A Big Opportunity Globally for Water Monitoring Solutions
October 6, 2021

A 36 year-old water solutions company has developed an answer to one of the industry’s biggest problems: MONITORING.

When Aquatic Life, based on Pinawa, Manitoba, Canada, saw the need emerge in the marketplace over time, they decided it was time to build their own solution. Through the company’s innovation division ‘Aquatest,’ the ‘Aquahive’ was born, using satellite & cellular communication, state-of-the-art sensors, and a cloud-based platform allowing for real-time monitoring, providing a cohesive view of what's happening in the water in a particular region.

"For most people when they come to town, they're wondering what is this box sitting at the end of the dock?" explains Jeff Simpson, serial entrepreneur, Founder & CEO of Aquatic Life. The demonstration system on the Pinawa docks is one of many, showcasing a remote water monitoring platform that consists of several components. The terminal unit connects to sensors from different manufacturers, displaying data on both an aesthetic LCD screen, as well as through the web application, providing measurements ranging from water temperature and level, to pH, turbidity, and dissolved organic carbon. Powered by solar panels or wind turbines and transmitting data by cellular or satellite connections, the Aquahive system was designed for remote locations, ease-of-use, and really harsh weather.

Everything about the Aquahive product was built in-house, without the use of venture capital, as a profitable, service-based business. According to the company, the 1,500 person-populated town of Pinawa was embraced as “the perfect place” for new product testing.

“You can't get a better testing environment. This system will stay here over Winter; it never leaves; how many systems can survive at minus 40? This system works!”

Aquatic Life’s approach to innovation is not only unique, but serves as a clear, competitive advantage for the new division. While most manufacturers develop systems in what Jeff refers to  as  “the  concrete  jungle,”  Aquahive’s  are developed & tested in association with water from start to finish. As the lead visionary behind Aquahive, Jeff can literally walk 5 minutes in any direction of his home to access the Aquatic Life office, lake, and rowing club where his daily routine begins. “Most equipment managers design things in an office without ever seeing a water system like this,” he shares. “For Aquatic Life, we’re physically on it.”

Aquatic Life itself is no startup. Throughout the past 36 years as a business, Jeff & his team have seen the acceleration in the need for water monitoring solutions.

“Like climate change, water is becoming a critical thing to monitor,” Jeff profoundly shares. “We see a big opportunity globally for water monitoring solutions, and we’re going to be a big part of that game.”

In terms of recent milestones, the Aquatest division delivered its first international contract with Cormidom Mine in the Dominican Republic, with installations quickly spreading across Canada, and a Winnipeg River water monitoring project underway in close partnership with the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), recognized as one of the leaders in the field of water monitoring on a global scale for the past 50 years. “IISD is the perfect partner,” grins Jeff. Near-future plans for the Aquatest business-line include further expansion, additional pilot projects, more sensors, improved algorithms, and enhancements to Aquahive’s early-warning features to affected communities. Expectations for the Aquatest venture, and for Aquatic Life as a group are high, anticipating hundreds of installations globally over the next 24 months.

Managing, monitoring, and improving water quality is a global issue. As a limited resource, with a wide range of recent, negative impacts, the sustainability of water has never come more into question. From mercury contamination to fecal contamination, to algal blooms, hydrocarbons, and phosphorus additions…the question becomes: can we improve this condition, or is this going to get worse? With climate change, and a globally increasing temperature, Jeff believes this whole water problem is increasing. Highlighting issues in the local Winnipeg River watershed, Jeff emphasizes “this is just one watershed out of many in Canada and around the world, and with Aquatest, we can transpose this water monitoring capability to other parts of the world, and be able to help others as well.”

“I firmly believe that we have to really develop a skill-set of monitoring water.”

When asking ‘who’ cares about water & water quality, Jeff passionately exclaimed, “everyone, really!”

“If you have a small treatment plant in a community, and someone upstream is impacting the water with a contaminant or an issue that comes into your plant…if we have an increase in phosphorus additions to the water, and we have an algal bloom…that impacts the drinking water treatment plant. If you think about locations along the Great Lakes and other large communities where they've had blue-green algae events, we should be able to predict in advance when that event is going to occur, so that we're not drawing on that water resource at that time. Locally, if you think about the community of Pinawa, or any number of communities along the Winnipeg River, they all have filter material, they have additions they make to treat their water…the more information they have on the incoming water, the better they can control the treatment process and start to save money for their communities through better, more proactive water management!”

Jeff advocates for continuous, real-time, remote monitoring of our water & watersheds, going beyond today’s standard method of periodic grab-samples. “Many rivers, watersheds, and water projects are being under-monitored, in my opinion, and we want to gain more knowledge, and a greater understanding, than what traditional methods offer.”

“With better monitoring at a watershed level, we can start to understand what's going on downstream from the community, because our community affects the  next community, and it's just a great, big snowball.”

Jeff clarifies that it’s not only about water quality, but also the costs associated  with maintaining that quality level. “Most Canadians turn on the tap, they say, “okay, the water is going to be fine,” but it might cost more to treat that water  than is necessary because proper management would allow us to reduce the use of chemical and filtration methods.”

Not only are businesses, governments farmers and communities affected by water & water quality, but each individual citizen is too. “Most people turn a tap on, and we assume that the water is safe to drink, but monitoring allows us to know that it's safe to drink.” Referencing Canada’s abundance in fresh water supply, Jeff clarifies just how lucky Canadians are, and how such abundance has led us to taking our water for granted. “We have to learn to respect and look after the resource that we have been gifted, because otherwise, it might not stay this way…”

Aquatic Life is in the right business, with the right partners, highlighting its relationship with North Forge East (NFE), a business & innovation accelerator headquartered in Pinawa, Manitoba. Aquatic Life is a founding member company of the rural startup incubator, where Jeff mentors his fair share of new member companies as well.

“One of the tremendous things that has happened for Aquatic Life is being invited to be a part of the North forge East development. We're thrilled to be a part of it. Individuals like Shane Li have been instrumental in assisting us as we've grown our opportunity with Aquatest.”

Jeff provides encouragement to entrepreneurs to seek out innovation programs like North Forge East, which both take an active interest in your business growth, as well as supporting many founders to not feel so alone on their entrepreneurship journey. Jeff beams with passion explaining the value programs like North Forge East bring to entrepreneurs innovating outside of major city-centres.

“I think about the the commitment of North Forge East to Rural, North-East Manitoba. It is an absolutely critical component of the region. We need organizations like North Forge East to carry that torch and to help the small businesses that are launching, as well as those businesses that are already operational and need the extra help. Small businesses are not just in urban centres, and we require those same kinds of supports out here.”

For Jeff Simpson, business is personal. Jeff grew up with water everywhere around him. Born at a cottage on Canada’s St. Lawrence River, water has been with Jeff all the way through, including many outdoor activities of camping, canoeing, kayaking, and an overall love of water. As an environmental scientist by study, with experience working with organizations such as the Freshwater Institute and Ducks Unlimited, Jeff continuously saw the value of water and the issues around it. Fast-forwarding 36 years, these water issues have accelerated worldwide; and through the ‘Aquatic Life’ business vehicle, Jeff wants to see good monitoring and good solutions developed for water.

“When I see the issues surrounding water, I get excited, because these are issues that are solvable. “We as Canadians should be able to look after our water, and worldwide, people should be able to look after the quality of the water. To me, it's absolutely critical that we look after it.”

“I want to see Aquatic Life & Aquatest bring a strong contribution to this whole concept of water-monitoring, to provide a leadership role that has a lasting impact.”

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