Water management called major challenge for world

The most productive agricultural regions around the world are working to improve yields in the face of changing climate and disappearing groundwater, said a world-leading American water scientist.

“We use more water (annually) than is available to us in many parts of the world. So, we’re making up the difference from groundwater,” said Jay Famiglietti, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory water scientist, who helped develop remote sensing hydrology.

“These are things that we all have to contend with and getting that message out is the challenging part, especially in regions that have had ample water and haven’t really had to worry about cutting back.”

Famiglietti has recently been recruited to serve as the University of Saskatchewan’s Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing, a seven-year, $7 million position.

He is based at the NASA lab at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and one of 24 appointments for the Canada Research Chair program, which has attracted top-tier researchers to Canada.

Famiglietti has also been appointed executive director of the U of S Global Institute for Water Security, part of the university’s contribution to the U of S-led Global Water Futures program, funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

The fund has about 200 partners including 15 Canadian universities and is the world’s largest university-led fresh-water research program.

“I’ll be trying to put the “g” in global and also bringing some remote sensing background, which is what I do: satellite observations and analysis of terrestrial and global hydrology. So bringing some remote sensing expertise to the university and to Canada,” he said.

Big swings in the weather are becoming more common on the Canadian Prairies.

“The changing extremes are a big one, meaning the sort of seesaw, back and forth from more extreme precipitation punctuated by longer periods of drought. That’s what a lot of people have to deal with around the world and certainly industry for the Prairies as well,” he said.

One of the biggest issues facing the world is the unprecedented levels of stress on fresh-water resources, particularly the depletion of groundwater in major food-producing regions.

“Oftentimes we don’t even know how much groundwater is there. It’s like writing cheques on a chequing account without knowing the balance and not even checking,” he said.

“I think the dreams of finding vast new reservoirs of water or somehow tapping into some untapped supplier, that’s fiction,” he said.

Major policy changes must be implemented by working together across the disciplines, he said.

“Without technological advances and new approaches to water management, I see a future in which we will be very challenged to produce the food that we need for this growing world population.”

“I tend to think more on the demand side rather than the supply side. So cutting back, doing things more efficiently and I think that’s where some technology can really help.”

Using a wide range of remote sensing and computer modelling technologies including airborne sensors, satellite data assimilation and high-performance computing, Famiglietti will develop the simulations tools needed to create strategies to help the agriculture community make more informed decisions.

“How can we see where the water storage is changing, what are the rates, what are the impacts for regions?” he said.

“We’re not in a position of saying, do this, do that. We just unfortunately see a lot of bad news from our satellites and just want to share it so that people understand what we see and know that some of the things that we’re predicting for the future are happening now.…

“We need to figure out how to manage our way through to sustain water resources and obviously to keep food production continuing at a high level.”

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  • Denise

    And in Manitoba, the hog industry has free reign over the ground water (aquifers) and pollutes the surface water of our MOST valuable resource, in this province and in the world, our pure hard and soft water.
    Our rivers and lakes become open toilets for disease- ridden, water- based hog waste and disinfectants. Earthern hog slurry lagoons leak contaminates into the ground water and destroy aquifers.
    Do you know of any other industry that gets away with this?

    • John Fefchak

      The silent and deadly menace of the Factory Hog Industry needs to get recognition. Federal Government action is needed.
      When the Manitoba Conservative government rolled out the welcome mat to the invasive hog Industry in the mid 1990’s, Premier Filmon always emphasized that there would be further “Value Added compliments and benefits ” to Manitobans. And he was right!
      For the past 20 years amid the anger, frustrations and anxiety of rural residents this hog Industry,with the blessings of provincial and municipal governments have built their huge hog producing factories nearly anywhere that suited them.
      This kind of intensive hog production impacts the quality of living for humans, causes air pollution-noxious odours, toxic gases and drug pollution. As well, antibiotics, growth-enhancing chemicals and other veterinary drugs end up in the animals themselves and enter the environment through their manure and urine, contaminating the water, the
      soil and our food. Then of course there is the situation of manure itself. A hog complex will produce faeces equivalent to the population of a small city…..all untreated and incorporated unto the land, eventually finding it’s way into water sources and Lake Winnipeg as the end designation.
      But wait….now there is more..for in addition to causing immense animal suffering,factory farms are spawning dangerous superbugs that current antibiotics are powerless against.
      In May,2016, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research reported the first U.S. case of Colistin-resistent infection, involving a patient in Pennsylvania. Also that month,researchers at USDA and Health and Human Services reported finding Colistin-resistant E.coli in a pig intestinal sample. Because Colistin is a last resort drug for treating superbug (multi-drug resistant) infections, these discoveries signal we are that much closer to what has been referred to as a post-antibiotic era, where people will die from once-treatable infections.
      The questions that needs to be addressed by our government is, Why are they allowing this Industry to continue raising hogs in a fashion that endangers the very lives of people, pollutes our air, environment and fresh water sources.

    • John Fefchak

      And perhaps, worst of all…The Manitoba government does not regulate hog factories as an Industry!

  • John Fefchak

    For the present time, Canada and the provinces have an abundance of fresh water to drink and sustain the peoples needs.
    The looming situation however, is that governments at all levels have become extremely complacent in the protection of all our water sources.
    Lake Winnipeg is but one example, there are many others.

  • John Fefchak

    As citizens of this country, we need to decide what kind of a country we want to live in. A healthy, vibrant, rural economy with small family farms and small, local abattoirs is good for urban Canada as well. We need to restore public confidence in the food system (currently very low). We need to develop a food supply system that does not destroy community, here in Manitoba, Canada or in other countries. Farmers must be valued for the contribution they make to our society.

    Sadly, this is not taking place in Manitoba. The public good, our
    concerns for health, the environment and protection to our water sources has fallen through the cracks.

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