TAYLOR BOROWETZ

With industry booming in Saskatchewan and the South Saskatchewan River supplying an essential resource, the Global Institute for Water Security has published a report outlining how the province can protect its freshwater for the future.

“We have to use water carefully,” said Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and director of GIWS.

One of the world’s leading hydrologists, Wheater says water is a surprisingly scarce commodity — even in Saskatchewan where there is an abundance of fresh water lakes and two major rivers.

The City of Saskatoon’s website says the South Saskatchewan River averages a flow of 12.1 billion litres per day through the city.

“We’ve got to think carefully about our priorities and how we manage our risks,” Wheater said. He points out that population growth will increase the demand for water use in irrigation, mining and other industrial uses. Besides the fact that agriculture and manufacturing consume large amounts of water, industries can cause a lot of pollution and often use water as a solvent.

“Once [water] is contaminated, it is very hard to clean up,” Wheater said.

The City of Saskatoon’s webpage states that water is easily contaminated and that one gallon of gasoline can contaminate approximately three million litres of water.

With increasing stress on above ground water sources, Wheater said aquifers have become  important sources of water.

“We could do a lot more to understand our groundwater,” Wheater said.

While floods and droughts are two extremes, Wheater said both are expected to increase as a result of climate change.

Floods have already caused extensive property damage in Canada and have proved to be dangerous — as seen with the flooding in Calgary and southern Alberta last year.

“Water is one of the big issues for the 21st century,” he said, referring not only to overuse of water but also water as a natural force.

The GIWS launched in March 2011 and works primarily on sustainable use of the world’s water and protection against natural hazards involving water — such as drought and flood.

With over 70 faculty and government scientists as well as 50 students and post-doctoral fellows, the institute has teams working to understand how climate change, land management practices and natural resource development affect water resources. The teams also work to improve the modeling tools that are needed to sustainably manage water.

The institute recognizes that humans and their activities are of critical importance for water science and management, combining the fields of natural sciences, social sciences and engineering.

The institute’s mission is “To undertake world-class research that enables and enhances water security — sustainable use and protection of water resources, the safeguarding of access to water functions and services for humans and the environment and protection against water-related hazards.”

Visiting professor Denis Peach authored the institute’s most recent report, titled “Groundwater, Hydrogeology and Sustainability in Saskatchewan.” The report contains a series of key recommendations to gain an understanding of the state of groundwater research in the province and how it can progress.