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Canadian Water Network - CWN

$61.5 million for 2001-17
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Canadian Water Network

Number of partners

Partner contributions
$44.4 million

University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario

Scientific Director
Simon Courtenay Simon Courtenay

Executive Director
Bernadette Conant Bernadette Conant

Board chair
Peter Steblin Peter Steblin,
City Manager, City of Coquitlam (British Columbia)

Safeguarding Canada's most valuable resource

The opportunity

Canada’s worst-ever outbreak of E. coli contamination in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000 refocused the attention of legislators and scientists on the country’s water challenges: protecting public health, a growing “infrastructure deficit” (currently estimated at about $80 billion), and the environmental impact of increasing development and demand for resources. Ensuring Canada has safe, clean and abundant water is an ongoing priority for all levels of government. That’s why in 2000 Canada launched a national effort – the largest ever undertaken – to connect resources, people and knowledge to help decision-makers access and apply the most relevant research available to manage these risks.

How CWN is seizing the opportunity

The Canadian Water Network has become a catalyst for improving linkages between researchers and diverse stakeholders responsible for public health, protecting watersheds and ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable water infrastructure. Each year CWN supports some 120 academic researchers, over 150 collaborators and partners, and over 160 graduate students. These efforts have improved policy and practice related to managing Canada’s water resources. CWN sunsets as an NCE in 2015, but the collaborative models and decision-making processes it has established, along with its research activities, will continue with the support of multiple funders, including those supporting CWN through its Canadian Municipal Water Consortium.

Among the results

  • Easy-to-understand guidelines – based on the most current evidence – have been developed to help municipalities identify where money is best spent to comply with Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act. Set to take effect in 2014, the guidelines will ensure that public health is protected in a cost-effective, science-based manner.
  • Based on CWN research, the City of Toronto revised its plan to replace 65,000 lead service connections, resulting in a more cost-effective and efficient lead mitigation program.
  • Adoption of new irrigation software is helping farmers in Leamington, Ontario produce higher crop yields with less water.
  • CWN research has made it easier for water managers to adopt Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) models to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment systems. It also resulted in Health Canada improving its risk assessment model, which is helping partners implement QMRA at sites across Canada.
  • The Nova Scotia government adopted new regulations for on-site wastewater treatment after evidence showed that sloping sand filters are safe, reliable and cost-effective. In 2010, half of new wastewater systems installed in the province used this technology.
  • Several communities in British Columbia have implemented innovative storm water management systems that will reduce costs and flood risks, and improve urban stream ecosystems.

Connect with CWN


Municipalities take lead in setting national priorities for water research
June 25, 2015
Canada has dramatically transformed its approach to water research over the past 15 years and that’s turning out to be a good thing for municipalities facing astronomical costs for infrastructure upgrades and tough standards for drinking water and wastewater management. Read more
Helping municipalities comply with safe drinking water rules
March 13, 2014
Municipalities and regulators have not always seen eye to eye on the best way to ensure the safety of drinking water. Ontario’s regulations, for example, are among the most stringent in North America, yet ambiguities and scientific inconsistencies have resulted in some municipalities investing in expensive groundwater treatments when more affordable and equally effective options were available for protecting public health. Read more
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Blue Cities 2016 - Canadian Panel
June 9, 2016
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Blue Cities 2016 - International Panel
June 9, 2016
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Blue Cities 2016 - Mayors Panel
June 9, 2016
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Highlights - Connecting Water Resources 2015: From Knowledge to Action
April 8, 2015