Laurier signs research agreement with government of NWT

A five-year, $2 million research agreement between Wilfrid Laurier University and the government of the Northwest Territories was signed Wednesday.

The partnership will involve research on water resources in the territory’s boreal zone conducted by Laurier researchers. Information gathered from this research will be applied to the territory’s water resource strategy, policy developed as climate change and pollution affect the quality and quantity of those resources.

“We really wanted to look at the boreal because that area not only has a ton of water, it has a lot of carbon so it’s important from a greenhouse gas and climate change point of view,” explained Richard Petrone, director of the Cold Regions Research Centre at Laurier. “It’s one ecozone that’s going to respond first to any climatic variability, it’s a really sensitive system.”

The Cold Regions Research Centre has been conducting research in Canada’s north since the 1970s and has in recent years co-operated with other departments at Laurier in its efforts, involving the faculty of science along with geography and environmental studies.

“Laurier has developed a real strength in hydrology and water studies, particularly in the boreal regions of Canada,” noted Laurier associate vice-president of research Paul Maxim. “More recently we’ve brought people on in chemistry and biology and so forth that are also interested in sustainability of water resources.”

The research under this new partnership is especially relevant as the territory, which contains much of Canada’s 15 per cent share of worldwide freshwater reserves, is impacted by mining and other resource extraction.

“They have challenges in that there’s a lot of trans-boundary or [trans]-border water resource issues with Alberta and British Columbia,” Petrone said, pointing out the Alberta oil sands as one important factor. “Freshwater resources are really a national asset, not just for individual communities or provinces, it’s really everybody’s responsibility.”

On top of the $2 million from the territory itself, an additional $3.3 million in total funding will come from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Laurier researchers proposed the initiative to the organization before the deal with the Northwest Territories was reached, initially intending to partner with the province of Ontario on the project.

Petrone emphasized the significance of Laurier partnering with the territory’s government, stating, “Never at this scale has there been this sort of two-way interaction between the policy people in the trenches of the government and the academic scientists.”

Maxim explained that the partnership is likely the start of a long-term arrangement with the territory. “Increasingly, governments are looking towards universities for research like this to make more informed and effective policy decisions.”

He added, “Is this a good thing from a research perspective? Definitely. Will it raise Laurier’s profile? Definitely.”

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