As Alberta's economy and population continue to boom, the demand for water is soaring and so is the need to know how well we're managing this invaluable resource.
Biological scientists Drs. Alice Hontela and Stewart Rood are part of a team of world-renowned researchers at the University of Lethbridge who are seeking to answer the province's most pressing questions related to water.
Hontela is part of MITHE (Metals in The Human Environment) strategic network. She says climate change and increasing industrial activity (especially farming and mining) are not only affecting the volume of available water, but the concentration of pollutants in it.
Through lab and fieldwork, she studies the endocrine systems of different fish species – whose systems resemble in some aspects those of humans – to determine the effects of certain pollutants.
She explains that some chemicals are safe at low doses (like selenium, which our bodies need), but toxic at higher concentrations. Since pollutants, like pharmaceuticals, are difficult or impossible to remove with filtration, the health of both human and aquatic species requires keeping these chemicals at non-toxic levels.
"Alberta is a province that is really changing very quickly, and we have to find new ways to deal with our water and our pollutants."
Rood, who was a co-director of the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Water Research from 2002 to 2007, is now part of a river research group supported by the new Alberta Water Research Institute. He is also a recent recipient of a Killam Research Fellowship.
He studies the relationship between water (particularly river water) and aspects of the natural environment, like floodplain forests (zones that flank rivers).
"More broadly, the topic in my area is, 'How can we effectively manage water in areas that are water scarce, with the double-threat of reducing water supplies due to climate change and increasing demands due to human population and industrial activity?'"
The answers Rood, Hontela and their colleagues discover will be crucial for making sound management decisions about water resources today and in the future.