Climate Change and Water

Water 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.

Water Services will incorporate these scenarios into planning future services.

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

weather scenarios

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 includes:

  • 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 Services is taking to deal with climate change

Water 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 Services is including both mitigative and adaptive measures.

Mitigation versus adaptation

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 exceed 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 Services to address the impacts of climate change specific to the water and wastewater systems and ensure an ongoing service.

mitigation and adaptation diagram

Measures that follow a mitigation approach include:

  • 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
  • Using technology that converts off-gases from the treatment process to renewable energy to power equipment

Measures that follow an adaptation approach include:

  • Building new important infrastructure above the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) flood line due to more flooding
  • Adopting strategies to manage peak flows in our wastewater treatment plants due to increased rainfall
  • Proactive sewer pipe inspections and repairs to stop leaks due to increased rainfall
  • Greater salt management due to more freeze-thaw cycles
  • Greater emphasis on air conditioning design in rooms intended for pumping, chemicals and instrumentation due to more intense heat
  • Improved recirculation and rechlorination design of our water supply systems due to more intense heat
  • Exploring feasibility of residential grey water use to lessen water demand due to heat wave
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 and treat the wastewater
  • 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 equipment and increases energy use to operate.
  • Help keep water clean with water protection measures. Keeping water clean is better for our 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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