Ground Water Canada

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Alberta flood leads to ‘largest university-led water project in the world’


September 7, 2016
By Ground Water Canada

Saskatoon – The University of Saskatchewan has been awarded $77.8 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to lead the largest university-led water research program ever funded worldwide.

With more than 140 partners around the world, the research will position Canada as a global leader in cold regions water science, the university said in a news release. The seven-year program, entitled the Global Water Futures: Solutions to Water Threats in an Era of Global Change initiative, will develop ways of forecasting and mitigating water-related threats – such as devastating floods, droughts and degraded water quality – that come with changing climate and expanding economies.

“With this unprecedented investment and one of the largest research collaborations in the world, we will transform the way communities, governments and industries in Canada and other cold regions of the world prepare for and manage these increasing water-related threats,” said University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff.

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The prestigious award is one of only 13 across the country. Contributions from the U of S ($17.5M) and its three partner universities—the University of Waterloo ($15M), McMaster University ($12.1M), and Wilfrid Laurier University ($10.6 M)—as well as international organizations and industry, bring the total program budget to $143.7 million over seven years.

“No institution nationally or internationally has assembled such a large-scale and multi-disciplinary water research initiative of this kind,” said Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and director of the U of S Global Institute for Water Security, who will lead the CFREF-funded program. The grant is the largest ever awarded to the University of Saskatchewan.

The water research network will involve more than 380 Canadian university researchers at 18 universities in a wide range of disciplines, 19 federal and provincial agencies, seven Indigenous communities and governments, 39 industrial collaborators, 15 non-governmental agencies, and 45 international research institutes. Researchers will also work with international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Climate Research Program and Future Earth, to develop the tools and models to mitigate water disasters, protect the environment and take advantage of economic opportunities.

With climate change and increased human impacts on the environment, Canada is witnessing unprecedented flood, drought and poor water quality incidents, said John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in in Water Resources and Climate Change, and associate director of the new program. Economic losses from extreme events such as catastrophic floods and droughts have cost Canada an estimated $19 billion so far this century.

Researchers will use a transformative “big data” approach to water scenario modelling, and will develop marketable, new monitoring and predictive tools and technologies, Pomeroy said. New simulation models will enable communities and industries to predict the timing, location and severity of extreme events. New apps and other innovative tools will be developed to support informed decision-making.

“When this program is done in seven years, we will have designed and helped to implement a national water system to measure and forecast floods, droughts, water quality and water-related health problems in Canada, and we will have developed models for improved water governance and equity between upstream and downstream users,” Pomeroy said.

The program will engage stakeholders in developing risk management solutions. For instance, it will build on relationships with Aboriginal communities in Canada’s North and along the major rivers and lakes to help solve growing water challenges in those areas.

“This research will vastly improve Canada’s water security and capacity for predicting where water will be, how much will be there, and how safe it is,” Pomeroy said, noting that such knowledge is critical to the prosperity of Canadian industries including oil and gas, agriculture, mining, insurance and power generation.

“Canada has long been known as the water country, and now we will be known as the water solutions country,” he said.