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phillip harder

Phillip Harder, Ph.D

Research Associate Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan

Helen Baulch

Helen Baulch, Ph.D

Associate Professor, School of Environment & Sustainability,
Centennial Enhancement Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Biogeochemistry Member, Global Institute for Water Security

In 2021, Canada experienced record-breaking droughts, fires, and floods. How can we build water resilience for the future?

Jay Famiglietti, Executive director of University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Global Institute for Water Security and the Canada 150 Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing, says that the water availability we’ve been counting on the past 50 to 100 years is changing.

“We’re going to get less precipitation stored as snow in the mountains, and therefore greater river flows in the spring and lower flows in the summer. The timing of available streamflow will change, and the difference between the peak and low flows, the maximum and minimum, will increase,” said Famiglietti.

People used to think the availability of water from sources like rivers and groundwater would always be reliable, but that’s no longer the case, and that change is happening rapidly.

The Global Institute for Water Security at the USask is on the leading edge of proactive water management as a tool for managing these rapid changes. Improved forecasting, in-depth research, and collaborations with local water managers are just a few ways that the GIWS is building reliance and adaptation.

People used to think the availability of water from sources like rivers and groundwater would always be reliable, but that’s no longer the case, and that change is happening rapidly.


Understanding crop available water in the Canadian Prairies

The Canadian Prairies are an extreme semi-arid climate and regularly cycle between wet and dry periods. Even in that context, the 2021 drought on the Canadian Prairies was one for the record books.

The region has been in a drier period for several years. A precipitation deficit has been evident since the mid-2010s. In 2021, a reasonable snowpack and limited runoff during spring melt recharged soil moisture reserves, and timely springtime rains provided an optimistic start to the growing season. The extent and severity of the lack of precipitation and intensive heat after mid-June, especially in the heat dome event in early July, rapidly changed the story.

Crops were unable to moderate the intense water demands and thermal stresses with the limited available moisture during the extreme heat, leading to accelerated crop maturity and irreversible thermal damage during what should have been peak growth periods.

To better understand and predict prairie drought conditions and their agricultural impacts, improved information, and models that quantify crop available water are needed. Complex and spatially variable interactions between snow accumulation and melt, meltwater runoff or infiltration partitioning, crop water use, and agricultural practices all influence the moisture available to crops.

This is the focus of research associate Phillip Harder (PhD), a USask graduate and GIWS member working with the Global Water Futures’ Agricultural Water Futures project where he is striving to couple cold regions hydrology and crop growth models with explicit representation of agricultural practices to understand and predict crop responses to drought and their impact on water availability in the Prairies. Dr. Harder’s research brings together drone remote sensing, field observations, and modelling with the results of over 60 years of agricultural hydrology research at USask.

Jay Famiglietti

Jay Famiglietti, Ph.D

Executive Director, Global Institute for Water Security Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology Remote Sensing Professor, School of Environment & Sustainability


Magali Nehemy, Ph.D. 

Postdoctoral Fellow Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan

New research helps better understand how ‘thirsty’ forests affect water availability

University of Saskatchewan graduate Dr. Magali Nehemy (PhD) and her research team investigated how plants use water — where they get it, when they need it, and how these processes impact overall water availability.

Most water used in agriculture and urban areas comes from sources originating in forest landscapes. Rainfall is usually first consumed by trees in large forests and then proceeds down through soil and water pathways to other environments.

Nehemy’s PhD research investigated how and when trees consume water — a process called transpiration — and worked to identify the age of transpiration, by understanding how long it takes for the water to travel within the tree after it enters the roots until it leaves through the leaves in the canopy. The project also analyzed how water-consuming forests impact the water supply available to other plants.

“Changes in forest composition because of logging, forest fires, or insect outbreaks may affect water availability downstream, and understanding the source and origin of this transpired water improves our ability to manage these complex systems,” said Nehemy.

The work is the first of its kind in that it identifies that trees constantly change where they are sourcing water from, depending on how ‘thirsty’ trees are, causing a ripple effect of impact to other vegetation.

“This research challenges the notion that most people have about the nature of how water flows in soil and reveals interesting details about how vegetation interrupts and alters this flow in space and time,” said Nehemy.

If water is mostly used by trees in forest-type environments, this could affect the availability of water for agricultural or urban use. This finding is particularly relevant as water resources become scarcer and drought conditions become increasingly common.

Cutting-edge buoy aims to secure water sources

A strong partnership between University of Saskatchewan researcher Dr. Helen Baulch (PhD) and the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant is bringing cutting-edge monitoring equipment to Saskatchewan to advance lake science and safeguard drinking water for 260,000 people.

“Climate change and changes to land use are putting unprecedented pressure on prairie aquatic systems and increasing risks of harmful cyanobacterial (blue green algae) blooms,” said Baulch Associate Professor in USask’s School of Environment and Sustainability, and Centennial Enhancement Chair in Aquatic Ecosystem Biogeochemistry.

To improve water quality monitoring, Baulch is enlisting the help of a high-tech buoy that’s been nicknamed Superbuoy. It comes equipped with research-grade weather and atmospheric monitors, and an array of winter-hardy water quality sensors for year-round use.

“From a research perspective, the Superbuoy provides continuity as well as some neat new tools. For example, it has cutting-edge sensors to more accurately measure carbon dioxide that’s important to lake ecology, and some new cameras with telemetry so that we are able to monitor the lake surface for scum, from our desks, and get down there to sample it.”

The new buoy is expected to be placed into service in time for the 2022 summer season, a period when huge algal blooms occur, and when rapid changes to conditions, such as large temperature variations between the surface and bottom of the lake, sometimes cause major problems for the plant that supplies potable water to the surrounding areas.

For Blair Kardash, Manager, Laboratory and Research at the treatment plant, the partnership with Baulch underlines the value of academic-industrial cooperation.

“We want to support Dr. Baulch’s continued research in limnology (the study of lakes) at Buffalo Pound. In doing so, we also get the benefit of having real-time monitoring for rapid changes in water quality, as well the benefits from her long-term research on cyanobacteria.”

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