By Johanna Kabychshenko
Many people assume that what we see when we step out of our homes will always be there. The beautiful parks, gardens, lakes, and ponds have always been there and will always be there. But our world is changing all around us.
We see it on the news almost every day. Some natural catastrophe taking place in a foreign country, followed by interviews with experts as to what may be causing this.
But we don’t pay attention to the experts because it isn’t happening to us here in Toronto, or at least that’s what we think.
However, over consumption, coupled with climate change, diminishing water supplies and the rising global demand for water equals a recipe for disaster.
There just isn’t as much water to go around as we think.
In this podcast episode, I will explore the different ways in which we can do our part to conserve water, the benefits of conserving water, and the problems water conservationists face.
Water conservation is crucial because we are systematically depleting a finite natural resource and it matters to me because I worry about the earth that my children will inherit. I worry about all the clues we’re missing in regards to natural disasters triggered by global warming and the damage we’re causing to our planet. If we don’t take care of our planet, there won’t be a society, economy, or future to plan for.
What happens to us when we no longer have a home?
Are we the next species in danger of extinction?
Here in Toronto, we're surrounded by the Great Lakes, “four of the largest lakes on the planet” (Maas 6). Yet, we don't have as much water as we think. “The Great Lakes are essentially a relic: a one-time gift of the glacial melt that occurred at the end of the last ice age. They replenish at an average rate of only one percent per year and are a fragile ecosystem in delicate balance” (Maas 6).
These beautiful lakes are a treasure because they hold “one-fifth of all the freshwater on Earth” (“Protecting the Great Lakes”). And we Torontonians benefit significantly from the Great Lakes. Their resources provide us with drinking water, energy, food and are the foundation for Ontario’s strength and success. They also provide the province with numerous economic advantages (“Protecting the Great Lakes”).
“The Great Lakes regional economy is the world’s 4th largest. Almost 75% of Canada’s manufacturing along with 80% of Ontario’s power generation and 95% of Ontario’s agricultural lands depend on the Great lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin" ("Protecting the Great Lakes").
But we’re currently facing a water crisis due to our changing environment. “Climate change is predicted to diminish water supplies in southern Ontario because of higher evaporation rates and less snow and ice coverage in the winter” (Maas 6).
In other words, we are at a critical turning point not only is there not as much water in Toronto “as we think but rising demands for water are on a collision course with declining water sources available” (Maas 6).
This is why Toronto water conservation advocates like Evergreen, have been working relentlessly to bring awareness to the community. “Evergreen Toronto is a national not-for-profit organization that has been working since 1991 to restore the connection between Canada’s cities and the natural environment” ("Backgrounder: Evergreen").
Luuk: I'm Luuk Postuma, I'm the director of facility management for Evergreen Brick Works. Evergreen Brick Works is a site that sits on about 16 acres of rehabilitated land. It used to be a brick factory and was shut down approximately 1989. Sat dormant for 15 years or so at which point Evergreen came along and looked at rehabilitating the site and adding to the buildings so that it would become, both the head office for Evergreen National Canada and also as a place where we could actively program so that essentially it becomes a hub for innovation, culture, community all focused around nature and improving cities, making cities better. The history here was this was this site was essentially seating dormant with the exception of partiers and ravers who were jumping the fences and going into these old buildings.
Johanna: yes, I noticed the graffiti on, around the buildings.
Luuk: all the graffiti and the partying and the craziness like that. I think it was around 2005, 2006 that the city approached Evergreen and our CEO and sort of toured the site and said, "Hey what do you think?" And the plans started to happen, and Evergreen took it over and put so many cool features on the site, that I really think that we're a real example of how to manage water properly, so we're really excited about that. This has become our crown jewel we call it the gem in the river in the Don Valley. So, the site today consists of 14 buildings which include our newest building which is a five storey LEED Platinum building which is where we're sitting right now.
The LEED Platinum certification that Luuk is so proud of stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). This is a rating system that is recognized as the international mark of excellence for green building,” and Platinum is the highest possible level of certification ("LEED Canada Rating Systems").
So Luuk is right to brag.
Luuk is quick to point out the importance of water conservation
Luuk: water conservation I mean it's important in so many levels I mean, we know that fresh water sources are essentially dwindling and with that knowledge, we won't conserve it. From a climate adaptation perspective, we recognize that water is also very influential in turns of water systems and that we're seeing more severe flooding and weather events. So, the way we look at water the way we manage water is very important. not just from a conservation perspective, but from a remediation perspective, to understand the impact it has specially on a site like this where we do flood and as we evaluate the reasons why we flood is it's very closely tied to the way I would either manage or mismanage water from the construction and design perspective.
Water conservation takes many shapes and forms, but essentially it refers to any valuable decrease of water consumption, loss or waste. It also includes the strategies and undertakings to manage and protect water resources to meet the demand for human consumption ("Water Conversation").
There are many ways we can help conserve water, and there are numerous resources out there. But I want to focus on three strategies that can make the biggest impact in our community. These strategies are; rainwater harvesting, greywater harvesting, and stormwater management.
Rainwater harvesting is essentially the collection of rooftop rainwater overflow into cisterns, barrels or underground storage tanks and re-purposing that water instead of using clean city water (Adamaley 24-25).
Now greywater harvesting is a murky subject but what it really means is the collection and treatment of residual water from; dishwashers, bathroom sinks, tubs, and showers (Adamaley 25; Wong).
Both, rainwater and greywater can be used indoors and outdoors for non-consumption applications such as; watering gardens and lawns, washing cars, and flushing toilets. Therefore, rainwater and greywater harvesting are systems that recycle water and decrease the reliance on city water.
Johanna: what are some of the water conservation systems currently in place here at Evergreen Brick Works?
Luuk: probably the most obvious one is the use of cisterns that we have on the site. As you walk around the site, you might see really large black cisterns these are cisterns that are capable of containing 20,000 L of water and we have 14 active systems on site. So basically, what that does, any rain that falls on our roofs that rain goes through the gutter system and then and then just deposit into the cisterns, so we're able to reclaim a lot of water from rainfall which is then used for largely for gardening. So, we don't have to use city water we have that supply from the rain, and we also have 2 cisterns tucked away in the boiler room you don't see them from the outside, but they're collecting water from one of the big roofs on site, and we're using that water to flush our toilets. Rain water isn't potable, we can't put it into our drinking water system, but we can certainly use it to augment the water supply that is used for flushing toilets. So, assuming that those cisterns are full, we would not be using city water for flushing water.
Now, stormwater is urban excess water from heavy rain or snowfall that travels through the storm sewer system, making its way to downstream waterways. But this urban overflow often carries a slurry of contaminants that it has picked up from roads, buildings, private and public properties ("Greenspace: Restoring Urban Watersheds").
In Toronto, all that gunky stormwater eventually flows into our Lake Ontario. The same lake where we get our drinking water from, where we swim, play and fish.
Think about that for a moment.
Under natural conditions, stormwater is gradually absorbed into the ground and filtered before replenishing aquifers and nearby streams. This gradual absorption slows the flow and amount of water reaching the streams ("Greenspace: Restoring Urban Watersheds").
However, the problem we face in urban cities like Toronto is that “impervious surfaces disrupt this natural filtration process and reduce the volume of stormwater infiltrating into the ground” ("Stormwater Management").
So “instead of gradually entering streams, rivers, and lakes, water runs rapidly into storm drains, municipal sewers, and drainage ditches. The sudden force and volume of polluted runoff entering waterways increase flood risk, river bank erosion, aquatic habitat destruction and overall contamination of the water ” ("Stormwater Management").
Luuk explains how Evergreen Brick Works manages stormwater.
Luuk: we have the green roof on our main building we got a few other ones around this site and what that really does again is capturing rainwater it allows it to filter rain water and so it allows it to basically go through a natural evapotranspiration cycle which is the way the earth works. Another thing that we have here on site, our east parking lot is a pervious parking lot so you can go out there with a cup of water and pour onto the parking lot, you watch it get absorbed into the parking lot rather than running across the parking lot. That to me is one of these really impactful kinds of solutions, it's not up a lot more expensive than doing it the traditional way, and it ensures that the water again is going into the ground as opposed to running out into rivers. We also have greenways, so between the buildings, you can see greenways so it's a gap and it allows any rain water to sort of flow and filter through planted greenways. Again, the water's getting filtered before it gets out to the river so that it ensures that that water stays relatively clean. In our case, our greenways run out to bioswales, and those bioswales run along Bayview Avenue. They feed into our storm water management ponds that we have near the main entrance, and from there it goes into the river. So, there is actually various stages of filtration systems that go on as that happens. In our main parking lot, you'll see that we have gardens garden mounts and again the gardens themselves are porous surfaces and allow the water to be absorbed they attach to trenches than run through the parking lot. So, any excess water again will just go through those trenches, and then feed into the bioswale system and storm water management system. So, again it's about trying to manage that storm water as it happens on site. So, this site is perfectly capable of withstanding a really heavy downpour, we're looking at about 15,500 m³ of water, and that is effectively being collected on site and managed through our water management features before it ends up in the Don River.
Water conservation sounds like it’s a lot of work without the immediate gratification we all want. But that’s not the case, water conservation not only protects the environment but also helps conserve energy and boost a green economy.
We know that climate change is real, that we can no longer deny. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear on the News about a weather-related disaster. This is due in part to the environmental damage caused to the hydrologic cycle which is the natural cycle where water falls onto the ground, gets absorbed and filtered through and makes its way into waterways and from there it evaporates into the atmosphere where the cycle begins again ("The Hydrologic Cycle").
So, Toronto must understand that climate change is impacting the hydrologic cycle, making our ecosystems, communities, and businesses susceptible.
But it’s not too late to take action because by implementing water conservation initiatives Toronto can help our communities to adapt to climate change, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to the global effort to slow down the progression of climate change (Maas 7-8). Not to mention that any water saved represents additional water available to preserve existing fresh water supplies (Maas 8; Schindler 19-21).
Water conservation reduces energy consumption and saves the city money. Did you know that flushing toilets or turning on the tap waste electricity? Well, then you'll be surprised to know that Toronto Water uses more electricity than the TTC and five times the energy consumed by all of the city's streetlights and traffic signals. So conserving water not only saves energy but also reduces CO2 emissions (Maas 8).
Toronto is struggling to maintain the existing crumbling water infrastructure. Fortunately, water conservation recycles new water, extending the life of existing infrastructure resulting in considerable long-term savings not to mention reducing energy costs for water pumping and treatment. Therefore, water conservation is one of the most effective ways Toronto Water can save money (Deveau; Maas 7- 8; Wiebe 5-6).
Believe it or not, water conservation also stimulates the local economy that is because water conservation creates green jobs and stimulates innovative technology. A study conducted by the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), shows that 15,000 to 22,000 new jobs can be created for every $1.2 billion invested in projects for water efficiency and conservation (Maas 7). More importantly, these jobs cannot be outsourced to foreign countries which guarantees that funds invested will remain in the local economy (Wolfe and Hendriks 61-65; Maas 7). That is because green jobs reach different disciplines of workers and the projects are fulfilled onsite. Some of these jobs involve; engineers, plumbers, architects, and electricians.
Water conservation also stimulates innovative technology. According to a report from New York-based Lux Research, “revenues of the world’s water-related businesses will rise from $552 billion in 2007 to nearly $1 trillion by 2020” (Maas 7). This presents an excellent opportunity for Toronto to develop not only the technology sector but also boost the local economy (Wolfe and Hendriks 64-65; Maas 7).
So, by now you must be thinking if water conservation is such a no-brainer, why hasn't it been implemented in Toronto?
Well, that’s because there are three major problems preventing water conservation from becoming the norm in Toronto.
First, the more water residents conserve, the more money they pay on their water bill, because there is a counterproductive pricing strategy right now that is failing both Toronto and its residents. You see, Toronto Water's single source of revenue comes from water usage rates, and as people use less water, whether it's through conscious living or to save money on their water bill, Toronto has fewer resources to allocate into fixing the crumbling water infrastructure (Adamaley 11-17, 21, 31-32; Deveau; Furlong and Bakker 222-228).
A Toronto Water report published in 2015 illustrates the problem, “In 2006, City Council adopted a 10-year capital plan based on 9 years of 9% rate increase to address the backlog of state of good repair projects and rapidly changing priorities related to wet weather flow management” (Di Gironimo and Rossini 5). Now the same report illustrates that this pricing strategy did not work because as of 2015 Toronto Water faced a “$1 billion shortfall in capital funding”. In other words, our city is not getting any younger and it is struggling to keep up with population growth and an ever-changing climate. Minor annual rate hikes are not going to make a difference in Toronto Water budget deficit because Toronto is currently paying substandard rates compared to other cities in Ontario, Canada, and Europe (Adamaley 11-17, 21, 31-32; Deveau; Furlong and Bakker 222-228).
Here's is where water conservation plays a big part in saving Toronto some much-needed funds. When we implement water conservation strategies like greywater and rainwater harvesting and stormwater management, we rely less on fresh water from the city. This means that Toronto Water uses fewer resources to produce new water and manage stormwater overflow. Resources that are freed to fix the city's water infrastructure without going into the red.
Secondly, the mistaken assumption that we have abundant water sources is one of the problems faced by water conservation advocates. But in reality, we are facing a water crisis and an ecological point of no return (Adamaley 15-16; Dewar and Soulard 13-15; Maas 5-6; Schindler 19-21). It is hard for us Torontonians to believe that we’re in deep water when it comes to the state of our water sources. Get it!?
Canada is often presented as a water-rich nation, and this notion is easy to understand: we have the Great Lakes, one of the largest renewable water supplies in the world and have access to as much as 20%, of the world’s stock of surface freshwater (Dewar and Soulard 12).
But, precipitation patterns and surface water flows are being altered. “Extreme weather events, including severe droughts and floods are becoming more frequent: glaciers are melting more quickly and sea levels are rising” (Dewar and Soulard 12). All these factors have a great impact on our freshwater sources, not to mention consistent population growth. According to Statistics Canada, the 2015 census found that Toronto holds the largest population concentration in Canada at over 6 million residents ("Population of Census Metropolitan Areas").
And lastly, City of Toronto’s lack of profound and effective marketing to advocate water conservation can be remedy by establishing an aggressive agenda for water conservation education (Adamaley 36; Maas 31). Water conservation is important but the city isn't openly advocating for change that's due in part to the lack of political participation and advocacy. Politicians don't want to take risks in a volatile economic market, and unfortunately this becomes a factor in the decision-making process and prevents the development of initiatives from being conducted in the best interest of the community. In such cases, authority figures are reluctant to advocate new strategies to safeguard political standing or aspirations (Adamaley 9-11).
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Let’s take a look at our neighbour to the west, Guelph.
Guelph is one of the largest communities in Ontario and one of the first to recognize that we’re potentially facing a water crisis. For Guelph, this crisis is intensified because it depends on groundwater for its fresh water supply. Guelph has been a leader in water conservation in Ontario, and since 1998 they have built their growing city around water conservation strategies and have successfully implemented innovations that Toronto can readily adopt ("2016 Water Efficiency Strategy Update" 2, 11-14).
For instance, some of Guelph’s most outstanding water conservation achievements measured between 2006 and 2014 include:
- Decreased the average amount of water used each day to an average of 167L, compared to the 207L used by residents of Ontario
- Managed a population growth of 12% and at the same time decreased water production by 12%.
- The City of Guelph spent $10.2 millions on water conservation programs but saved $40.6 million on water and wastewater infrastructure because of water conservation strategies ("2016 Water Efficiency Strategy Update" 2-3).
I would say that Guelph knows how to invest their capital.
So you see, Guelph saw their water limitations and turned it into opportunities to conserve water and boost their economy. Guelph's water efficiency strategy was designed to delay the need for costly new water and wastewater treatment infrastructure; help sustain local groundwater resources, and engage community members in understanding their role in conserving water ("2016 Water Efficiency Strategy Update" 2-3).
Conserving water is crucial to protect our environment and our way of life. We need to be more proactive in protecting our waterways and Toronto’s life line, the Great Lakes. “The Great Lakes moderate the climate in southern Ontario. Clouds, ice and snow, reflect energy from the sun back into the atmosphere, therefore influencing climate ” (Dewar and Soulard 17). And freshwater plays an integral role in ecosystems. Rivers and lakes serve as habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Wetlands filter nutrients and bacteria, improving water quality, and help to temper the effects of flooding (Dewar and Soulard 17).
We all play a crucial role in the preservation of these ecosystems, and it is up to us to fight for change that could significantly improve our environment. We can follow the examples of Evergreen and Guelph and advocate for change. We can't sit idle any more. Climate change is no longer a foreign problem; it is starting to affect us all here in Toronto. As Luuk mentioned before, floods are happening more frequently and there's no sign that things will change. We need to act before it gets worse.
Johanna: just one last thing what would you like the listeners to know?
Luuk: that were' in a critical moment. I think we need to really pay attention. There is always talk on the media about climate change and someone may not believe that its happening but the facts are out there we know that the climate change is happening we need to focus on climate adaptation practices. So exactly what you're doing is studying what is happening looking for alternatives looking for best practices to make sure that we can minimize the impacts of climate change. Again, I focus a lot on weather here but we can see that storms are getting worse, we can see that the impact of flooding is having much larger impact than we've ever had before. So, for the listeners out there let's really pay attention to the changes around us. Let's be open to making changes to make things better and let's not be afraid of actually making some of those changes, whether it's actually in our residences whether it's how we approach life, whether we as a business operate or as a facility operate. We have to be open to investing in change, it's not an "if" scenario anymore for me it's not an "if" we flood it's a when we flood. It's about being as prepared as we possibly can spending our money wisely to minimize the damage and to respect our environment and hopefully to modify our building practices so that we are that much more respectful of the natural processes, and that we focus on living side by side with nature not to dominate nature.
Imagine what Toronto would look like if the community was actively involved in water conservation. If every home and business had water harvesting and stormwater management systems. If instead of expanding the asphalt and concrete jungle, we invested in permeable surfaces and gardens.
Now, wouldn’t you want to live in that Toronto!?
"2016 Water Efficiency Strategy Update: Final Summary Report - City of Guelph." City of Guelph. Guelph Water, Sept. 2016. PDF. 27 Oct. 2016.
Adamaley, Mark. “An Inquiry into Residential Water Conservation in Canada.” Masters of Engineering & Public Policy McMaster University Inquiry Paper, W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology, Hamilton, CA: 2011. Accessed 26 October 2017.
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Deveau, Denise. "High and Dry; Canada's Municipalities Face an $80-Billion Water Infrastructure Deficit." National Post, Jun 20, 2013. ProQuest. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.
Dewar, H., and F. Soulard. "Human Activity and the Environment: Freshwater Supply and Demand in Canada-2010." Statistics Canada: Ottawa, ON, Canada (2010). PDF. Accessed on 1 Nov. 2016.
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Wiebe, John D. "Canada's Infrastructure Deficit: Opportunity of the Decade." Municipal World 122.3 (2012): 5-6. ProQuest. Accessed on 2 Nov. 2016.
Wolfe, S. E., and Elizabeth Hendriks. "Building Towards Water Efficiency: The Influence of Capacity and Capability on Innovation Adoption in the Canadian Home-Building and Resale Industries." Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 26.1 (2011): 47-72. ProQuest. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.
Wong, Kevin. "Greywater Strategies: A Primer on Greywater Recycling Systems." Ground Water Canada. Annex Publishing and Printing Inc., 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.
Gombu, Phinjo. "The High Cost of using Less Water; Municipalities Discover Inconvenient Truth Lower Consumption Means Less Revenue." Toronto Star: A10. Jan 26, 2008. ProQuest. Accessed on 11 Oct. 2016.
Sedlak, David. “4 Ways We Can Avoid a Catastrophic Draught.” TED. Sept. 2015. Lecture.
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Winter, Molly. “The Taboo Secret to Better Health.” TED. April 2016. Lecture.
I would like to thank Luuk Postuma from Evergreen, for taking time off from his busy schedule to sit with me for this interview.
Also, I’d like to thank freesound.org for providing the music and sound effects for this podcast.
And of course, this episode wouldn’t have been possible without my sound producer, Daniel Dominguez. I don’t know where I’d be without you, little bro.