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Research News

May 29, 2002

Clear communication leads to cleaner water

Reid Kreutzwiser and Rob de Loë (from left) recognize the role community members play in working towards ensuring clean water supplies and are helping small communities realize their strengths and limitations.

Photo: Martin Schwalbe

In rural communities, everyone plays a role in trying to keep the drinking water clean, say University of Guelph researchers. They're part of a group working to increase the ability of small communities to provide clean water.

Profs. Rob de LoŽ and Reid Kreutzwiser, lead researchers in the Rural Water Management Group based in the Department of Geography, are working with Prof. Graham Daborn, Acadia University, research associate Jan Ivey, and a host of other professors and graduate students in a project funded by the federal government's Networks of Centres of Excellence program. Their aim is to find ways to improve the ability of local communities to deal with the challenge of providing clean water to their inhabitants.

"In any rural area, numerous organizations and groups play a role in water management," says de LoŽ. "Depending on where you are, these can include the provincial government, conservation authorities, municipalities, industries, and citizens in the community."

The researchers are studying four watersheds across Canada to identify factors that limit the capacity of people in those watersheds to provide clean water. Examples include poor communication between agencies, limited finances, and weak laws. Working with stakeholders in the watersheds, they plan to develop strategies to increase local management capacity.

Larger communities such as cities often have fewer problems dealing with water management challenges, but de LoŽ says it can be much harder for small communities to make progress, due to lack of funding and their sometimes isolated nature.

One of the areas being studied is the Grand River watershed in Southern Ontario. An important agency responsible for water management along the Grand is the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Although the GCRA suffered from funding cuts in 1995, it's been able to thrive because of its extensive community outreach program that involves consultation with community groups, farmers, and other organizations, and because of strong support from the watershed community.

Unfortunately, not all conservation authorities are as well-organized or as well-funded. And not all parts of Ontario have conservation authorities. Because clean drinking water is so important, this project - a four-year study - is of great importance.

The researchers started work in January 2002. They are concentrating on two Ontario watersheds (the Grand and the Maitland), the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, and the Oldman River basin in Alberta. By the end of the summer, the team plans to have completed gathering information from these watersheds so that they'll have a national perspective on the state of rural water management.

"Our goal is to say to water managers in each area, here are some strengths you can draw on and here are some challenges you will face," says de LoŽ. "Once they have better communication and networking, some of those challenges will be solved."

Funding for this research has been provided by the Canadian Water Network (part of the Network of Centres of Excellence) and local partners such as the Grand River Conservation Authority.

Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge -SPARK- is a student-based research communication initiative. It has been offering first-hand experience to students interested in journalism and research writing at the University of Guelph since 1988. Guelph's SPARK model has been adopted by 18 other universities across Canada, through the help of Canada's largest scientific-granting agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

As one of its many activities, SPARK contributes a bylined, weekly column, "SPARKplugs," to the Guelph daily paper, the Guelph Mercury, which then distributes it nationally over the Canadian Press wire service.

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