I was in Waterloo finishing up field work for my Master’s two weeks ago, and last week was busy at a Canadian Water Network workshop which examined Montreal’s water infrastructure. Maybe not as exciting as Matt Damon, but for water geeks it was heavenly. Students and young professionals all across Canada coming from various disciplines (water policy and governance, water microbiologists, geochemists, hydrogeologists comme moi, groundwater modellers, civil and environmental engineers, etc.), great discussion, and behind the scenes tours at drinking water and wastewater treatment plants. They approached their water issues the holistic way – from source to tap. Thus we cover source water quality in the St. Lawrence, drinking water treatment, the urban water distribution system, and wastewater treatment.
The one thing I always remember from urban water is how much intelligence, design, science, time, and taxpayer money is required for people to be able to turn on a tap and flush their 1s and 2s with utmost convenience. Just remember kids – what comes in must come out. Everything. Your advil, your birth control, your pet gerbil, industrial pollutants, your undercooked Indian food, and your toxic cosmetics all makes its way into our water system. And you bitch about the water tasting a tiny bit chloriney. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather taste a bit of swimming pool than bits of swimming stool. Pun over. But don’t you think it’s a feat of human technology that we can drink safe water given all the literal shit we throw into our urban systems? Everyone is guilty of forgetting what happens to their waste after it leaves the toilet or the sidewalk, but remember the world is dealing with your easy disposals!
On a related note, this all comes down to ensuring people have great water quality at the tap. I won’t rant on imported water bottling, but regardless of your thoughts, it’s an extremely unsustainable activity, and its life will be finite. As a city dweller, one must understand and appreciate municipal water supply.
Here’s a great video of Montreal’s wastewater treatment systems. Thank you civil engineeers for having the know-how to truly allow cities to happen. Without them, treating drinking water and waste water to millions of people simultaneously would simply be impossible. It’s really not sexy, but neither is gastroenteritis.