Flood forecasting part of water research program

Floods, drought, irrigation and other agricultural concerns are all part of a huge seven-year water research project announced last week.

The $143.7 million project, Global Water Futures, is headquartered at the University of Saskatchewan. About half the money, $77.8 million, will come from the Canada First Excellence Research Fund.

There are 156 partners, including governments, universities, communities and non-governmental organizations, as well as corporate funding.

John Pomeroy, a U of S water expert who is associate program director of the project, said this is the largest grant in the world ever awarded for water research, the largest U of S grant ever awarded and the largest university-led water research project.

Agricultural concerns will be addressed as the researchers look at how to prepare for and deal with water-related issues, such as too much, too little, disappearing glaciers and quality problems.

Agricultural runoff, for example, is a well-documented concern in Lake Erie and Lake Winnipeg but other water bodies such as Lake Diefenbaker are now suffering as well from algal growth due to excessive nutrient runoff.

“I think it’s in everybody’s interests to keep that fertilizer on the ground so they can grow crops,” Pomeroy said.

The project will look at techniques to retain nitrogen and phosphorous and offer management options to producers, he said.

Research will include examining the impacts of wetland drainage, tile drainage, tillage practices and crop choices.

Pomeroy said one goal for the end of the project is to have a national stream flow and flood forecasting system and water quality models in place to provide early warning for flood, drought and extreme weather events.

“We can’t prevent them but with a lot of warning the damage from these extreme events is minimized,” he said.

The second goal is to be able to estimate the availability, timing, amount and quality of water in different parts of Canada as the climate changes. For example, once the glaciers disappear, he wondered whether there will there be enough water for irrigation.

The third goal is to improve information to communities or groups so they can make decisions. This would involve new models and tools and could include tailored weather inputs for precision farming and evaluating beneficial management practices.

Pomeroy said there is a lot of information already in databases that isn’t publicly accessible.

“We want to change that using cloud-based data storage, and a variety of apps and other things.”

Throughout the seven-year project the scientists plan to re-port to the public and various sectors by providing speakers to events. Pomeroy said it’s critical that complex information be disseminated in an easy-to-understand way.

More information about the project can be found at gwf.usask.ca.

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