Why Small Communities Struggle with Conventional Water Treatment

Smaller communities generally have a tougher time growing and modernizing. The community infrastructure does not benefit from the same economies of scale as they do in larger metropolitan areas. However, this does not mean there are no solutions to infrastructure challenges, especially for water treatment. Often times we believe it to be a funding issue, when in reality this isn’t always the case.

One of the reasons why small communities struggle when it comes to accessing conventional water treatment is because of their small size and remote location. Larger communities generally see the level of expansion and growth that they do because they are well situated to begin with. Their location on a quality water source contributed to their initial growth in the first place, a resource that most small communities lack.

When it comes this quality of water, we wonder why certain communities have a better source than others. This is mostly because of geography and pollution. Certain areas have a poorer raw water quality of water due to natural contaminants, whereas some have been negatively impacted by the effects of pollutants. Coupled with aging or non-existent water treatment facilities, communities like these have the deck stacked against them when it comes to getting safe, reliable drinking water.

Saskatchewan’s Crisis

A case study in Saskatchewan demonstrates that larger cities in the area are able to import higher quality water from the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately, small communities and First Nations don’t have this option. These communities struggle with water quality that is very poor, and in many cases undrinkable. Contaminants found in groundwater in rural Saskatchewan are varied and surprising. It’s not uncommon to find iron, manganese, ammonium, arsenic, hydrogen sulphide, methane, and other gases in these water bodies.

Residents in rural Saskatchewan rarely have high-quality drinking water and, instead, are used to drinking salty tasting water. Many of these small communities use old filtration systems that can no longer work to their optimal levels,  and are not able to provide water that meets national and international standards.

Additionally, these communities are unable to keep up with the cost it takes to support traditional treatment plant. New treatment technologies are able to treat the water so that it can meet technical water quality requirements while providing water that residents can comfortably drink. But the challenge for all of these communities is getting these new technologies in their communities.

Traditional Water Treatment Approaches

Traditional water treatment plants fail to adequately treat water in rural areas for a number of reasons. Firstly, the nutrient levels in the untreated water are often so high that biofilm grows on the membrane filtration equipment, fouling the membranes and clogging the filters. These traditional treatment facilities aren’t capable of withstanding high levels of biofilm, causing high maintenance costs and premature membrane failure

Some traditional facilities use a combination of coagulation, flocculation, and granular filtration, followed by secondary filtration and disinfection. These traditional approaches  procedures peaked in the 50s and 60s, and date back much further.These methods are outdated and fail to accommodate current treatment needs.

Another traditional water treatment process is manganese greensand. Instead of using coagulation or flocculation, the system uses aeration and chlorination with occasional pH adjustment of the water. This process was discovered in the 50’s, and continues to be popular today, as it still offers an inexpensive solution to treating water.

George Gordon First Nation

The George Gordon First Nation depends on extracting water from underground wells. This raw water is of poor quality, and difficult to treat. For years, the community had been using manganese greensand to treat the water yet this technology has not been successful.

It is not uncommon to find contaminants in groundwater in rural Saskatchewan.

They then tried a reverse-osmosis or RO membrane treatment, which only made matters worse as this further clogged the filters with active bacteria buildup. But fortunately, there was a solution capable of providing the community with safe, reliable drinking water.

IBROM – Integrated Biological Reverse Osmosis Membrane

Success was finally found with the breakthrough invention of IBROM technology. Sapphire Water, a water treatment company, solution that produces water that can surpass international water quality standards. This process uses a combination of biofiltration and Reverse Osmosis membranes to produce clean drinking water.

This treatment solution has worked wonders for many Aboriginal communities under the boil-water advisory. IBROM purifies and biologically stabilizes the untreated water, so that no active energy or nutrients are present. The costs of implementing and maintaining an IBROM system are low and manageable, as it requires almost no chemicals, less maintenance and manual labour.

IBROM involves a 3-part process:

  1. Biological filtration takes place where specific bacterial populations are maintained.
  2. Water goes through a reverse osmosis membrane filtration for further filtration.
  3. Remineralization then occurs to optimize the pH levels of the treated water.

Success Treatment

After years of unsuccessful attempts, many First Nation communities like George Gordon finally succeeded in using IBROM to successfully treat their water. Residents can now enjoy drinking clean tap water, devoid of contaminants like ammonium, iron, arsenic, organics and manganese. With the IBROM solution, smaller communities can now efficiently treat their contaminated water.

Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of Cleantech Solutions, and an internationally-acclaimed blogger, journalist, consultant, advisor and ecopreneur. His areas of expertise includes waste management, renewable energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection, resource conservation and sustainable development.
Salman is a prolific environmental writer, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management, sustainability and conservation all over the world.
Salman can be reached on salman@cleantechloops.com.

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