SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
16 July 2015
Volume 16 Issue 7

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Driving Progress on Canada's Water Management Challenges

Kathryn Ross, Canadian Water Network

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles for the SETAC Partners and Affiliates Corner, and it was initiated when Canadian Water Network (CWN) was a Global Affiliate. However, recently the CWN has decided to become a SETAC North America Affiliate Member. Our plan is to encourage each of our partner organizations to develop an article that showcases their organization and how they are providing research and management solutions. We believe articles in the SETAC Partners and Affiliates Corner will help inform our membership how our partners are contributing to SETAC’s programming. Initially, we would like to focus on our Global Partners and Affiliates and then extend this opportunity to our geographic unit supporters. However, we felt it was important to proceed with the CWN article. Please consider submitting an article for this standing section of the Globe. For additional information or letting us know you are interested in providing an article, please contact Bill Goodfellow or Tim Canfield, or contact the Globe team at

In March, global water leaders from business, government, academia and non-governmental organizations came together in Ottawa, Canada, at the Connecting Water Resources 2015 conference. The event, organized by CWN, was about more than delivering relevant research, which is often typical at academic conferences. It was about making sure that research delivers results, and it's something that CWN does on a daily basis to maintain Canada’s strong position as a global leader in water management.

Since 2001, CWN has been driving Canada’s progress on three core water management challenges: protecting public health, protecting watersheds and ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable water infrastructure. With these challenges in mind, CWN enables Canada to address the big picture and challenge traditional thinking surrounding water. This leads to the development of robust solutions that address multiple needs and are appropriate to regional realities.

Headquartered at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, CWN was created in 2001 by the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) Program as part of a forward-looking initiative of the Government of Canada. CWN brings together key decision makers to determine shared water management needs across municipalities, industry and governments from local to national. CWN then finds the right research partners to address those needs, ensuring that the right combinations of knowledge yield tangible results.

Our success stems from grounding all of our initiatives in collaboration and knowledge mobilization. Knowledge mobilization is based on bringing together researchers and end users (who use research for decision making) throughout the research process to ensure findings are relevant to the decision making context and to ensure maximum uptake and application of results. CWN accomplishes this through their national research consortia, workshops and other project initiatives.

Over the last fourteen years, CWN has supported research in the areas of traditional and indigenous knowledge, secure source water, watersheds, water and hydraulic fracturing, and municipal water.

Canadian water

Traditional and Indigenous Knowledge
Collaboration is a key component for water management where conventional solutions may not always fit, such as small and Aboriginal communities, which represent a growing need and a priority. How does CWN maintain policies that result in success, not failure? Conventional solutions, as they relate to technical, financial and governance planning, are often developed for larger communities and do not address Aboriginal, small and remote communities.

Since 2001, CWN has invested more than $3.5 million in research and initiatives, addressing water management challenges in First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities. CWN continues to invest in the importance of indigenous knowledge as a valued way of more deeply understanding the situation and solutions. In 2014, CWN invested almost $200,000 to determine which research approaches are best at ensuring that management of the shared water resources honors and benefits from an increased focus on the integration of indigenous and western knowledge.

The project “Indigenous and Western Knowledge: Integrating Both for Effective Water Management in Canada,” led by Heather Castleden from Queen's University, is multidisciplinary in nature, drawing on the expertise of four universities and 17 partners, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations, and government and non-governmental organizations. The project is also guided by a national advisory committee of indigenous and non-indigenous water experts.

The team is assessing the approaches that have been applied to integrating traditional knowledge effectively in research programs. It will generate assessment frameworks in collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Métis knowledge-holders to systematically identify and assess these studies, uncovering the relative merits, strengths, challenges and opportunities. The team has also facilitated a national Water Gathering, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples from across the country to discuss the results and engage in dialogue about strategies and approaches for effectively moving forward water resource management and practice in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, and beyond.

Canadian water

Secure Source Water Consortium
Canada is not immune to outbreaks of waterborne disease or contamination, and it is increasingly vulnerable to limited water availability. As witnessed by events such as outbreaks in Walkerton and North Battleford, and extended dry periods in the Prairies, protecting Canada’s water sources is a critical challenge. Through the Secure Source Water Consortium (SSWC), CWN brings together leading Canadian researchers, decision makers and practitioners who have overlapping mandates and interests in protecting and securing the quality and quantity of water sources. Source water protection in Canada lives between watershed and ecosystem management, and municipal water management. The focus of the SSWC is to create a better understanding of the nature, conditions and implications for risk in surface or groundwater sources, focusing solely on shared end-user needs.

Since the consortium’s launch in early 2012, four large projects have been funded. The projects range in scope from evaluating novel monitoring strategies for ranking threats and preventing waterborne disease outbreaks, to examining how nitrate is transported through groundwater in fractured bedrock, to managing wildfire risk to municipal waterworks systems.

Canadian water

Canadian Watershed Research Consortium
Another focus area for CWN is on watershed and ecosystem management. Through the Canadian Watershed Research Consortium, CWN is supporting regional efforts to design and use watershed-level cumulative effects monitoring frameworks structured to support decision making in land use management, natural resource management, impact mitigation and others.

Through extensive consultation with end users, the most common priority areas for advancing cumulative effects assessment in Canada were found to be data availability and consistency, and methodology for conducting watershed-level assessments. To address these priorities, CWN established research nodes in watersheds across Canada with diverse groups of local stakeholders and decision makers who collectively identified a need for and an ability to implement a cumulative effects monitoring framework.

As a result, six watershed research nodes have been established across the country. Over the next two years, CWN will continue to focus on their watershed projects by generating a national assessment of innovations from the watershed research nodes to support the dissemination and uptake of the monitoring framework approach.

Yes meeting

Water and Hydraulic Fracturing
CWN recognizes the need for scientific knowledge to inform and support decision making across sectors. With rapid advancements in the use of multi-well horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies in the oil and gas sector, there are many knowledge gaps surrounding the impacts of the practice on water resources and the effectiveness of technologies and approaches to mitigate impacts. CWN is laying the groundwork to move research on hydraulic fracturing and water forward to directly address the needs of government and industry decision-makers in this complex area.

We have funded national multidisciplinary academic teams to evaluate research approaches that could be applied to strengthen decision making. These knowledge integration projects are addressing information gaps in the following issue areas: water use and demand management; wastewater handling, treatment and disposal; groundwater and subsurface impact issues; landscape impacts of development and operations on surface water and watersheds; and watershed governance and management approaches for resource development, including Aboriginal issues.

Canadian water

Canadian Municipal Water Consortium
Lastly, CWN’s Canadian Municipal Water Consortium focuses on municipal water management priorities, and works to identify and articulate the implications of research results for decision making and risk management. Since its launch in 2009, CMWC initiatives have highlighted important findings, spanning from wastewater treatment systems, biosolids management options and nutrient removal and recovery techniques to risk assessment frameworks for drinking water, source water protection and partial lead service line replacement programs.

The Future of CWN
CWN graduated from the Networks of Centres of Excellence program in March 2015. CWN is now building on that success and moving forward as a strategic national advisor and knowledge broker for water. In this role, CWN will focus on key national challenges for which water management is the gateway to solutions. The first focus area is “Energy and Resources: Economic Success Through Environmental and Public Health Protection.” In 2015, CWN will build on the results of their hydraulic fracturing projects to conduct a national assessment and consultation on priority knowledge needs of decision-makers and, on that basis, launch a National Hydraulic Fracturing Consortium. CWN is also currently assessing interests in establishing partner-supported initiatives related to oil and gas transport, as well as hydropower and mining.

The second challenge area of focus is “Agriculture and Water: Meeting Domestic and Global Demand While Protecting Canada’s Competitive Water Advantage.” In this area, CWN plans to generate a synthesis of findings and implications of agriculture and water research through a national workshop and a report on the suite of risks and opportunities for agriculture related to water quality.

The third focus area is “Small and Aboriginal Communities: Enabling Sustainable Management and Safe Drinking Water.” In this area, we plan to assess interests and options in developing a consortium or strategic partnership initiative that support advancements for Aboriginal and small communities. And the fourth focus area is “Resilient Blue Cities: Moving to Adaptive, Resilient Municipal Water Management,” where the focus will be on four key priorities identified by Canadian municipalities.

Looking back on the past 14 years of success, CWN is excited about the future as we continue to drive progress on Canada’s water management challenges. Over a decade of experience has led to the funding of over 140 research projects and initiatives in the areas of watersheds and resource development, municipal water management and secure source water. CWN invites you to visit our project library to learn more.

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