Developing technology to turn seawater into drinking water begins with a fresh perspective

What does a rural area do when the CEO of one of the fastest-growing private companies in Canada comes calling? For Barrington, N.S., the answer was clear: open the door.

The Municipality of Barrington was experiencing its third major drought in four years when it heard from Dragan Tutic, CEO and founder of Quebec-based Oneka Technologies. Oneka was looking for a place to scale up the company’s wave-powered desalination units — technology that turns seawater into fresh- water. Barrington was in desperate need of a drought-proof supply of freshwater.

“Dragan had learned from the media that our wells had run dry and that people in rural areas were relying on our fire departments for at-home water deliveries,” recalls Chris Frotten, chief administrative officer of the Municipality of the District of Barrington. “I was proud and thankful that our volunteer departments stepped up to help in that way, but it led to fatigue and issues with the use of facilities, so we knew it wasn’t sustainable.”

Tutic had already tested smaller desalination units near Dartmouth and was impressed by the collaborative spirit and talent he saw in Nova Scotians.

Even before news of the drought in Barrington, he thought it might make an ideal testing site for a larger, utility-scale version of his company’s desalination units. Not only did the region at the southern tip of Nova Scotia feature strong wave action, deep water and favourable conditions for mooring, but it also had good potential for storing and distributing water.

From Frotten’s perspective, it was Oneka’s innovative technology that sealed the deal on a collaboration. Unlike conventional desalination plants, which rely on either diesel or electricity, Oneka’s desalination buoys use the energy of the waves themselves to mechanically push seawater through a reverse osmosis system, where it is desalinated before being piped to shore. Described as a technological game-changer, the desalination buoy leaves no carbon footprint and results in a renewable source of freshwater.

In the initial stages, the municipality took the lead in discussions with Oneka. As the partnership continues to grow, different groups are getting involved based on their interests. Community engagement began in earnest after a public meeting in September 2023. Since then, citizens have helped drive the initiative — now known as the Oneka Glacier Project.

Since those consultations, the Municipality of Barrington has entered into a formal partnership with Oneka Technologies and Canada’s Ocean Supercluster to provide a location for the installation of a desalination buoy and an eight-metre platform off Cape Sable Island.

Although not a grassroots example of community development, it does illustrate the importance of be- ing open to new ideas.

“We can’t take credit for making this happen, but as a coastal community with a long history of marine expertise, we were willing to explore the idea,” says Frotten. “We know the importance of diversifying and are happy to contribute to a project that could benefit communities around the world by providing a sustainable water supply.”

Frotten and Tutic concur that the best advice for other municipalities is to be open when an opportunity comes along, even if it isn’t part of the strategic plan. “We need to be proactive in order to cope with the impacts of climate change,” says Tutic. “Record-breaking droughts and fires are no longer isolated incidents. They are now the new reality.”

For more information, contact:
Chris Frotten, chief administrative officer of the Municipality of the District of Barrington
Camille St-Pierre, commercial manager, Oneka

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