UVic creates research chair on drinking water ecology

November 01, 1999

The University of Victoria has established Canada's first university-based research chair on the environmental management of drinking water.

The chair, which is a unique partnership of academe, government and industry in B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia, will be the focal point of a major research program on the ecological processes that contribute to safe, clean and reliable sources of drinking water.

"The ecology of source water ecosystems has been largely ignored until now because water utilities tend to concentrate on treatment and distribution," says UVic biologist and senior chair Dr. Asit Mazumder. "As our towns and cities grow, we need to have a better understanding of how watersheds and reservoirs work so that informed management decisions can be made based on credible science."

This is especially true in B.C., he says. "The rest of the world is losing its water quality and is being forced to install water treatment plants, but most water utilities in B.C. still supply water with minimal treatment. We have to find ways of managing and protecting our water sources."

The $4.6 million chair will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the ecological processes that determine drinking water quality, and will evaluate the impact of watershed management activities, water supply operations, and changes in the food chain. Initial study sites are Victoria, Vancouver and the Cranbrook-Kimberley area, with plans to include other water utilities in the future.

Cash funding for the chair totals more than $2.5 million over five years. Half will come from the federal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and half from nine partners: the CRD Water Department in Victoria; AXYS Environmental Group in Sidney, B.C.; Galloway Lumber Co. and Crestbrook Forest Industries in Cranbrook/Kimberley; Forest Technology Systems Inc. in Victoria; Isomass Scientific Inc. in Calgary; Focal Technologies Inc. in Nova Scotia; the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, and Forest Renewal B.C. (Kootenay region).

In addition, UVic and the partners are providing a total of $2.1 million over five years as indirect support for equipment, infrastructure and analysis.

The chair will work with, not for, its partners, stresses Mazumder. "We're here to do top quality fundamental and applied research," he says. "It is our intention that industry and government will use the scientific results to develop management practices for protecting the quality of water and watersheds. It's not our role to get involved in debates for one side or another."

Models and techniques developed during the research will be used by water utilities and forest industries to optimize water quality, reduce treatment costs, and minimize disinfection byproducts such as chlorine. Environmental technology-based industries will develop new equipment, applications and services related to drinking water. And the federal and provincial governments could use the results to strengthen guidelines for the protection of watersheds that supply drinking water.

Mazumder's first task is to set up a world-class research facility and research team at UVic.The team will include a junior chair in terrestrial ecosystem ecology, a research associate, lab manager, research manager, a large number of graduate and undergraduate students, and collaborators from industry, university and government.

Mazumder joined the biology department at UVic in July and is an internationally known aquatic ecologist. For his PhD he demonstrated how nutrients and fish communities interact to affect water quality. "The major conclusion was that if you maintain a healthy food chain the ecosystem can absorb more nutrients before it shows poor water quality," he says.

Until recently, Mazumder was an associate professor of biology at the Université de Montr¿al and director of the Laurentian Biology Station in Quebec, a major site for field research into the ecology of aquatic systems. He began laying the groundwork for the new chair during a sabbatical at UVic in 1997-98.
-end-
CONTACT: Dr. Asit Mazumder (UVic biology) 472-4789/721-6150 Valerie Shore (UVic communication services) 721-7641

University of Victoria

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