Author: Gavin van der Linde
In the world of municipal decision-making, especially for smaller municipalities, there are difficulties making expensive and far reaching infrastructure decisions because of a lack of internal resources and expertise in all the required fields. Because of this, Council and staff depend on consulting engineers and other external consultants for recommendations and direction.
Generally a problem is identified and a single solution is sought based on a desired outcome and current knowledge. Often a single solution is recommended for a single problem. However municipalities don't have just one problem, rather they have a whole slate of interdependent systems that form the municipal ecosystem. Each part in some way interacts with many or every other part in this ecosystem.
A liability in one part can potentially be used as an asset in another. But this requires an element of "Systems" thinking and integration not usually considered when trying to solve a single problem. When requesting a solution from an external consultant they look at the isolated problem presented to them and find viable solutions within their area of expertise.
Integrated decision-making for enhanced value
In reality, it would be way more efficient in the long term to consider every problem within the context of the entire Municipal System, understanding how each system may affect every other part. This type of integrated thinking together with a focus on sustainability, can help municipalities plan more effectively for the future and save the municipality money which can be used to increase service levels to the tax payers.
Smaller municipalities, which is almost all municipalities in Manitoba, have many challenges to face in the future. But at the same time they are also the most flexible and innovative level of government. They have unique opportunities to explore and implement sustainable and innovative solutions to relatively complex municipal issues.
Moving beyond the single solution and towards a circular economy
At SCC we work together with municipal partners to look for opportunities to take a more sustainable systems approach to problems in the evolving municipal circular economy.
All communities deal with waste products, some which are hazardous and cost municipalities a lot of money like sewage, sludge, garbage, recycling and composting. Many of these waste streams contain valuable resources which are waiting to be recovered and reused in the most beneficial way. Those expensive waste streams contain non-renewable resources like nutrients, phosphorous, energy and fertilizers.
Turning waste into a value-added end product can save money and even produce a revenue stream for the municipality.
We are always exploring new ways to help smaller municipalities plan for a more sustainable future within municipal circular economy realities.
Henry David (Hank) Venema, PhD PEng(Ont.), Chief Technology Officer
Dear Committee Members:
My name is Henry David Venema. Most people in the province know me as Hank, thank you for the opportunity to present before Committee.
I am the Chief Technology Officer at a cleantech company, Strategic Community Consulting, where we’re focussed on Waste-to-Energy and Waste-to-Fertilizer technology as well as resilience strategies based on high-technology water resources management.
You’ve heard from many other colleagues regarding the merit and demerit of various carbon pricing strategies. I am here to discuss the risks of neglecting climate resilience and the economic and technology development opportunity associated with leadership on climate resilience.
I’ve previously held various directorships at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, including most recently as a director of the Prairie Climate Centre. My shift to the private sector mirrors the broader trend of investment in climate resilience as a new growth sector.
In my previous role, I was asked to endorse this government’s climate and green plan discussion document released one year ago at Oak Hammock Marsh. I did so as I was impressed with the clarity with which that document expressed the real risk climate change poses to our society - precariously situated at the bottom of glacial Lake Aggasiz. Among other impacts, we can expect more floods and more droughts from climate change. What we used to think of as extreme events will become more commonplace.
The 2011 Assiniboine River flood is a foreshadowing of future climate risk. It caused over a $1B in distributed infrastructure damage – blown apart culverts, bridges and section roads. As if that were not bad enough, another billion dollars of crop losses resulted from flooding and drought conditions. Some sections of land were under both flood and drought insurance claims in the same year.
Unmanaged exposure to such climate risk imposes a huge financial risk. Last year Moody’s investor services warned hurricane-prone US cities that their debt would be downgraded if they did not develop and implement a resilience strategy. Conversely two weeks ago, Bloomberg Business Weekly published a report, entitled, Climate Change Will Get Worse. These Investors Are Betting on It, which detailed how venture capital firms, private equity firms and technology firms are embracing the investment opportunities associated with climate resilience.
In a very similar vein, I recently co-authored a report for the Insurance Bureau of Canada on the use of natural infrastructure to reduce flood risk and concluded that the investment case for the multifunctional storage system at Pelly’s Lake near Holland Manitoba had a net Benefit-Cost Ratio of at least 2.8 and probably closer to 4, when the sum of flood and drought risk reduction, irrigation, and ecosystem service values were considered. This project is reducing flooding, preventing nutrients from travelling downstream, storing carbon and creating new biomass harvesting opportunities. Projects like this are extraordinary infrastructure investment opportunities and need to be scaled up and designed for private sector co-investment.
The provincial investment in the Conservation Trust through a one-time endowment of $100M is a commendable commitment to natural infrastructure. But it is also at least an order of magnitude below the required level of investment. The major upside is that the necessary capital need not come from government alone as resilience is such a good investment that the right plan and investment model will attract private and pension capital pools. Infrastructure that creates climate resilience is exactly the investment that smart, patient money seeks.
For an investment of one-half of one percent of the capital cost of the Lake St Martin channel (that is $2.5M invested compared to the current $500M Lake St Martin cost), local technology firms, in collaboration with the R&D community, can build this province a 21st century resilience strategy based on high tech water resources management that will attract private and institutional capital. For Manitoba to seize the opportunity of expanded agriculture in a warming climate we need a reliable water supply. Moreover, the underlying technology that we apply will be extremely valuable and exportable to many other agricultural regions of the world also experiencing increased frequency of flood and drought risk.
Our company is currently building resilience strategies for local governments, for whom climate risk to infrastructure is a here and now priority. The major innovation opportunity is taking these concepts to scale and leveraging previous provincial investments in artificial intelligence, high performance computing, big data, and P3 investments.
Manitoba has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, foresight, innovation and do our fore-bearers proud. Two generations ago, this party was led by Duff Roblin who willed the Red River Floodway into existence not because it was politically expedient or easy, but because it was such an excellent investment that would allow future generations to survive and thrive in this environment. He believed the scientists and engineers. The benefit-cost ratio of that investment is now approaching 100:1 – Let’s build the 21st century analog; distributed, networked, intelligent – highly attractive to investors. Let us help you.
Pushing towards a municipal circular economy: SCC’s strategy for finding value by re-using waste products
SCC is a cleantech solutions provider and cleantech R&D company focussed on high performance environmental systems analysis, design, optimization and infrastructure investment planning services. SCC focusses on small and medium-sized municipalities as a key, under serviced market for novel environmental technology in two critical emerging segments:
An important example of the circular economy to consider is phosphorus; how it’s handled and what’s its purpose. The fact that phosphorus is harmful to aquatic ecosystems but is useful as an agricultural fertilizer, for example, is a key motivation for recycling it from lagoons and converting it into a value-add product. Essentially the energy and nutrient value of wastewater and MSW is too valuable to be dead-ended in lagoon sludge or in landfills, which are increasingly costly to operate in any case.
The rural municipal market is a key market segment and is motivated to invest in circular economy technology primarily because of cost escalation and more stringent phosphorus effluent regulations. Municipalities in Western Canada traditionally rely on facultative lagoons for wastewater treatment, many of which are well past their design life and typically require expansion, sludge removal to landfill, or decommissioning and replacement. Escalating land costs also constrain lagoon expansion and landfill expansion. Fortunately, there are now alternative options to consider. Additionally, many municipalities also face escalating energy costs for must-run facilities such as hockey rinks and civic centres and waste-to-energy technology is now a proven alternative to grid energy.
Essentially municipalities face a cluster of different issues that require a systems perspective; escalating land, energy and landfill costs, ratepayer expectations for municipal services, regulator expectation for beneficial use of phosphorus from municipal sludge, and increased demand for soil improvement and organic fertilizers. Integrating technologies proven in Western Canadian conditions will be key to optimizing municipal Return On Investments (ROI). Potential technology packages include:
In the long run, by considering all the economic and environmental benefits of technological integration, municipalities will be better positioned to make the best decisions on essential capital investments that will serve them for many years to come.