Future Innovation for Stormwater Management


Executive Summary

Smart stormwater technology (SST) is increasingly being implemented in Canadian municipalities to address multiple compounding factors, including stormwater management, climate change, aging municipal infrastructure, and as part of the smart cities agenda leveraging innovation and connected technology. Currently, the application of innovative technology in stormwater management is happening incrementally in individual systems and primarily through private applications. Incremental application of SST in municipalities (e.g., without overall contextual planning) has the potential to exacerbate pre-existing risks, especially considering potential impacts from climate change. The implementation of SST also introduces new risks to municipalities, water systems, and residents. Electronic and software controls, including those guided by artificial intelligence or machine-learning decision-making, can be vulnerable to issues that include physical or electronic failure of devices and software or communication issues between controller and device.

The current approach to stormwater management has not kept pace with the digitally-enabled environment and neither has the implementation of stormwater infrastructure. Smart stormwater systems have the potential to facilitate several benefits to integrated stormwater management. To support the effective and safe operation of future stormwater systems and retrofits, and to mitigate some of the challenges and risks associated with incremental applications of SST, greater clarity and consistency is needed in its implementation through standards.

The primary objective of this research is to better understand and define how SST can contribute to the overall stormwater management of runoff within a drainage catchment from a design and operation perspective. The focus considers what risks are associated with the use of SST and with the active controls that comprise it. This project examines communications between SST components and what is required to help ensure the fail-safe operation between various components of SST. The ability to connect single catchments into an integrated larger system is recognized as an inevitable future condition with a further set of challenges for SST.

A review of technologies and implementation experience with municipalities in Canada and the United States in addition to interviews with industry and municipal leaders across these regions informs the background report. Further research on examples of innovative stormwater management in Europe provide context for how SST may be integrated within Canada as well as best practices for integrated stormwater management that incorporates smart technology.

Overall, the research suggests that private sector innovators have developed smart solutions to problems associated with current stormwater management, including flooding and water pollution. While these solutions have largely remained underutilized by Canadian municipalities, industry continues to drive smart tech as a solution to assist municipalities build resilient and sustainable communities.

Consistency through standards can help ensure the safe operation of the overall communication system(s) controlling SST. Development of standard(s) at the micro scale is an important and necessary foundation to establish given the predicted scalability and significant benefits of SST for municipalities. Technological investments in essential infrastructure can lead to substantial community benefits. Bolstering the potential benefits while suitably addressing risks associated with SST will support uptake in municipalities for this innovative technology.