not all end uses may be possible.

Solution: A pilot study is being carried out.  The Region of Waterloo is working with a grey water use technology vendor and a residential developer to pilot test grey water reuse into a newly built home. 

Relationship between Region of Waterloo, vendor and developer

Actions you can take to help
  • Follow water conservation measures to reduce your water use and the associated energy to supply water to your home
  • Reduce your outdoor watering by following the Water Conservation By-law and choosing plants native to our climate that thrive with little water. Following the By-law helps to lower our community's daily water use and level off peak demands that can put a strain on the groundwater supply, the distribution system and increases energy use to operate.
  • Help keep water clean with water protection measures. Keeping water clean is better for the environment and requires less energy to clean.
  • Read the I Am Groundwater blog for more ideas on how to be a water protector

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