2 Minutes with Howard Wheater
July 2, 2013
Howard Wheater is Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan and leads the universityís Global Institute for Water Security. He chaired the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in Agricultural Landscapes of Canada. Recruited from Londonís Imperial College, Wheater is a world expert in hydrological science, with extensive experience advising on flood, water resource and water quality issues around the world.
Around the world, I think water is one of the big topics of the 21st century because we are actually using water unsustainably. So the Prairies had a major drought in 1999 to 2001, described as Canada's most expensive natural disaster. We managed our way through that but if that drought were to last for more years in sequence, that would create some major issues in terms of sustainability of agriculture and industry.
First of all, we're seeing increasing competition for water resources and that applies throughout the world. It also applies in Canada.
So nutrients are one of the major challenges. The U.S. Academy of Engineering has defined this as one of the major challenges of the 21st century.
So this is sewage from urban centres, municipalities, rural communities and it's the nitrogen and phosphorus that farmers need to put on the land to increase their crop yields.
So we're investing a lot of money in field research to understand the processes and improve our modelling capability. That can be models to represent local problems, management of small river basins. It can be models to represent very large river basins. So the Saskatchewan River Basin where I live, it's half the size of France. We need to model that as a system and also understand how the land changes, how does that affect the feedbacks to the climate system.
Agriculture has in its hands the ability to manage the landscape to improve water quality through beneficial management practices. This could be smarter use of chemicals or it could be changing tillage practices or building small storage reservoirs to collect runoff, preservation of wetlands and so on.
So one of our goals is to provide the kind of modelling support systems where people can play games with water futures and they can play out these scenarios and see what their impacts are.
The Climate Change and Atmospheric Research Project is much larger. We have a 5-million dollar program over five years but it actually has $24 million of in kind support. It brings together eight universities, four government agencies. And we're looking at environmental change in the whole of interior western Canada so from the Rockies east through the Prairies, from the U.S. border up to the Arctic.
Because we're looking at such a large area, we're not only focussing on the land surface but also the interactions between the land and the climate, the feedbacks from a changing land surface.