As part of one of the world’s largest water research initiatives, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) have been awarded $800,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for a unique project that will use field sites throughout the Saskatchewan River Basin as a large-scale observatory for new interdisciplinary water science to address national and global water security challenges.
“This major CFI equipment investment will enable 80 scientists and 85 research staff and students from a wide range of disciplines to better understand the impacts of environmental change on this vast river basin and develop new tools to address management, governance and policy issues for trans-boundary water basins both in Canada and internationally,” said Karen Chad, U of S Vice-President Research.
The project will be led by Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and director of the U of S Global Institute for Water Security. Other leading U of S scientists lending expertise to the research include John Giesy, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Toxicology, and John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change.
The South Saskatchewan River has been described as Canada’s most threatened river by the World Water Federation. This project will be the only active regional hydroclimate study project of the World Climate Research Program, thereby filling an important international science gap.
Covering 336,000 square kilometres across three provinces, the Saskatchewan River Basin is home to approximately three million people, providing a vital resource to municipalities, industry and diverse environments. These areas are regionally and globally important, and include Prairie landscapes (supporting 80 per cent of Canada’s agriculture production), the Rocky Mountains (providing water for major Western Canadian rivers), and boreal forests (representing nearly a third of Canada’s land area).
“In addition to critical landscapes, the basin is also home to the most extreme and variable climates in the world,” said Wheater. “It is crucial to improve our understanding of climate and environmental change within these diverse settings so that water resources may be sustainably managed.”
Research equipment and infrastructure at four key sites will be significantly expanded and updated. These upgrades will enable new science to understand and predict environmental change at multiple scales, provide the basis for decision support models to evaluate trans-boundary basins, and support associate social science research including policy, governance and stakeholder engagement.
Within the basin lies Lake Diefenbaker, a tourist gem and major water source for Saskatchewan. Sampling supplies will be significantly upgraded to accurately monitor and identify water quality in the lake, specifically nutrient and chemical loads (such as phosphorus). Excessive nutrient pollution can cause toxic algae blooms, choking the ecosystem of oxygen and harming plant and animal species living within it.
“We don’t want Lake Diefenbaker to have the same fate as Lake Erie or Winnipeg,” added Wheater.
Other facilities to receive upgrades include those at Brightwater Creek, the St. Denis National Wildlife Area, and the southern boreal forest, and a mountain hydrology facility in Marmot Creek, Ab. A comprehensive database, containing data from all the sites, will also be implemented. This will be an important data resource and will be available to interdisciplinary researchers around the world.