Fires, floods & hurricanes: Protecting Canadians by identifying and managing threats to safe drinking water
Monica Emelko, PhD
In the past decade, climate change-exacerbated landscape disturbances such as wildfires and floods have threatened water security by altering not only water availability, but also source water quality and consequently treatability. An international panel convened by the Canadian Water Network and the Water Research Foundation in 2014 concluded that sole reliance on in-plant treatment technologies for mitigating such risks is inadequate.
Algae blooms—especially cyanobacteria—pose some of the greatest associated challenges to drinking water treatment. Cyanobacteria blooms can reduce drinking water treatment process efficiency, leading to service disruptions, inability to meet community demands, and even outages. Moreover, they can produce toxins that expensive advanced treatment not found in most conventional treatment plants.
Traditional source water protection approaches are alarmingly inadequate for managing these threats, especially in a changing climate. These challenges underscore the urgent need to integrate watershed and reservoir management for not only water quantity, but water quality and treatability with broader risk management and public health protection mandates.
Fortunately, Canada’s wealth of green, natural resource-based infrastructure can be leveraged to manage risk and mitigate water quality impacts. Such approaches to source water protection are urgently needed, especially in rural, remote, and marginalized communities—small systems—with limited resources for implementing costly and operator-intensive in-plant treatment technologies.
This presentation will provide:
- an overview of the critical linkages between landscape disturbance, source water quality, and drinking water treatability,
- a discussion of continental-scale evidence that these risks are growing and expanding beyond conventional perspectives on cyanobacterial bloom occurrence and management,
- a case study highlighting the legacy treatment challenges, health risks, and associated costs attributable to severe landscape disturbances, and
- an overview of strategies for risk management, including techno-ecological nature-based solutions.
Dr. Monica Emelko is a Professor and the Canada Research Chair in Water Science, Technology & Policy at the University of Waterloo, where she is also the Associate Director of Climate Risk, Resilience, and Adaptation at the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change. Her research is focused on drinking water treatment and risk analysis for public health protection and has informed water regulations globally including the U.S. Surface Water Treatment Rules and their international equivalents. Monica and her research group have also investigated the effects of climate-exacerbated land disturbances on hydrology, water quality, ecology, and treatability for over 17 years. They were the first globally to be cited by the IPCC for identifying climate change-associated threats to drinking security through water quality and treatability.