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The Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS) at the University of Saskatchewan is the top water resources research institute in Canada and one of the most advanced hydrology research centres in the world.

GIWS is dedicated to protecting our precious freshwater resources that we need for the world’s growing demand for sustainable food production, mitigating the risk of water-related disasters such as floods, droughts, and fires, predicting and forecasting extremes of global change through the use of advanced remote sensing and modelling techniques, and co-creating traditional knowledge with western science towards empowered Indigenous communities in protecting water health.

Find out more about our research, like the projects outlined below, and how you can work and study with us by visiting water.usask.ca.

Decolonization & Indigenization

Headshot - Lori Bradford

Lori Bradford

Assistant Professor, Ron and Jane Graham School of Professional Development, College of Engineering, and School of Environment and Sustainability

Contributed by: Community Partners and Lori Bradford, Lalita Bharadwaj, Graham Strickert, Tim Jardine, Karl-Eich Lindenschmidt.


At GIWS, researchers and community members are working together to help address the challenging water issues experienced by Indigenous communities across the country. Our work includes both community led and community engaged projects that actively support reconciliation.

We are finally catching up to social scientists and humanists in recognizing the value of Indigenous knowledge.

Communication and acceptance is the first step in building empathy. Few early projects in GIWS drove the wider acceptance of arts-based knowledge mobilization as a key stream for researchers to empathize and get to know communities affected by water challenges. Our members organized the action-theatre play called Downstream in 2014-2015 that shared perspectives of what water security means to those living across the Saskatchewan River Basin. Another project named ‘Delta Ways Remembered’, show cased a whiteboard animation video, which tells the story of Elder’s lived experience with water in the Slave River and Delta. The Building Bridges traveling exhibit and our annual GIWS photo contests highlighted our abilities to reflect on our work through different lenses. These projects gained more appreciation and lead us to a path of reconciliation through culturally harmonized artwork and storytelling.

In the past decade, the most important change seen in GIWS is the growing acceptance of epistemological pluralism by faculty trained in the natural sciences. We are finally catching up to social scientists and humanists in recognizing the value of Indigenous knowledge. Our researchers have embraced multiple ways of learning and sharing this knowledge, which has opened the door for others to get on board and accept the validity of this knowledge source.


Beavers and Climate Change

Headshot - Cherie Westbrook

Cherie Westbrook

Professor & Director, NSERC CREATE
for Water Security

Researchers at GIWS have embarked on a new approach called biomic river restoration to achieve stream restoration and enhance stream resilience to climate change. Biomic river restoration leverages the power of biology to influence stream forms and processes; beavers are one example and are nature’s stream restorers to help build, maintain, and adaptively manage habitat enhancing the self-healing capacity of streams.

Beaver dams change how water, sediment, nutrients and energy flow through stream corridors, enhancing both habitat diversity and landscape connectivity. One concern with using beaver dams to restore stream functioning is the risk that they have a higher likelihood to fail during large rainstorms and worsen flood impacts.

GIWS researchers observed that during the Alberta 2013, beaver dams in Kananaskis Country increased water retention and delayed flow to many streams, showing that this natural and transient floodwater storage solution warrants consideration in regional water management strategies. Moving forward, GIWS researchers will enhance the understanding of the incredible variation in beaver dam structures in a hydrologically meaningful way and develop a greater understanding of the density and distribution of beaver dams needed to restore healthy stream functioning and mitigate downstream flooding under a changing climate.


Wastewater-Based Surveillance of Sars-Cov-2 in Support of Public Health Decision-Making

Headshot - John Giesy

John Giesy

Canada Research Chair in Environmental Toxicology, University of Saskatchewan Toxicology Centre

Headshot - Kerry Mcphedran

Kerry McPhedran

Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan College of Engineering

Headshot - Markus Brinkmann

Markus Brinkmann

Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan Toxicology Centre

GIWS researchers, in partnership with the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, have turned to wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to monitor wastewater influents for SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. Although individual swabtesting has been adopted globally as the gold-standard for acquiring information, swab tests are limited by the fact that symptoms might not appear for as much as five days after infection and do not capture pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals that have the potential to unknowingly infect others and cause severe outbreaks.

Infected persons start shedding SARS-CoV-2 within 24 hours of being infected and by using COVID-19 WBE, the viral signal in the wastewater is one of the leading indicators of impending surges in cases numbers.

By using this information, GIWS researchers and partners have previously warned Saskatoon’s population of upcoming increases in positive cases.

Although monitoring of wastewater influents for viral outbreaks is not an entirely new idea, GIWS researchers have adapted and refined methods for quantification of traces of SARS-CoV-2, which can also be applied to screen for new variants of SARS-CoV-2 and inform the prioritization of public health measures during the regular flu and cold seasons. It has been shown that the viral signal in wastewater was one of the leading indicators of impeding surges in case numbers.

Graph

The graph shows the five-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases in Saskatoon (blue line). Data were obtained from Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 dashboard. The orange bars are results of the wastewater-based epidemiolog (WBE), which are expressed as normalized virus loads per 100 milliliters of wastewater as determined using RT-qPCR.

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