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Southern Ontario Water Consortium

For Canada’s many promising water technology innovators, one of the most significant barriers to success is a lack of access to real-world demonstration.

From mobile field units to watershed monitoring stations to facilities within municipal wastewater treatment plants, the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) is ramping up a new innovation ecosystem that could change everything.

Supported by private and public sector investments valued at nearly $50 million, the SOWC platform will consist of multiple facilities that will provide unique opportunities for collaboration, research, development, and demonstration.

Think of the time saved if R&D departments could have access to municipal wastewater streams at all parts of the treatment process. Rather than waiting to submit requests and permits, companies will soon be able to visit SOWC facilities at municipal plants in the City of London and City of Guelph and “plug in” to those streams.

On the watershed side, the SOWC is creating a “living lab” in collaboration with the Grand River Conservation Authority that will allow researchers to study the effects of urbanization and climate change on a relatively pristine environment. “We’re building a network of smart sensors and systems in a live environment,” says Brenda Lucas, the SOWC’s operations manager.

These facilities and several others will help private sector and academic researchers pair up to solve issues in Ontario’s municipalities and beyond. They’ll be able to facilitate projects that touch multiple areas, including sensors, analytical techniques, watershed monitoring, ecotoxicology, drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment. Major funding and research partner IBM will support a data platform that will inform “smart” water decisions.

Lucas says the initial core group of academic partners—University of Waterloo, Western University, Laurier University, University of Guelph, McMaster University, University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology—collaborated to build the package of priority areas. In addition, the consortium is engaging a number of municipal, not-for-profit, and private sector partners to be part its network and help to develop its capacity.

While the SOWC is still in the early stages of building the platform’s functionality and facilities, ordering equipment and building research centres, it looks forward to being fully operational in March 2014. Lucas says that some parts of the program, such as the ecotoxicology mobile units, will be ready for the field this summer.

It’s exciting news for innovators. By bringing together private sector innovation, research excellence, and watershed management, the SOWC is enriching Ontario’s existing innovation network.

Our panel said:

“The SOWC has good government, industry, and university collaboration, plus a lot of money. If any water management scheme is going to succeed, it should be this one.”

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