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Walter Stewart played a convening role over the past four years in the creation of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium.  The Consortium is embarking on building a $52 million partnership for water research and technology development.  The following is a guest posting to the Ministry of Research and Innovation Innovation Blog which Walter Stewart was invited to contribute both on the platform and the collaborative process behind its creation.

The Most Comprehensive Platform for New Water Technologies in the world will call Ontario Home—How we did it

08/23/2011 @ 13:35 pm, OntarioMRI

By Walter Stewart

The Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) – A Development Platform for New Water Technologies is a $60 million and growing project to create a platform for research and technology development, testing, and demonstration in water. The Platform includes facilities for the testing and development of drinking water solutions, wastewater purification, ecotoxicological analysis, watershed management, and sensor development. It includes a series of facilities within the Grand River watershed, the Mimico Creek subwatershed near Toronto, the City of London Greenway Wastewater Treatment Centre, the City of Guelph Waste Water Treatment Centre, the Sensor Development Labs at McMaster University, Drinking Water Treatment Labs at the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo, ecotoxicological labs and staging facilities at Laurier, and the Ground Water Research Facilities at Base Borden and the University of Guelph. These facilities are augmented with a variety of mobile facilities that can be deployed as needed across the watersheds. The facilities are linked together with a large computational and data facility invested by IBM and installed at the University of Toronto to process, analyze, store, and distribute the data produced across the platform.

Nowhere in the world does such an integrated platform exist. Integration is key at every level of research, development, testing and demonstration.

Why is this such good news? The Platform will take Ontario’s world recognized expertise and capacity in water and vault it to the top. Nowhere will companies have better access to the latest in academic discovery in water. Nowhere will researchers have better access and understanding of the real needs of water technology developers. Nowhere will water technology companies and researchers have better access and understanding to the real needs of municipal water and sewage authorities. The Platform will position companies in Ontario for success in world markets; it is already developing alliances with organizations around the world.

The Platform involves 8 universities: Western, Laurier, Guelph, McMaster, Toronto, Ryerson, UOIT, with the University of Waterloo as the lead. More than 70 companies are associated with the platform. Among those companies are IBM, the lead private sector investment partner; Trojan UV; GE Water; Solinst; Geosyntec; Purifics, Aracadis; NIR Science Corp; and Siemens. The Cities of London and Guelph together with the Regional Municipality of Waterloo are major supporters as are other municipalities across Southern Ontario.

The Platform has been supported by investments of $4 million from the universities and equipment vendors , $8.85 million from the Government of Ontario; $19.58 million from Fed Dev Ontario; $20million from IBM Canada, together with more than $7 million in committed activity on the part of private sector users of the Platform.

Lessons Learned From The Creation of the SOWC:

The following are the key lessons we learned in creating the Platform. These lessons are not unique to us; they could be applied to any major collaborative project:

·   There must be a compelling, audacious vision – Collaboration is difficult; at times, ugly; frustrating; and bad for blood pressure. No one will engage for puny goals. From the beginning, the team behind the SOWC has been seized of an audacious vision for water in Ontario. As the work progressed among the stakeholders and as municipalities, companies, and not-for-profit organizations joined the effort, an additional and critical audacious vision emerged. Yes, we are working in water in a truly transformative manner; but we are also charting an entire new way for governments, universities, and the private sector to work together. Making the collaborative model work is as transformative as is our work in water.
There must be a core group of people with a visceral belief that the rewards of collaboration are more important than the barriers – The SOWC would never have succeeded without a group of people from across the stakeholders who never lost sight of the vision and who saw reverses as obstacles to be navigated rather than reasons to stop.
That core group of people together with the administrations that support them must be prepared to move and stay beyond their comfort zones – We live in a world magnificently organized vertically but our challenges and opportunities are horizontal. Putting so much trust in horizontal collaboration across institutions, disciplines, and sectors means moving beyond the safe, the accustomed, the accepted – it is uncomfortable. The SOWC was blessed with researchers, administrative staff, and senior decision makers across the stakeholders who embraced the discomfort.
The core group must coalesce around ignoring the “what ifs” – Critical to the success of the SOWC was the core group coming to realize that the only risk we faced was success. To fail was to be where we were; to succeed was to vault work in water in Ontario forward by orders of magnitude.
Bringing a large collaboration to fruition takes time and money -The first meeting that led to the creation of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium occurred in April 2007. Four years is not an unrealistic period for the creation of such a project. The stakeholders have contributed hugely in time and in real costs involved in developing and managing the proposals that secured the resources. Patience and “skin in the game” is essential.
A neutral convenor to take responsibility for the process is critical – The Toronto Region Research Alliance’s capacity to take the convening role as a third party with no expectation of direct reward in the outcome was critical. Having a third party responsible for safeguarding and advancing the process ensured that inter-organization tensions never carried the day. The organizations’ – universities, municipalities, companies – natural and essential behaviour is to compete for resources. In a large and complex collaboration, a third party can temper without diming the energy of the competitive instincts and keep the collaboration on track.
The collaboration must be supported at the top – At the beginning of the process of creating the Southern Ontario Water Consortium the commitment of the universities’ Vice- Presidents Research to seeking out a regional collaborative project was essential. From that point, the commitment of a team of front-line researchers led by a principal investigator became critical in developing and refining the vision. With the vision established, the support of senior administrators again became critical to ensure that the work of the front-line researchers was backed by moral, organizational, and financial support of their institutions in order to secure the engagement of the private and municipal sectors and ultimately government funding agencies at both the provincial and federal levels. SOWC would never have succeeded without extraordinary commitment from senior decision makers, particularly at the lead university, Waterloo.

The SOWC is well aware that having successfully secured the financial support to build the Platform, the real work is ahead. The challenges of collaborative effort will continue as we build, operate, and further develop A Development Platform for New Water Technologies. We will need the lessons learned front and centre in our thinking. Collaboration can do great things; we will make it so.

Walter Stewart is an independent consultant who works with clients on developing and implementing strategic projects. For five years he was Senior Advisor Research Capacity Building to TRRA on whose behalf he worked on the Southern Ontario Water Consortium. He can be reached at .

Government of Canada Invests in Clean Water Technology

For immediate release
August 23, 2011

London, Waterloo and Toronto, Ontario – Southern Ontario families will benefit from a new system to develop, test and demonstrate clean water technologies for local, national and global markets thanks to a federal investment in a new partnership, the Southern Ontario Water Consortium. The announcement was made by the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), while speaking at the 2011 Association of Municipalities of Ontario Annual Conference and Trade Show. Peter Braid, Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo and Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment and Member of Parliament for Thornhill, also made announcements in Waterloo and Toronto.

"One of the most important issues for communities around the world is access to clean drinking water and the safe treatment of wastewater," said Minister Goodyear. "This investment will strengthen southern Ontario's position as a world leader in clean water technologies, create new jobs in our region, while offering solutions for communities across the globe that lack easy access to clean water."

Through the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, universities, private sector companies, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations will work together to develop, test, and pilot market-driven water technologies that are in high demand both regionally and around the world. The FedDev Ontario contribution will go toward the purchase and installation of equipment related to setting up the water system components spanning the London, Waterloo, Guelph, Hamilton and Toronto areas.

The project responds to private sector needs for access to actual water environments on a watershed level, and leading edge research expertise to advance water-related technologies and help bring them to the marketplace. It is anticipated that this project will lead to the creation of many high quality jobs, resulting from the expansion of current water companies, the creation of new companies, the attraction of companies from outside the region, and the expansion of public sector jobs in the water industry.

"The federal government's commitment to invest in the Southern Ontario Water Consortium will make our region world-class in clean water technology," said Ed Holder, Member of Parliament for London West. "This is great news for London and all of southern Ontario. It means jobs and the attraction of research and capital into our area."

"This collaboration of water technology expertise is a unique network and tremendous asset to the region. The Southern Ontario Water Consortium will provide enormous benefits to the environment, the economy, and Canadians overall," said Dr. D. George Dixon, Vice-President, University Research and Professor of Biology at University of Waterloo, on behalf of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium.

"This project helps put Ontario in a leadership position in this critical area as urbanization, population growth and climate change continue to challenge global water supplies," said Pat Horgan, vice-president, IBM, who is the major private sector partner in this project. "Ontario now has a bold opportunity to use the most innovative Internet-scale technologies to examine an entire watershed and learn how to better automate and more efficiently manage this precious resource, which is critical to every citizen and our economic growth."

The funding is provided under FedDev Ontario's Technology Development Program, designed to encourage the public and private sectors to collaborate on the development of large-scale, advanced technologies that will result in new market opportunities for southern Ontario.

FedDev Ontario was created as part of Canada's Economic Action Plan to support businesses and communities in southern Ontario. Now in its third year of operation, the Agency has launched a number of initiatives to create a Southern Ontario Advantage and place the region in a strong position to compete in the global economy. These initiatives are designed to support businesses and other organizations through partnerships and investments in skills and training; innovation; research and development; and increased productivity. To learn more, please visit or call 1-866-593-5505.

For more information, contact:

Gary Toft
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Gary Goodyear

Media Relations
FedDev Ontario


Contribution to the Southern Ontario Water Consortium

FedDev Ontario is providing the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, under the leadership of the University of Waterloo, with a non-repayable contribution of up to $19,580,000 to build an integrated system for the development, testing, and demonstration of new, market-driven water technologies and services, primarily along the Grand River and adjacent watersheds.

This game-changing initiative will allow southern Ontario water-related technology companies to test their innovations on a watershed-level platform to allow them to compete in a global marketplace.

A Board of Directors for the Water Consortium will help to oversee the building and testing of the system and its ongoing operations, with representatives from eight private sector companies; six participating universities (University of Waterloo, University of Western Ontario, University of Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier University, McMaster University and the University of Toronto); and the Toronto Region Research Alliance (TRRA). In addition, Ryerson University, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, together with more than 60 companies and a number of municipalities throughout southern Ontario are active in the Water Consortium.

IBM Canada Limited is the major private sector partner in this project, providing a contribution valued at $20,068,233 to establish the electronic data system that allows for the real-time streaming, exchange and archiving of data among users.

This regional partnership will help to advance water-related technologies associated with the following key areas:

  • watershed management, to better handle groundwater and all forms of run-off into the watershed, reducing threats to water purity and usage;

  • drinking water and wastewater treatment, to enable more effective use and reuse;
  • ecotoxicology, to detect new and emerging contaminants in the water supply; and

  • analytical technologies, to develop sensors, data collection, analysis, processing, management and dissemination of water-related research.

The project is divided into various permanent and mobile components, as well as research expertise spanning across southern Ontario:

  • Municipal Flow Scale Wastewater Treatment Facilities for Compliance Testing and demonstration, at the City of London Wastewater Facility Site

  • Mobile Field Facilities for Eco-toxicological Measurement, led by Wilfrid Laurier University

  • Mobile Field Facilities for Drinking Water Treatment, led by the University of Toronto

  • Field Monitoring Facilities, along the Grand River and Mimico Creek Watersheds

  • Sensor Development Facilities, at McMaster University

  • Computer Equipment and Data Analysis, at the University of Toronto

  • Bed Rock Testing, in Guelph

  • Wastewater Treatment Facilities for Nascent Technologies, at the City of Guelph Wastewater Treatment Plant

  • Groundwater Facilities, at the Canadian Forces Base in Borden

  • Analytical Facilities for Drinking Water and Field Collected Samples, at the University of Waterloo

Technology Development Program

The Technology Development Program will strengthen and diversify southern Ontario's economy by providing financial support to bring new technology to market faster. Through the program, FedDev Ontario is investing in projects that will significantly contribute to the development of globally-competitive, market-driven technologies with the potential to develop new business opportunities or benefits for an industry, sector or region.

Not-for-profit organizations (such as innovation and commercialization organizations) and post-secondary institutions are eligible to receive funding. Eligible applicants must have matching private sector or other non-government financial support and may apply for contributions of up to $20 million.

Applications will be accepted and assessed on an ongoing basis and applicants will be notified as their projects are approved. All project activities must be completed prior to March 31, 2014.

For more information, please refer to the program guidelines available on the web site at

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