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Statistics Canada provides us a full RSS feed of statistical goodness! November 20, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, sustainability, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Hat tips to Greg Andrews (TechVibes) and Darren Barefoot (Capulet) for pointing me out to Statistics Canada’s RSS data feeds. You’ll see – even though I’m a chemical engineer, during my Masters and PhD degrees, and in my post-graduate work I have done quite a lot of qualitative research.

My personality traits work to my advantage when using qualitative research methods. I am pretty good at interviewing people, analyzing textual data, coding using Strauss and Corbin’s axial coding methods, undertaking ethnography, etc. I am considered a specialist in institutional analysis because, well, I know how to study rules and routines. And the majority of these studies are undertaken by observing and interviewing.

The thing is, during the course of my PhD, I became REALLY quantitative. Since my advisor’s training was quantitative, he impressed it upon me. I’m quite grateful to him for doing that because thanks to his sage advice and training, I have examined wastewater governance and policy using quantitative methods (something that is rather atypical in this body of literature). And of course, there’s my love of game theory and econometric methods. WOWSA.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I drooled (just as Greg tweeted earlier this morning) when I saw StatsCan’s RSS feeds. Given the kind of research I do, economic, government, population and environmental indicators are the RSS feeds I grabbed. You can grab any others as you may see fit.

Unfortunately, and this is quite sad, I can’t get any quantitative data on water through those RSS feeds (or at least I haven’t been able to get any so far). I do know where to find some water-related statistics in Canada, but the state of the art in regards to accurate water stats in Canada is (as mentioned in Karen Bakker’s edited book) rather appalling.

If I manage to get my hands on some good data, you’ll see some pretty graphs here sometime soon.

The International Year of Sanitation was 2008 – how much progress have we made? November 12, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Stuck in Customs

Credit: Stuck in Customs

When I see how little do people think about wastewater and the right of humans to clean water, sometimes I wish I didn’t do research on wastewater governance. Admittedly, I was entirely thrilled at the beginning of the year, as the UN had announced that 2008 would be the International Year of Sanitation.

However, as time has gone by, I have begun to wonder (and a recent tweet by my friend Nadia Nascimento) made me dig a bit deeper in my archives.

Well, I can’t say that there’s been much progress. The “culture of flushing” still seems quite prevalent, and the only recent local news story about water pollution that I read was related to a Langley mushroom farm. Um, do people in Vancouver really think that we have made great strides in the way we manage our wastewater. I sure hope they don’t. Because if they do, they’re in for a big surprise.

I’m going to embark in doing some serious research on local (Metro Vancouver) wastewater governance and I’ll report back with some of my results. In the mean time, I should just say that if you want to be more environmentally conscious, you should make efforts in reducing the amount of wastewater you generate.

Upcoming environmental events in Vancouver – September 2008 September 9, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Brew 2.0, climate change, drinks, environment, friends, Gastown, Green Drinks, Launch Party Vancouver, link love, local events, random thoughts, social networking, sustainability, upcoming events, Vancouver, wastewater, water, water policy, Web 2.0.
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Two upcoming events are rather relevant to me and both fall on the same day.

About the Community Sustainability Breakfast [Metro Vancouver’s website]:

Sustainability Community Breakfasts – Nature’s Health Drink – Always on Tap
Wednesday, 17 September, 2008
from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM
British Columbia Institute of Technology
555 Seymour Street, Vancouver

About Green Drinks Vancouver Sep 2008 [Green Drinks Website]

WHEN the next regular Green Drinks is: Every 3rd Wednesday of the month (except in Dec and July) Our next event is on Sept 17th, 2008
WHERE: Steamworks pub at 375 Water Street on the edge of Gastown near Waterfront Station.
Please be aware that due to changing space availability we cannot guarantee we’ll be in the same room each month – if you can’t find us just ask Steamworks staff which room we are in.

It’s lucky that both of these events fall on the same day, and that I’ll be back in Vancouver by then! And again, I’ve got a full week booked (Brew 2.0, Green Drinks, Launch Party AND a special day!). Can someone please clone me? Thanks.

Adaptation and vulnerability to floods and climatic events in Mexico September 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, vulnerability and adaptation, wastewater, water, water policy.
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This post is worthy of much more in-depth content, but I just wanted to show that the municipality where my parents live is really unprepared for extreme rain. The photos and video shown below show the local river almost entirely flooded (and rather polluted, as you can see).

River overflow 2

River overflow 3

As you can see, cars are at serious risk of being taken by the river. The local authorities are rather unprepared for these extreme rain events. But the funny thing is, I wonder how prepared are the Metro Vancouver municipalities. I will be doing some research on this topic upon my return to Vancouver.

Water footprint: A new tool to examine water scarcity and use August 24, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, public policy issues, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Lighthouse Park West Vancouver

Water is a topic that I’m actually rather passionate about (and I’ve previously written about it, like my discussion of the culture of flushing and the concept of water governance). I love researching it and writing about it, particularly because a professor whom I really respect a lot (part of my doctoral committe) told me that the two issues he saw were going to be the most important in the future were water and energy issues. I came across the concept of water footprint via the Max Gladwell blog (actually their twitter account – Hat tips to Max Gladwell!).

What is the water footprint? Well, I am guessing it is modelled after the ecological footprint that Mathis Wackernagel and Bill Rees coined in 1992. The website WaterFootprint.org defines:

The water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. A water footprint can be calculated for any well-defined group of consumers (e.g. an individual, family, village, city, province, state or nation) or producers (e.g. a public organization, private enterprise or economic sector). The water footprint is a geographically explicit indicator, not only showing volumes of water use and pollution, but also the locations.[Water Footprint.Org]

It’s an interesting concept, particularly when we apply it to our day-to-day staples, like a cup of coffee (that according to calculations by Hoekstra and Chapagain is about 140 litres of water per cup). As indicated by the Environmental News Network, the concept of water footprint gaining adepts. I was kind of pleased to find that the writer of the ENN article was associated with the World Resources Institute (WRI). One of my very best and closest friends is also associated with WRI as he did a post-doc there, and their datasets on water are some of the finest that I have encountered. Truly speaking, I would not mind doing a post-doc there.

I would like to know if any of my readers actually thinks much about his/her water consumption patterns. Do you ever think about your water footprint or your ecological footprint?

Car washing and sustainability August 19, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, sustainability, wastewater, water.
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While covering EPIC 2008 as a FrogSquadder for HappyFrog (you can read all my content on HappyFrog here), I came across an eco-friendly carwash in North Vancouver, Easywash . Rebecca helped me set up an interview with Geoff Baker, the CEO of Easywash, around mid-July but unfortunately, I couldn’t interview him as I’ve been in Mexico (and under a lot of stress).

This weekend, I went to wash Mom’s car, and I used the same carwash she’s been using for years. I was reading some books on water while I was waiting for the car to be washed but I didn’t see a lot of environmentally-friendly features.

However, the funny thing is that I saw a sign that said “At this carwash, we don’t waste water, we recycle it”. But I couldn’t see where they recycled it, nor any type of water treatment. I didn’t ask, but I’ll be back to investigate.

In the meantime, I just thought I’d include a couple of photos and some video of the process (sorry if the music is too loud, but I was bored inside the car).

I also plan to interview Geoff Baker upon my return, once I get all my other interviews out of the way (I still haven’t interviewed Al Pasternak about Bokashi composting, and we’ve been trying to talk about this for months!).

The governance of wastewater and the culture of flushing July 16, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, urbanization, wastewater, water.
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One of the things that has struck me a lot throughout the past five years that I have studied water policy is the absolute disconnect that exists between our understanding of the different elements of the hydrological cycle and their interconnectedness. The social sciences literature has examined in great detail issues of water scarcity, but water quality and wastewater treatment are, for the most part, absent from the discussion.

The Joy of the Mundane

Photo credit: The Joy of the Mundane

I know that I have always chosen difficult and non-explored questions for my own research, and in this regard, I have created some sort of a niche because very few people study the governance of wastewater. Amongst those very few Canadian scholars who have done work in wastewater and that I know of are Dr. Arn Keeling (whose PhD dissertation was an environmental history of wastewater in Vancouver) and Dr. Jaimie Benidickson (whose book, “The Culture of Flushing“, is a great environmental and social history of flushing in Canada, the United States and Great Britain).

My own work hasn’t dealt with Canadian wastewater, but I do have a fairly solid understanding of the way things work here. I am sure you’ll find it appalling that the city of Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, does NOT have a wastewater treatment plant. The effluent comes straight into the ocean (with some preliminary screening).

Burnaby Lake Park

A recent post by Matt Collinge about water quality in False Creek reminded me of how little do people in Vancouver AND in Canada think about wastewater. This is something that is prevalent at the larger scale. Professor Dickinson indicates that this is part of “the culture of flushing”, or what I often call, the OOSOOM phenomenon (out of sight, out of mind).

One of my personal pet peeves is that both scholars and non-academics in Canada are SO focused on climate change issues that sometimes they forget other environmental problems that have NOT been solved, including solid waste management (Vancouver’s landfill is about to be entirely full) and wastewater management (we are nowhere near some of the developing countries’ technologies for wastewater treatment, hard to believe as that may be).

My research focus in the area of water policy (I’ve done research in other areas) has examined primarily the role of institutions and the types of rules found in wastewater governance, and the role of watershed councils in strengthening sanitation policy. I found, after that presentation, and having had discussions with other scholars, that I will have to pursue two separate agendas in the future: one on wastewater governance itself and one on watershed councils, and I am very excited about this.

I am curious to know if my readers do think about water scarcity more than they think about what happens once they flush the toilet. Or does even water come into their minds, with so much focus on climate change issues? What do you think?