$1-Million Gift to Improve Water, Biodiversity in First Nations Communities

June 21, 2013 - News Release

The University of Guelph announced today a $1- million commitment from the RBC Blue Water Project to support teaching and research in water and ecosystem monitoring and water treatment and conservation on First Nations reserves.

“Water contamination is one of the most important health-related environmental problems facing First Nations communities,” said president Alastair Summerlee.

“Those communities also face serious and increasingly complex threats to ecosystem biodiversity. We have the research and teaching expertise and commitment -- and now, thanks to RBC, additional resources to make a difference.”

The new gift will support field projects to help students learn about water and biodiversity.

The gift was made through the BetterPlanet Project, the University’s $200-million fundraising campaign for teaching and research in food, environment, health and communities.

“We’re proud to support the University of Guelph in its efforts to assist First Nations communities and help protect one of the world’s most precious natural resources – fresh water,” said Dave McKay, RBC’s group head of personal and commercial banking.

“Canada is considered a water-rich country, but many areas, including our aboriginal communities, are under serious water stress, and shortages are becoming alarmingly common in communities across the country. Working together with the University of Guelph and other organizations, we can ensure we all have safe, clean water, now and in the future.”

More than 100 U of G faculty members and hundreds of students and other researchers work on water-related projects. The RBC Blue Water Project commitment will strengthen projects and support new initiatives, with self-sufficiency and sustainability being major program goals, Summerlee said. Efforts will include:

• Training and helping with water and wastewater treatment and monitoring;
• Helping First Nations determine priorities and strategic solutions to protect biological and cultural diversity;
• Fostering responsibility and control of community water systems and health;
• Developing tools to improve drinking water inspection and quality;
• Removing toxins and pathogens from water;
• Sponsoring workshops, projects and communication initiatives;
• Helping develop emergency response and water protection plans;
• Determining human impacts on aquatic ecosystems; and
• Working globally with aboriginal populations to create biodiversity resources.

First Nations communities urgently need training in water engineering and stewardship, said Kevin Hall, U of G’s vice-president (research). A civil engineer and water expert, he studies environmental monitoring and pathogen detection systems, and water and health in marginalized communities.

More than 100 First Nations communities across Canada are under “boil water” advisories, some more than a decade old. Many First Nations communities have been deemed “high risk” due to deficiencies in drinking and/or wastewater systems.

The incidence of water-borne diseases is several times higher in First Nations communities than in the general population, partly because of inadequate or non-existent water treatment systems. Causes include water source quality, inadequate treatment and testing, poor recordkeeping, and complex governance and jurisdictional issues.

“First Nations communities face numerous obstacles to tackling these problems, including lack of resources and expertise, and divergent views,” said Hall.

“Our programs can make a measurable difference. With faculty from across campus, we’ll provide focused expertise, improvements and training for First Nations communities and for students that will help improve source water protection and species biodiversity.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1