Dr. Henning Bjornlund is a Canada Research Chair in Water Policy and Management at the University of Lethbridge and a professor at the University of South Australia. He has researched water policy and management issues in Australia since 1993 and in Canada since 2005. He recently served on the Ministers Advisory Group on Water Allocation and Management in Alberta, and has written widely about water policy and management issues with more than 275 publications and presentations.
What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?
Prior to starting my first academic degree in 1990, I was the managing director for a company operating tropical plantations in South and Central America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. As part of this work, I bought properties and negotiated access rights to water to grow bananas, citrus, rice and other tropical crops highly dependent on water.
While studying for my bachelor's degree I had to do a third-year research project and chose to concentrate on the impact of water policy on rural land values. This required a careful study of the literature on water markets and water rights. I continued this theme through both my master's and PhD studies.
How is your research applicable in "the real world"?
Water is probably the most important and valuable resource in the world. All human activity depends on it in one form or another. It is available in a finite quantity and has a finite ability to assimilate waste. Most human and economic activity in some way impacts on water quality and the availability of water. Human activities have had a serious impact on water bodies and the ecosystems dependent on them. Policy makers around the world are trying to come to terms with how to reverse this trend of environmental degradation, how to continue our human activities while minimizing our impact on the environment, how to use less water and be more efficient, how to produce more from less and how to share our limited resources. All of these issues are central to my research.
What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?
The greatest honour and privilege that I can receive as an academic is an invitation to contribute to policy making, the development of professional standards or to public debate and awareness. Hence, invitations to serve on entities such as the Ministers Advisory Group on a new Water Management and Allocation framework for Alberta, to produce a policy commentary to contribute to the debate on water management and policy in Alberta, or help write a policy document for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in London on the implications of changing water policies for property professionals are among the greatest honours I have received.
How important are students to your research endeavours?
Student participation is an integral part of my research program. I currently have seven PhD students and five master's students in Canada and Australia working on various issues related to water policy and management. Apart from answering pressing questions about how to resolve the world's growing water problems, a very important task is the building of human capacity to deal with these issues. Student training in this area is very important.
If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?
How to share limited resources is one of the most challenging issues facing policy makers and water managers. This is a very complicated issue in that those who currently have the right to use water have invested a lot of time and money to be able to do so. Hence, any change in the way water is allocated can potentially have significant socio-economic impact on the current generation of water users, not the least of which are irrigators and the communities that currently depend on water use as the economic engine of their community. If I had unlimited funds I would like to conduct a Canada wide investigation of how people perceive a reallocation should take place, how such perception varies across Canada and what causes the variation. Such insight would assist the development of a national water plan or policy, as well as the development of provincial water policy plans.
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This story first appeared in the October 2012 issue of the Legend. To see the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.