Visionary Conversations

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On Feb. 15 the University of Manitoba’s Visionary Conversations, hosted by David T. Barnard, held an expert panel to discuss the problems that impact our environment and both the supply and quality of our water resources.

The panel featured four U of M professors with various backgrounds related to water or the environment: Annemieke Farenhorst, the new NSERC chair in Women in Science and Engineering, Prairie Region; David Lobb, a professor in the department of soil science; Tricia Stadnyk, a professional engineer; Ronald Stewart, a professor and head of the environment and geography department.

Farenhorst spent her time explaining the situation in the First Nations communities concerning the lack of running water.

“I actually learned that there are 10 per cent of the homes on our First Nations communities in Manitoba that don’t have access to running water,” Farenhorst said. She explained that there are many hygiene and medical-related consequences that can develop from a lack of clean running water. Farenhorst ended her talk by describing the U of M’s new Water Rights Research Consortium, which was formed to address serious water issues in Manitoba.

David Lobb used his allotted time to shed light on a common problem in Manitoba: flooding. Lobb went into detail about its relation to the occurrence of algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg and elsewhere, suggesting that there is a lack of fresh water. Lobb explained that these problems will only intensify in the future.

“It is clear that we need action,” he said.

Lobb went on to say that in order improve our fresh water quality and supply we need to manage runoff from agricultural and farming practices as well as implement nutrient managing techniques.

Tricia Stadnyk used her time to explore the consequences of our province’s water-related variability — in Manitoba we get both times of excess water and times of drought. Stadnyk also explained that because of Manitoba’s flat landscape, it is difficult to predict where the water will end up.

Climate change also contributes to increasing variability in our weather, according to Stadnyk.

“It has led to some significant events that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen,” she said. Stadnyk proposed that we improve current modelling in order to better predict the flow trends in the province.

Ronald Stewart began by explaining the various stages of the “water cycle,” and how aspects of it, expected to accelerate, will only increase the frequency of extremes in our climate. Stewart also explained that climate extremes do not necessarily only happen at different times. “They very often happen simultaneously,” he said.

Stewart proposed improvements in weather models to decrease mistakes and make weather predictions more accurate.

The panel concluded with a lengthy question and answer period, during which some questions were discussed amongst some members of the audience.

The experts offered a united message: the problem of our threatened fresh water reserves is one that requires more immediate attention than it is currently receiving.