Meet Dr. Ed McBean: Bringing Canadian Expertise to the World

About: Professor of Water Resources Engineering and Tier I Canada Research Chair in Water Supply Security, University of Guelph; RES’EAU Water-NET Theme 3 (Governance, Risk Management & Compliance) Leader and member of the Impact Management Committee; PI on two Theme 3 research projects. 

For more than 40 years, Dr. Ed McBean has made it his mission to understand how engineering data can be interpreted to assess risk, make better decisions and avoid vulnerabilities. For nearly a decade, he’s applied this expertise – honed by his experiences in academia and both the private and municipal sectors – toward the development of drinking water tools for small water systems. 

His focus on small systems spans the globe, with research projects in Canada, Bangladesh, India, northern China, Cambodia and Africa investigating how water supply systems can be protected using low-tech solutions tailored to a community’s unique needs. 

“The stakes are high for small systems,” Dr. McBean says. “While their specific challenges differ around the world, they share many common problems. They can’t afford to make major investments in infrastructure, it can be difficult to attract and retain qualified operators and they can be in very remote locations, which are major barriers for monitoring and for access to things like chemicals and replacement parts.”

His RES’EAU-WaterNET research projects seek to establish sound strategies for managing disinfectant residuals, microbial contamination and disinfection by-products in small systems, and to develop improved water safety plans adapted for the specific requirements of small and First Nations communities. He is also currently developing three Community Circles, in each case working with members of a small community to develop water supply options tailored to their economic, socio-political and scientific needs.

“The other challenge with small systems, particularly in Canada, is that there are so many of them, and they often don’t have the funding to comprehensively study problems,” Dr. McBean adds. “In BC, for example, 96 municipally owned systems serve 90 percent of the people, but more than 3,200 small systems serve the remaining 10 percent. So, one-size-fits-all solutions are not realistic, but we are trying to make it easier for these systems to develop and implement effective water safety plans based on their local needs and available resources.”

Dr. McBean is quick to point out the invaluable contribution his five students at the University of Guelph make, investigating how climate change affects small systems, characterizing system failures and looking at why First Nations experience a very high water operator turnover rate, among other projects. 
Another project in development at the University of Guelph (supported by an NSERC Strategic Network Enhancment Initiative grant) will provide educational opportunities for youths from small and First Nations communities to explore water protection.  Conducted in partnership with the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, the program will utilize simple experiments to teach them about caring for and protecting water sources.   

“There is no end of enthusiasm on the part of students and young people to do work that is beneficial, and that’s why training is an important focus for RES’EAU, too,” Dr. McBean says. “They are very intrigued and excited about the opportunities in small systems, and they are eager to contribute.” 

In June, 2014, Dr. McBean was inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. 

Click here and here to learn more about Dr. McBean’s research projects with RES’EAU-WaterNET. Click here to learn more about our Community Circles approach to R&D.