Report Wout Sommerauer- studying Toronto's greater water system

Wout Sommerauer June 2018

I had the opportunity to study the urban water system and all related aspects in the greater Toronto area as a part of the FUNqyWATER project. This was a project initiated by the Wageningen University & Research and supported by the Dutch government. My aim was to create a baseline assessment and make contact with various public and private actors to pave to way for future (more specialized) research. I had worked with a variety of people which consisted of engineers, public servants, contractors and researchers. In the end I was able to present my findings, ranging from the local governance system to surface water quality, at Ryerson university with even the consul general attending!

When I first arrived in Toronto, the temperature was -20 degrees Celsius so I started to explore my new home with frequent coffee breaks. Pretty early on I found Torontonians easy to engage with and talk to. Furthermore there was a lot more politeness compared to my Dutch hometown of Amsterdam. Due to my affiliation with Ryerson I also had the opportunity to meet up with other exchange and grad students, which gave me a balanced group of friends between students and people working in the city. The same openness and easy going attitude is what I encountered while arranging and conducting interviews, most companies and public institutions were excited to exchange ideas and information (some people even took me out in the field and arranged entrance to conventions).

With regard to my results I found that Toronto is facing many water quality and governance related challenges but that the context is very different compared to Dutch urban areas. First of all, a large challenge with regard to water quality is the ‘thaw’ in spring which carries road salt, heavy metals and other pollutants into the various streams in Toronto creating a peak in pollution. A difference on the subject of governance can be found in the managing institutions, where in contrast to the Netherlands the government in Canada owns and operates both the waste and drinking water infrastructure. Similarities can also be found, where the various government levels and institutions within Toronto often discuss and leave space for bottom up approaches and local interpretation when deciding on policy surrounding water management, this is somewhat similar to the Dutch polder model. Furthermore the surface water quality of the various streams is measured on a watershed scale by watershed authorities (which is similar to how a waterboard area works in the Netherlands). Other similarities with regard to the physical aspects of water can relate to sewer systems overflowing during storms and adapting to climate change (increases in temperature and precipitations intensity).

To conclude, I would love to go back to Toronto and start working on some of the issues I found as well as contributing in other ways to this amazing city. I would like to thank ACSN for the scholarship as they are responsible for making it financially feasible for me to cross the pond, and as a result increasing both my knowledge and skills.