Research keeps Ottawa’s water, and Ottawa’s water experts, at the top of the class


Did you know? The Britannia Water Purification Plant has a working scale replica of itself within its walls, 5,000 times smaller than the actual plant. It’s called the Pilot Plant Research Facility.

The Pilot Plant consists of two side-by-side miniature versions of Ottawa’s full-scale water treatment plants, which deliver 275 million litres of safe drinking water to residents daily.

“We are one of the few municipalities in Ontario to have this type of facility,” says Joshua Elliott, Operations Engineer. “Other plants have varying degrees of a pilot facility, but not one that recreates the complete purification process.”

Joshua Elliot and the Pilot Plant

Joshua Elliot and the Pilot Plant (Photo taken before March 2020)

Using this miniature marvel of pipes, tanks and glass columns, the team performs side-by-side comparisons of new and promising water treatment processes against the City’s current process. The Pilot Plant is not connected to the City’s water distribution system, so tests can be performed that wouldn’t normally be possible.

“It gives us the freedom to explore new industry techniques while completely removing all risk to Ottawa’s residents,” adds Penny Wilson, Water Quality Chemist. ““It’s a way to test the physics, chemistry, and microbiology of our treatment process, with the benefit being residents’ health and safety.”

Typically, the team will review and research a new approach, and do several months of bench tests in the lab. If there’s some promise, experiments can be developed for the Pilot Plant before moving on to full-scale plant trials.

“It’s taking a new concept from theory to practice where this facility really shines,” says Ian Douglas, Ottawa’s Water Quality Engineer. “We collaborate with several research scientists and universities to evaluate new process changes. Over the last 25 years, we have improved or upgraded nearly every aspect of our water treatment process.”

The Pilot Plant allows Ottawa’s water quality team to do the type of cutting-edge work on water quality that many other municipalities can’t.

“We’re constantly able to share results with our colleagues across North America and take on a leadership role in the water quality community,” says Douglas. “It’s a point of pride to be able to consistently raise our hand and share our knowledge. Ottawa is well known as a leader in drinking water quality and treatment and has presented over 75 scientific papers to industry conferences and workshops since the Pilot Plant was built.””

Since opening the Pilot facility in 1992 through a joint project with the University of Waterloo, Province of Ontario, and Federal Government, several partners including the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Ecole Polytechnique, University of Toronto, Ministry of the Environment, Health Canada, and many others have emerged to collaborate with us.

“We’ve done more than 40 projects with our partners over the years, providing them with space in our Pilot Plant and our industry-leading expertise,” adds Douglas. “Ottawa has always been ahead of the curve with our research. It’s in our DNA to look for new water treatment solutions and to be plugged into the water community.”

The Pilot Plant also allows the team to reach a deeper understanding of the Ottawa River as a water source, learning how Ottawa’s water treatment process fits with its source water.

“Our Pilot Plant resides onsite in Britannia because our water is unique,” says Andy Campbell, the team’s Water Quality Technologist. We’re using water from the Ottawa River, and our results can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. We’ve built an understanding of our process here that is second to none.”

Ian Douglas is quick to emphasize that there is a guiding principle to all of this – the goal of improving Ottawa’s tap water.

“Not every promising idea works, but over time we’ve been able to improve our treatment processes and we’re proud to see this reflected in Ottawa’s high-quality tap water. Our goal is to give our residents the utmost confidence when they open their tap.”