Ground Water Canada

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UWaterloo to tackle water pollution from agriculture on a global scale


April 6, 2017
By Ground Water Canada

Waterloo, Ont. – Three researchers from the University of Waterloo will share more than $500,000 to address persistent, long-term pollution created by excess fertilizers in the lakes, rivers and wetlands in several parts of the world.

The researchers are from three different faculties – science, arts and engineering – and all are members of the Water Institute at Waterloo.

The interdisciplinary project entitled Legacies of Agriculture Pollutants (LEAP) will receive $565,000, the university said in a news release. It is one of six international projects receiving a combined contribution of $1.84 million CAD over three years. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is the Canadian funding partner organization, alongside the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), supporting six international research collaborations through the Water Joint Programming Initiative.

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“Protecting water quality in the face of a growing population and the corresponding demands on agriculture is critical to ensuring both water and food security for generations to come,” said Prof. Philippe Van Cappellen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology and the principal investigator on the LEAP project.

Due to increases in agricultural production in past years, large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and animal manure are making their way into our waterways, contaminating drinking water and producing harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs and coastal areas, the release said. Over time, nitrogen and phosphorus legacies have developed in soils and in ground water, meaning that even when we improve current agricultural management practices, it may take a long time to see improvements in water quality. LEAP aims to gain a predictive understanding of these legacy nutrients over time on how they will be released into our lakes and streams.

“It is crucial to understand both the environmental and economic impacts of these nutrient legacies as we invest more time and resources into improving water quality,” said Nandita Basu, a professor jointly appointed to Waterloo’s departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering, and also working on LEAP.

Competition for the current funding was intense and involved a two-stage application process.

The funding will support the hiring of three PhD students and Kimberly Van Meter, a postdoctoral researcher. They will focus primarily on the Great Lakes watersheds, and work with European researchers over the next three years at Stockholm University, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Coimbra, who will explore similar questions in their countries.