March 23, 2022

Wastewater is only a drop in the bucket: UCalgary’s ACWA broadens mandate under new name

Advancing Canadian Water Assets will champion holistic water management
Dr. Leland Jackson
Leland Jackson inside the ACWA facility. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

ACWA, UCalgary’s wastewater research partnership with The City of Calgary, is ringing in World Water Day on March 22 with a new name and broadened mandate. ACWA will now stand for Advancing Canadian Water Assets, changed from Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets.

The new name reflects a holistic approach to water management that ACWA is excited to champion, known as ‘One Water’.

“One Water is a paradigm that encompasses the entire water cycle within a watershed,” says Dr. Leland Jackson, PhD, scientific director of ACWA and professor in the Faculty of Science.

“It integrates drinking water, wastewater and stormwater within a management plan that includes our river, lake, and groundwater resources plus sustainability and economic considerations.”

The journey of a water droplet illustrates the importance of the approach. Water makes its way to our city from glaciers, lakes and rivers upstream. We treat the water for consumption and other uses, and then it rejoins the storm and wastewater systems when we’re done with it. From there, it’s treated at a wastewater treatment facility and is returned to a water resource. All of these systems are interconnected.

With a change in mindset, it will be more common to consider urban water systems as part of the larger watershed,” says Jackson. “In doing so, we can identify opportunities to not only reduce urban water footprints but also increase the sustainability of water resources.”

One Water

A One Water approach encourages more flexible thinking of water as a resource. “For example, wastewater is now being considered a resource for energy and nutrient recovery, in addition to a variety of reuse options depending on the amount of treatment,” says Jackson. “Reused water is currently being used to wash buses and as we saw last year, appropriately treated wastewater can even be used to make beer.”

The City of Calgary values research that benefits our residents while using innovation and leading-edge best practices,” says Mark Crowdis, manager, water quality services at The City of Calgary. "Expanding the ACWA mandate to include all aspects of water research will create new opportunities for education, treatment, and water reuse, and demonstrates our collaborative commitment to protecting our watershed and rivers.”

This change doesn’t mean that ACWA is stepping back from wastewater research — it’s a mindset shift that the team believes will help shape the future of wastewater management to be more comprehensive.

“Wastewater is an important element of One Water, especially as we start viewing wastewater as a resource, rather than something that needs to be disposed. It is a critical part of the conversation,” says Kevin Frankowski, executive director of ACWA.

“We’re excited to get to work on projects that reflect this broadened mandate, while continuing to support the incredible wastewater research and development that have been putting us on the map since 2015.” 

ACWA researchers already have projects underway or planned that reflect their new mindset. A current project is examining the impacts of wastewater release in ACWA’s experimental streams that is transferrable to examining stormwater inputs to natural streams and rivers, and another will investigate the impact of climate change on pond systems.

Another important outcome of a One Water approach is removing silos from how water data is shared. Sustainable Watershed Integrated Management (SWIM) pools data collected from sensors, scientists, and citizens in the Bow River Basin in an accessible online data collaboration platform.

From the start, ACWA has championed innovative research into wastewater management and water sustainability,” says Dr. Andre Buret, associate vice-president (research) and co-chair of the ACWA board. “This expanded mandate will create opportunities for our researchers to pursue that goal in a more comprehensive way, with a broader range of industry, academics, and community partners.”

Advancing Canadian Water Assets (ACWA) is a globally unique test bed and research facility that supports integrated watershed management, research and development, knowledge transfer, de-risking and piloting of leading-edge wastewater treatment technologies. It is a partnership between the University of Calgary and The City of Calgary, as part of the Urban Alliance.