WT Interview Kevin Haughton, ClearFlo Solutions Inc. The transcription below has been edited for clarity and length
WT: I have on the phone with me, Kevin Haughton, founder of ClearFlo Solutions. Thanks for doing this, Kevin. You do things a little differently, can you tell me about the history of ClearFlo, how this came about and what is different about it?
Kevin Haughton: Thanks for having me, I am grateful for your time. I have been aware of the issues and the need for access to clean water in First Nations for a lot of years. I grew up in this valley - I need to acknowledge that we as Clearflo are operating on the ancestral and unceded territories of the Comox First Nation where we live, learn, and cooperate together.
Knowing the issues with water where I grew up, my mind has been one of invention and design, inspired by my father. In my travels, globally, I saw the need. I got to work on design after watching a lot of water systems globally that purported to do something, but did not deliver as promised at the end, which is a common pattern.
In fact, at one point, we got so deeply entrenched with one company in south Central America that it prompted me to design my own system. After lending myself and my name to this company's water system - and despite all our good intentions - we realized that the system this company purported had all the answers, just simply didn’t do it.
The most heartbreaking part was that I was the one who had to explain that water was not coming to the folks in those remote communities. That was an impact I had not felt before. That experience triggered me to get to work and build something based on my own criteria: a system that would function as per the need, not overbuilt, not underbuilt, but fit the need of the community for access to safe water.
These systems need to be powered by renewable energies primarily, as we are operating where there is no grid power or fossil fuel-driven power format. So, the criteria had to be able to work in the harshest conditions, be autonomous as far as renewable energies, produce large volumes, be super simple to operate for the local people.
WT: Now you have done work in China, and you’ve done work in Panama. How does it work? How do they hear about you, how do you get involved with international water operations and solutions?
Haughton: Part of my mandate is to change existing models that are broken. The existing models, the regular RFP – procurement model is clearly not working. In many countries, it’s the same process. Our company has a different approach. We form a bi-lateral mechanism directly with the community, First Nation. That is where the collaboration begins, we form that partnership with the First Nation. We go directly to the community, expedite, and solve the water problem immediately, in months, five months is as long as the process should take.
We engage, consult, we are relationship-building from the bottom up. We demonstrate our system, at no risk, we place and operate the system at no risk to the community, financially or otherwise. We are going to get that system certified by the local agency, by us. We are going to show you that this works, and then you are going to understand that this can be done immediately.
This is what we have done on two occasions now, and what we have just successfully done in Lytton, BC as part of the recovery effort.
WT: Canadians were at least dismayed, if not frightened looking at the fire footage coming out of BC. Tell me what happened around Lytton, your involvement, how many people were involved, and what is going on with that, currently?
Haughton: As many are aware, on June 30 (’21) a catastrophic event occurred, where the village of Lytton literally burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, lives were lost, and property as well, I can’t even get into -- animals, livestock, wildlife, (the fire) changed the face of everything, literally scorched the earth. 1200 people were displaced, even across provinces. Elders have since passed from the tragedy of being displaced. The clock started to tick by, not much was happening, we noticed there wasn’t much action. We understand it’s hard, with the First Nation and Village destroyed, and all the infrastructure, it’s almost impossible to imagine.
Chief Patrick Michell, resident of Lytton, lost his own home in that fire, reached out, and found us. He is an immense force of a human being. He just won a lifetime achievement award for renewables. He understands catastrophic extreme weather events, climate change, he gets it, and we are on the same page. He contacted us, looking for technology that would work. He took it upon himself to find a solution for temporary housing, provision of safe, clean water and necessities, so life could go on. This is how my involvement began with Chief Patrick Michell.
We then agreed that we would bring our system up at our cost. We placed it on the old mill site, really the only place possible. We set up our system in 2.5 days, what it normally takes upon arrival. We were pumping safe clean water after 2.5 days. We just received our certification from Interior Health and First Nations Health Authority, from both agencies. It was our decision to get the system set up and start producing clean water and figure out the details later.
WT: How many days have you been supplying fresh water to this community so far? How far do you expect this to go in the future?
Haughton: Well, we just received the certifications from Interior Health and FNHA. So, we are just in the process of heading back up there to get things fully operational. Part of the problem (with getting back) as some are aware, after the wildfire, that changed the face of all the geography. The first rains that occurred caused new debris flows, massive slides were occurring, more lives were lost. I can’t even explain the devastation, whole mountainsides sliding off. The long route (99/12) was shutting down daily due to slides. It's been difficult to get back into the area. We are heading up in approximately one week to get things back on track.
WT: If a community needs freshwater anywhere in Canada, can people call you? Do you have these units in stock, and could you ship them? How long will it take to get a system into a community?
Haughton: We have a solution. Furthermore, we are not just here to sell a solution, hand the keys over then turn our backs and walk away. We provide a solution that is sustainable, predictable and will provide a sense of vibrancy and empowerment in that you are taking charge of your own management of health and well-being on a very easy, day-to-day basis.
We need to get the raw water data from the community, we need to have a look at that. We look and engineer what process flow is required. We have a base common denominator water system that is ready to go, we take that, and we adapt to the end, or to the beginning of that process, a very simple, small contained system. We then tailor the system to that raw water source, be it groundwater or surface water, based on its bacterial/physical/chemical composition, to meet Canadian drinking water guidelines, and we actually meet and exceed the guidelines, we have been successful at doing so.
We look at the position of the community, how many people to be served, the volume of water needed. We then take that order. There are a few supply-chain issues, but not many in what we are doing. We have the ability to adapt to localized parts, very easily. It's another one of our successes, it’s a system that is not requiring high-tech components that would be seeing downtime. Our system is back online if we have any issues, literally immediately. If you put the order in, a system can be completed within five months, on the shop floor, shipped to the site, and then 2 or 3 days to safe clean water.
WT: Most communities now emphasize training the local home population for operating their water plants, do you do that?
Haughton: Yes, that is vital. When I mention sustainable and predictable, what I mean is, we want to be there to provide the ongoing maintenance and service of the system. The system is remotely tracked and monitored. We can operate the system ourselves from our laptops, we have a central repository where the information is loaded every day, all day. The minute you get an alarm, we see that. We train a couple of local operators, out of that onboard maintenance agreement we will provide the proper training for a small system water operator, and more importantly, will remunerate on the same scale as off-reserve municipal water operators. No more pay gaps.
Confidence is there because we are going to provide the oversight, we can begin training from start to finish and not just month to month check-ups, this is a daily check, an ongoing support program wherein we have simple tools and resources for the operator, to operate a simple system.
WT: As explicit as possible, I have an interview coming up with Minister Patty Hajdu, the new Minister of Indigenous Services. What would you like to say to the Minister around this issue?
Haughton: The Minister is clearly aware of the history and the current situation, there is no doubt.
There is a model that exists, I understand, it’s not for lack of trying with money and finance, we get that.
That model is not effective. What we are here to do is this: we as ClearFlo, and myself who started this thing, have to look at this for what it is, it’s not an issue. It’s an emergency. If we can understand and use the language that it is, it’s a literal emergency. If we can treat this as an emergency with solutions that are available immediately, we can mitigate issues.
We don’t want to drag this on any longer. Anyone with a solution, like us, or if there are others, whoever has a solution that can mitigate this immediately, let's do it!
Deploying a system is one thing, but understanding how it is maintained, in the simplest, cost-effective way. The larger part is making it sustainable, making it continue for the life-cycle of the system which is forever, not just five, ten, fifteen years.
WT: Thanks, we will leave it there, and speak with you again in the future.