Scientific Co-operation in Water Resource Management

By: Cole Reynolds

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Water Resources Management is an issue that requires collaboration; biologists, geologists, chemists, agriculturalists, and locals all need to work together and share information between each other for the common goal of making drinking water clean and accessible. In the past, however, information was fragmented between different organizations, such as governments, conservation authorities, and private companies. Research and data that has been collected by different companies and researchers were not being shared with each other in the hopes that their research would give them any type of edge over their competitors, usually a financial one. Dr. Richard Gerber and Dr. Steve Holysh, founders of the Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program, believe this to be the wrong way to think about a large environmental problem. To showcase how scientific information needs to be shared, Dr. Gerber discussed the case of Walkerton.

 

Walkerton

 On May 2000, the town of Walkerton, Ontario experienced an outbreak of E. coli bacteria in the town water supply, poisoning hundreds of residents and killing 7 of them. According to Dr. Gerber, Walkerton asked nearby townships for access to their wells and were denied due to the fear of cross contamination. The city’s water officials could only draw from their own contaminated wells, and the E. coli poisoning worsened. With proper collaboration, the effects of this tragedy could have been lessened by providing the town with temporary drinking water while the problem was being solved. This is a perfect example of why water resources management issues, and large environmental problems in general, must have collaboration involved in their solution.

 

Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program

 For crises like this to be avoided, multiple agencies must pool knowledge and resources together to help one another. Dr. Gerber helped found the Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program (ORMGP), a coalition of 13 agencies and conservation authorities in Southern Ontario brought together to better manage water resource knowledge. The ORMGP collects and interprets watershed and water quality data for public viewing and use, such as borehole and well locations, streamflow, climate, water use and water quality. They also have multiple publications and government plans about water resource protection in the Oak Ridges Moraine area. The program’s groundwater “knowledge management” system was created with a multi-decade water management time frame in mind and is used frequently by geoscientists in the area.

 

Sharing is Caring

A geoscientist or environmental scientist studying the area would usually make a conceptual or numerical model from the collected data, showing water quality, surficial and underground water movement, deposition of the sedimentation, etc. This model would then be shared with other agencies or the public as needed.

Communication with different stakeholders is key for effective protection of water resources in an area. Geographers map out watersheds and catchment basins. Scientists and researchers need to identify risks in a water supply. Conservation authorities need to maintain a system of keeping the water clean. Government bodies provide funding and support backing on projects and research, as well as policy writing. The public voice must be strong, so they feel like they are heard and important and provide community involvement. There is so much that goes into protecting a water supply, and collaboration between all parties is needed for a system to operate successfully. If no one was willing to co-operate, the water resources in an area would have a lower chance of being successfully managed, and a case like Walkerton could happen all over again.

 

References:

Holysh, S. & Gerber, R. (2014) Groundwater knowledge management for southern Ontario: An example from the Oak Ridges Moraine, Canadian Water Resources Journal / Revue canadienne des ressources hydriques, 39:2, 240-253.

 

Distanont et al. (2017) Collaborative triangle for effective community water resource management in Thailand, Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences, 39:3, 374-380.

 

Image Taken By: Yona Al-Tahir

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