Spotlight on Canadian Water Technologies

In 1978 two professors from the University of Waterloo were approached by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to develop an inexpensive hand-operated pump that could easily and continuously provide thousands of people, including those in developing countries, with access to drinking water.

Today, the Waterloo pump, as it’s known, is still bringing clean water to people around the world. Designed by professors, Alfred Rudin and Alan Plumtree, the pump was inspired by the basic technology applied by Mennonite farmers in the Waterloo region[i].

In the 30 years since the Waterloo Pump was created, Canada’s contribution to the development of clean water technologies, particularly with regards to water purification, has evolved significantly.

Across the globe, many people lack access to clean, fresh water; and pollution from sewage and industrial waste are growing concerns. The E. coli outbreak in Walkerton’s water system 10 years ago serves to highlight that even Canada is not immune to contaminated water issues. Part of the problem in the case of Walkerton had to do with the management of the chlorine levels in the town’s water[ii].

Traditionally, chlorine and other chemicals have been used to treat drinking water. While the chemical is easy to apply and effective at low concentrations at killing bacteria (including E. coli), it has also been shown to produce carcinogenic compounds when it reacts with certain organic materials. Chlorine is also not particularly effective against the microscopic parasite Cryptosporidium.

Although traditional methods, such as the application of chlorine, will remain in place for the foreseeable future, new approaches are increasingly being integrated into industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants. For instance, the cost for membrane filtration systems, once used to provide ultra-clean water necessary for producing computer chips, has come down significantly in recent years. As well, the threat of emerging contaminants (e.g. from pharmaceuticals and personal care products) has necessitated the development of new technologies that can remove trace contaminants from drinking and wastewater.

Below are just some of the Canadian companies that are playing a significant role in the development of water technologies:

H2O Innovation

The company designs, develops, produces, and integrates custom-built water treatment systems for the production of drinking water and industrial process water, the reclamation of water, and the treatment of wastewater in the municipal, commercial, institutional, industrial, oil and gas, mining, and energy markets.

Kontek Ecology System 

The company, based in Burlington, Ontario, focuses on corporate customers that want to purify water used in their manufacturing processes before releasing it back into the environment. Kontek specializes in providing wastewater recovery and treatment systems.

Imbrium Systems

Based in Mississauga, Ontario, Imbrium Systems is an engineered stormwater treatment company that focuses on cleaning the water that drains down storm sewers. It designs, develops, manufactures and sells stormwater treatment solutions, such as the Jellyfish Filter. 

Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies

The company recovers phosphorous and ammonia from municipal and industrial wastewaters and transforms them into a slow-release fertilizer called Crystal Green. The naturally occurring elements can cause excess algae growth and oxygen depletion if released into waterways. 


Zenon Environmental

The formerly Oakville, Ontario-based company was bought by General Electric in 2006. It produces membranes for water purification, as well as wastewater treatment applications including membrane bioreactor, tertiary water filtration, drinking water treatment, industrial process water and water reuse.


[i] The University of Waterloo. Waterloo Pump, http://www.science.uwaterloo.ca/research/profiles/pump

[ii] CBC, 2004. INDEPTH: INSIDE WALKERTON, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/walkerton/

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