skip to main content

Environment • Aboriginal • Energy


March 01, 2012

Looking into the Future of Water: Technology, Energy, Rates and First Nations Rights

After learning that this issue’s theme is Cities of the Future, we decided to take the rare opportunity to rise above the current and pending legislation, regulations and policies and look more broadly into the future of the water industry in Canada.

Predicting the future of how cities and industry will take, use and discharge water from a regulatory or legal perspective is not straightforward. Sometimes, the status quo can exist for long periods of time with little or no change. On the other hand, a sudden and dramatic event, such as the Walkerton tragedy, can jolt regulators into action, introducing a whole new set of legislative and regulatory regimes. So, with this in mind, what can we predict for the future of water?

It is likely that the future of water will see changes in four main areas: technology, energy, water pricing and First Nations rights to water.


As water sources become scarce and cities and countries push the limits of their environmental capacity, we will likely see great leaps forward in technology.

Ontario has taken steps to try to promote and capitalize on the development and commercialization of new water and wastewater technologies through the Water Opportunities Act (WOA)1 and the Water Technologies Acceleration Project (WaterTAP)2.

Still lacking however, is a discussion of how new and innovative water technologies will be incorporated into the existing approvals and permitting regime. New technologies won’t be widely implemented if they cannot gain regulatory approval.

Provisions allowing for pilot projects and the testing and acceptance of these new technologies will need to be developed to achieve the goals of the WOA and WaterTAP. The water and wastewater industries will need to work with regulators to maximize the full potential of new technological developments into the future. These players will also need to work with municipalities that are willing to provide opportunities to test these technologies.


As we continue to plan for our energy future and more sustainable cities, we will see a greater reliance on energy created from existing, untapped sources.

While Ontario’s Green Energy Act and Feed-In Tariff program have experienced some growing pains, they represent a commitment towards alternative energy sources.

Using existing infrastructure and processes to harness energy will provide a compelling case for energy produced from wastewater treatment plants. Such synergies can also result in increased revenue for wastewater treatment facilities under a Feed-In Tariff program.

Water Pricing

Over the last few years we have seen several attempts by the provincial government to introduce legislation and regulations to move drinking water providers, often municipalities, from a flat rate for water to a system.

The WOA takes us a step in this direction. It requires sustainability plans for both water and wastewater facilities. These plans will set out crucial components such as asset management, financial plans, and strategies for ensuring future service, consideration of new technologies and increased cooperation.3

These plans can assist water and wastewater operators to understand the current and future cost of their operations, and build costs into the rates and fees.

Moving to a system where users pay based on the amount of water used or the amount of wastewater discharged will educate individuals and businesses on the real cost of water, water treatment and wastewater treatment, encourage conservation and help to ensure that water and wastewater treatment facilities have the funding required to operate effectively and implement new technologies.

First Nations and Water

Potable water for First Nations should be on the agenda this year and beyond. We see signs that the federal government is open to a fresh approach at providing potable drinking water in these communities.

The Ontario and federal governments launched a provincial-federal First Nations pilot program to improve drinking water quality in 20114. This three-year initiative will support a select number of drinking water projects from Ontario First Nations communities. The program will implement innovative technology in ways that work for local communities, with an emphasis on decentralized and packaged plants. The pilots will serve between 15 and 100 households. Canada is providing $ 5 million in funding and Ontario and the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp. will provide technical support and training. The First Nation communities selected for pilot projects will commission the design and technical services through a request for proposals process. This collaborative approach is a departure from the traditional approach of adopting technology typical in large municipalities, through a federally driven contracting process.

Water is on First Nations’ agendas for 2012. In 2008, the Chiefs of Ontario released a water declaration, asserting First Nations’ rights to water and requiring consultation where water rights are affected.5

At the national level, the Assembly of First Nations has flagged water rights and allocation as a challenge for First Nations. The Assembly of First Nations Environmental Stewardship Unit works with its communities to ensure that water rights are recognized and protected.6

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, located some 650 km (400 miles) north of Thunder Bay, has issued a water declaration and consultation protocol in response to mineral exploration activities in its territory. The water declaration and consultation protocol prohibit industrial and other uses that will result in pollution in some sensitive areas.7

In October 2011, the Iskatewizaagegan No. 39 Independent First Nation began sending monthly bills to the City of Winnipeg for the use of water based on a failure to include it in a 1913 treaty that allowed the City to remove water for drinking water purposes in exchange for monetary compensation. The treaty also restricts the First Nations’ use of shoreline.8


In the water space, fresh thinking and collaborative approaches are on the horizon. Water and wastewater industries will see changes and opportunities into the future.

Technologies for water and wastewater will be developed at an increasing pace. The ability to implement these new technologies and benefit from them will depend on whether future regulators understand and approve the use of these new technologies, and whether municipalities are able to offer pilot opportunities without financial and health risks.

At the same time, water and wastewater treatment facilities may be able to improve their operations by exploiting energy synergies and exploring pay-per-use rates.

Collaboration between First Nations communities and government (including Municipal-First Nation partnerships and engagement on matters of mutual interest will be the key to finding realistic, permanent solutions that ensure potable water on First Nations.

End notes 
1 S.O. 2010, c. 19 [WOA]. 
2 WOA Part II. 
3 WOA s. 26. 
4 Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp., “Canada-Ontario First Nations Pilot to Improve Drinking Water Quality (July 6, 2011) online: Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp., “Canada-Ontario First Nations Pilot to Improve Drinking Water Quality (July 6, 2011) online: 
5 Water Declaration of the First Nations in Ontario, October 2008, online: Water Declaration of the First Nations in Ontario, October 2008, online: at paragraph 12. 
6 Assembly of First Nations, “Honoring Water” online: 
7 Water Declaration and Consultation Protocol, available online: 
8 Winnipeg Free Press, January 14, 2012, online:

Related Lawyers