Canadian Consulting Engineer

Ontario aims to become centre of water expertise

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers held its second symposium related to climate change on April 29 ...

May 3, 2010   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers held its second symposium related to climate change on April 29 in Toronto.
Entitled, “Engineering in a Climate of Change: Making the Lakes Great,” the day-long event was held in cooperation with the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Centre for Engineering and Public Policy at McMaster University.  The symposium was held at the MaRS Discovery District, a renovated historical complex on College Street, downtown.
Much of the emphasis this year was on water supplies and water quality. The honourable Linda Jeffrey, recently appointed Minister of Natural Resources for Ontario, spoke first and explained that while the province is already creating huge opportunities for renewable energy companies with its feed-in-tariff and Green Energy Act, their second focus is on water technologies.
Jeffrey said her government plans to introduce a “Water Opportunities Act” to build more entrepreneurial opportunities for companies involved in developing water technologies, and “to make Ontario the clean water capital of Canada.” The market is apparently huge. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated the global annual market for clean water technologies is $400-billion.
Jeffrey talked about the growing engineering opportunities of offshore wind power, explaining that the government has created a map of promising sites.
She also talked about the promising developments in nanotechnology to reformulate pesticides to remove arsenic and heavy metals from water.
But she was most passionate about the threat of the Asian Carp to biodiversity in the Great Lakes. Just a few days previously, she explained, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider forcing the province of Illinois close waterways to prevent the great fish from entering Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. The State of Michigan, backed by Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes states such as New York and Pennsylvania, wants Illinois to close lock gates and raise barriers that would permanently separate the Great Lakes waters from those of Chicago area rivers and canals. However, Illinois officials and the Obama administration had told the court not to get involved.
There are fears that once the Asian Carp enters the Great Lakes it will spread and consume nutrients required by other species. However, Jeffrey’s said the Supreme Court decision is not the end of the battle, and Ontario and the other states will continue to press for barriers between the waterways.
That climate change is real and happening was taken as accepted by most of the presenters. Merril Mascarenhas, managing partner with Arcus Consulting, was the only one of the keynote speakers to spend any time giving facts and graphs to point out the correlation between rising greenhouse gases and changes to the earth’s temperature. He pointed out that the biggest impact of even a small rising temperature will be drought in developing countries, exacerbated by the population explosion. He said the elephant in the room that no-one is talking about in relation to greenhouse gas emissions is the fact that China is building 240 coal plants a year. Therefore, he suggested, “what we do in Ontario is not going to make a difference.”
He described some of the geo-engineering projects that are being discussed to combat global warming, including building sunshades in space and 50-metre high tree farms. However, he warned “we are playing God in a way,” and we “don’t know what the cascading effects might be.”
Other speakers included John Campbell, P.Eng., head of Waterfront Toronto, who detailed the massive developments under way on 800 hectares of old industrial lands along the Lake Ontario waterfront east of Toronto’s downtown, and George Smitherman, a former Ontario Minister of Energy and Infrastructure who is now running to become Toronto’s mayor.
AMEC was one of the conference’s sponsors.


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