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Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 25, 2007

Student Lands $40,000 Water Award

A University of Guelph graduate student has received a $40,000 scholarship to study how climate change may affect Ontario's water resources.

Qi (Tina) Sha, a master’s student in the School of Engineering, will officially receive the two-year award May 31 from the Consulting Engineers of Ontario during reception in Waterloo. The engineering association launched a water-quality research scholarship program after Queen's Park altered regulatory requirements for municipal water facilities following the Walkerton water tragedy in 2000.

The program is intended to foster research in water quality and to allow Ontario faculty members to attract top graduate students. In 2004, Guelph master's student Sarah Watts received the same award in its inaugural year.

This year's funding will allow Sha and a trio of faculty in the Guelph Watershed Research Group to study the impact of climate change on groundwater and surface water. They will use Environment Canada data tracking rainfall and temperature patterns, as well as information captured by geographic information systems (GIS) and available from libraries and conservation authorities. They’ll also use models of water quality and climate change to predict changes in water balance in Ontario watersheds.

The researchers will then make recommendations for municipalities, conservation authorities and engineers to mitigate adverse effects. The work is also intended to help managers and policy-makers in land-use planning and projecting the effects of municipal growth on infrastructure needs.

Sha studied water supply and drainage for her undergraduate degree and has a master's degree in municipal engineering. She is working on the project with engineering professors Bahram Gharabaghi, who is also her advisor, Ramesh Rudra and Ed McBean.

“Environment Canada is saying that climate change is happening,” said Gharabaghi. “How is that going to affect water availability, quality and quantity?”

Warmer winters will probably result in more rapid runoff of rainwater than gradual snowmelt, which could mean less water available for recharging groundwater resources — a key concern for a city such as Guelph, said Gharabaghi. Warmer summers may cause more water to evaporate and remain in the atmosphere.

Global climate change may also cause more frequent and severe floods and droughts. That could lead to water-quality problems, with contaminants such as manure from farm fields washing directly into streams and lakes. Fluctuating water levels also pose problems for water managers operating reservoirs and dams, he said.

Although global warming has been in the headlines for years, Gharabaghi says much of the debate about climate change has involved politicians and climate scientists — until now.

“When climate change turns into a disaster that happens more frequently than people are used to or can cope with, then it becomes an engineer's problem,” he said.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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