Learn more about ACWA

ACWA replicates real-world wastewater situations and facilitates research and industry testing that can't be performed anywhere else.

About ACWA

ACWA is a partnership between The City of Calgary and the University of Calgary that supports research and development, knowledge transfer, de-risking and piloting of leading-edge water, stormwater and wastewater treatment technologies. 

ACWA’s mandate is to facilitate the transformation of today’s water and wastewater research into tomorrow’s innovative technologies to recover resources, improve process efficiencies and protect receiving environments to benefit local and global communities.

ACWA is an initiative of the Urban Alliance, a strategic partnership between The City of Calgary and the University of Calgary.

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35 active projects

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76 PIs and HQP on active projects

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154 journal publications

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510,000 litres per day of tertiary treatment

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3.8 km of naturalized replicated experimental streams

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At ACWA’s unique, $36.8 million facility and research hub, interdisciplinary teams of researchers and technology developers can confidently push the boundaries of science and technology. Receiving environment effects and diagnostic markers can be developed and measured in 12 naturalized, replicated experimental streams. The facility is integrated into The City of Calgary’s Pine Creek wastewater treatment plant and includes ultrafiltration and nanofiltration membrane modules, plus O3 and H2O2 oxidation with and without UV. 

In addition to process slipstreams available from the Pine Creek plant, ACWA has 12 x 320 m naturalized streams, where dosing and exposure experiments can be done to assess receiving environment affects under “real world” conditions. Infrastructure can route discharges from pilot test units and streams to Pine Creek’s headworks, which allows aggressive testing of new technologies and approaches without negative impacts to the environment or the need to secure test-specific discharge permits.

Our areas of specialty

Advances in treatment technologies, and the rapid adoption of these technologies, hinges on the ability to study and manipulate processes at true scale. Bench-scale and pilot-scale research are subject to scale distortions when transferred to full-scale facilities. Full-scale investigations can answer questions of process performance, and address the unresolved issues with the technologies applied. The ACWA Facility will allow researchers to push the boundaries of technology to develop new solutions and optimize existing systems.

Effective wastewater treatment is a crucial component in protecting human health. The formal association between the ACWA Facility and clinical diagnostic laboratories (ProvLab and Calgary Laboratory Services) provides an opportunity to explore innovative and novel approaches for surveillance of enteric disease outbreaks. Research on pathogen reduction in wastewater will advance understanding of removal efficiencies and the kinetics of inactivation of different pathogens agents, including microbes and prions. The characterization, dispersal and transmission of antimicrobial resistant organisms within wastewater will be a topic of intense research at the ACWA Facility.

Removal of biologically active compounds (BACs) has emerged as one of the top issues in wastewater treatment because of the hazard they pose to human health and the biological integrity of aquatic species. Existing technologies used in wastewater treatment plants are not adequate in removing harmful substances with hormone-like activities. BACs include endocrine disrupting compounds, pharmaceuticals and other emerging materials. Research will focus on the development of new operational regimes and process parameters that will ease the burden of these materials on the receiving waters.

Recent research has demonstrated a spatial correlation between the presence of compounds with estrogen-like activity and widespread endocrine disruption experienced by sentinel species. Studies on the effect of mixtures of toxic compounds on the reproduction and development of fish in the ACWA research streams will be complemented by lab studies using novel fish and cell-based assays for the detection of environmental toxicants with estrogen, androgen and thyroid-like activities. Mechanisms by which hazardous environmental toxicants induce adverse effects on reproduction and development will be investigated by using physiological, cellular and molecular approaches.

Understanding the fate and transformation of chemical compounds in effluents is essential for predicting their impacts on natural systems. Large-scale in-stream experiments to investigate the impact of effluents on the environment represent the next step in wastewater research management. The ACWA research streams will enable the rigorous assessment of the impact of effluents on ecological processes and community responses in ecosystems of sufficient complexity that will assist in policy development for natural systems. Fundamental ecological questions will be asked regarding the impacts of effluents on the biodiversity of microbial and benthic communities which influence or control rates of ecosystem processes such as carbon fluxes and material cycling. Stable isotopes will be used to assist in the analysis of the fate and transformation of compounds in the ACWA research streams.


The size and complexity of the ACWA research streams provide a system whereby crucial questions can be investigated regarding the scaling up of results from bioassays on small scale systems or subsets of species drawn from natural communities to more realistic large-scale systems with complex food webs and realistic levels of spatial and temporal environmental heterogeneity. To assess the cumulative impacts, there is a need to understand both the direct effects and the indirect effects (compensatory responses by individuals, populations, and communities). For example, individual responses of particular species to novel compounds could modify food web processes that feedback to either exacerbate or dampen the initial response. The effects of these feedback mechanisms can only be measured in ecosystems with complete food webs, as present in the ACWA research streams.

ACWA launch

ACWA's beginnings

An idea conceived more than 20 years ago through the vision of a group of world-class scholars, ACWA is the only fully integrated, fully contained university research facility located within an operating industrial wastewater treatment plant in the world.