With more than two billion people worldwide who can’t readily access clean, safe water, it’s time to speed up efforts to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of supplying clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

That’s why the theme of this year’s World Water Day — designated by the UN every March 22 — is “Accelerating Change.” This year’s UN World Water Development Report, to be released on World Water Day, will expand on this theme, emphasizing the importance of partnerships and cooperation to meet clean water goals.

At PCL Construction, we’re working cooperatively with our clients and partners to bring clean water to communities across North America.

In Canada and the United States, water access problems are due to population growth, dwindling supplies, aging infrastructure and an increase in detected contaminants in the supply system. In many cities, water infrastructure historically hasn’t received the same funding as more visible infrastructure upgrades like highways and bridges. This puts our water infrastructure in danger of collapsing and citizens in danger of disease and supply shortages.

For example, in 2014, officials in Flint, Michigan, discovered aging water pipes were contaminating their drinking water with lead and bacteria. An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease killed 12 people, while children in Flint were put at risk of lead poisoning. As of September 2022, efforts to replace lead pipes were still underway, with the City of Flint saying in a press release the work was 95% complete.

In November 2022, the U.S. Justice Department intervened in a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. Most of the city was without running water for several days in August when heavy rainfall strained the city’s main water treatment plant, and the city’s infrastructure has struggled to keep up since.

Climate change also poses an imminent and real threat to water resources. The UN’s State of Global Water Resources report, published in 2022, makes several points about how climate change has affected water sources:

  • Extreme droughts and floods are happening more frequently.
  • Growing demand and limited supply mean 3.5 billion people around the world have inadequate water access for at least one month each year. This number could rise to five billion by 2050.
  • In areas where glaciers and ice melt are sources of freshwater, up to 1.9 billion people could have their water access affected by faster melting and other weather events. This could also have impacts on food security, ecosystem integrity and economic and social development.

The report makes several recommendations to help counteract the effects of climate change on water resources:

  • Invest in data collection methods and share that data more readily.
  • Accelerate development of drought and flood early warning systems.
  •  Work together to support global understanding, policymaking and planning that will help meet water access goals.

Across North America, municipalities are realizing that there just isn’t enough freshwater to go around, and they’re adopting measures to ease the burden by efficiently recycling wastewater.

In partnership with the City of San Diego, the PCL team has contributed to the construction of the Pure Water San Diego program, which will recycle 30 million gallons of wastewater a day and recirculate it as high-quality purified drinking water. The City’s long-term goal is to supply more than 40% of the city’s water needs through this system. PCL’s contribution includes a project to increase the capacity of the solids handling facility at one of their water reclamation plants.

We’re also undertaking a progressive design-build project in Tampa, Florida, similar to San Diego — treating and essentially recycling wastewater into clean, drinkable water.

PCL was recently awarded a contract to build an ion exchange treatment facility at the Klein Water Treatment Facility in South Adams County, Colorado. The goal of the project is to reduce the level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) from groundwater to comply with limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. PFAs are widely used long-lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time.

In Saskatchewan, PCL recently completed a new raw water pumphouse for the City of Prince Albert. The facility replaces a pumphouse that was first built in 1925, drawing water out of the North Saskatchewan River — enough for Prince Albert’s nearly 40,000 residents and for several other communities outside city limits — and pumping it to a treatment plant across the road. This facility will ensure a steady supply of fresh water for generations to come.

Meanwhile in Umatilla, Oregon, PCL is partnering with engineering consultants Woodard & Curran to build a new facility to treat water used to cool servers in a client’s new data center. This progressive design-build project benefits from PCL’s expertise in water infrastructure and data center construction. Once completed, the facility will be turned over to the City of Umatilla, who will be able to convert it into a potable water facility.

In El Paso, Texas, PCL is part of a team currently working on improvements to the Roberto R. Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant that will increase the plant’s capacity by 12 million gallons per day. The work involves installation of primary and secondary clarifiers, biological nitrogen removal basins, disk filters and a new solids handling facility, among other amenities. This project sets the stage for a future advanced water treatment facility that will be a first-of-its-kind facility that treats wastewater and directly uses it for potable water.

At the Luke 303 Wastewater Reclamation Facility project in Glendale, Arizona, PCL is working with engineering firm Stantec and EPCOR Water Arizona to expand the plant’s capacity from 180,000 gallons of water per day to 4.25 million. This increased capacity will reduce strain on the existing system from a new residential development nearby and a new beverage manufacturing plant.

In Tucson, Arizona, PCL has partnered with the City of Tucson and Carollo Engineers to expand an existing groundwater treatment system by more than two million gallons per day. The plant uses state-of-the-art advanced oxidation technology to remove 1,4-dioxane from water — a synthetic industrial chemical that has been found in groundwater across the U.S. and likely causes cancer.

Municipalities across North America rely on the knowledge and experience of PCL’s water infrastructure experts to increase access to clean water for their residents. We’re proud to build projects that bring the necessities of life to people and communities every day.