Project eyes lead in municipal drinking water

Western Engineering professor José Herrera will lead one of two new municipal research projects that will forecast lead levels in municipal drinking water, and develop sustainable wastewater treatment systems in First Nations communities in Ontario’s north.

The projects are supported by the Canadian Water Network, an organization that has increased to $1.2 million its investment in innovative municipal water research projects within the network’s Canadian Municipal Water Consortium. Support committed by project partners totals more than $2.78 million.

Herrera’s project, Development and validation of a model to forecast lead levels in municipal drinking water, will receive $211,100 from CWN over 2012-15. The project’s eight partners across municipalities, consulting firms and other agencies have committed $551,300 in cash and in-kind contributions.

Herrera’s team combines the expertise of three researchers from two Canadian universities to develop a user-friendly model to forecast lead levels in drinking water and to prevent lead from leaching into it.

A second project, led by Khosrow Farahbakhsh at the University of Guelph, will examine how to best invest in wastewater infrastructure to ensure sustainability and security through a bottom-up, participatory process. The first phase of this project will develop a First Nations-driven project approach and methodology through multiple engagement sessions with First Nations stakeholders.

Development of the municipal water research proposals began with a call for expressions of interest, where CWN selected potential teams with a solid reputation in research and in developing strong partnerships with committed end users.

“Through a peer-review process we short-listed teams, then supported them to consult with interested end users to determine collective decision-making needs,” said Bernadette Conant, CWN executive director. “To be eligible for CWN funding, we mandated that applicants demonstrate much more than just the ability to develop a team of committed researchers and end users. They also had to secure at least one-to-one matching support from project partners.”

Development of this end-user driven research was aided by a partner-to-researcher matching forum CWN piloted to link researchers to interested partners. The forum’s aim was to secure both project involvement and financial commitment of end users who identified focus areas within the research call to which researchers would respond.

“We designed this call for proposals in a way that the proposed research teams had to engage in discussions with end users to improve understanding on both sides of how the proposed research informs decisions faced by municipal water regulators and the practitioners that support them,” Conant said.