Newswise — SASKATOON- The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) has been awarded $77.8 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to lead the “Global Water Futures: Solutions to Water Threats in an Era of Global Change” initiative—the largest university-led water research program ever funded worldwide.

With more than 140 partners around the world, the research will position Canada as a global leader in cold regions water science. The seven-year program will develop ways of forecasting and mitigating water-related threats—such as devastating floods, droughts and degraded water quality—that come with changing climate and expanding economies.

“With this unprecedented investment and one of the largest research collaborations in the world, we will transform the way communities, governments and industries in Canada and other cold regions of the world prepare for and manage these increasing water-related threats,” said University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff.

With today’s announcement by Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, the U of S becomes the only university in Canada to be awarded two prestigious CFREF grants—investments which aim to catapult Canadian science to levels of global impact. The university also received a $37.2-million CFREF for food security research in the inaugural national competition last year.

“This funding will allow researchers and students at the University of Saskatchewan to better position Canada as a global hub for leading-edge, user-driven water science for the world’s cold regions,” Minister Goodale said. “With the steady march of climate change and its impact on water, this knowledge base will be increasingly important for our vital efforts to mitigate and adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances—including right here in Saskatchewan.”

The prestigious award is one of only 13 across the country. Contributions from the U of S ($17.5M) and its three partner universities—the University of Waterloo ($15M), McMaster University ($12.1M), and Wilfrid Laurier University ($10.6 M)—as well as international organizations and industry, bring the total program budget to $143.7 million over seven years.

“No institution nationally or internationally has assembled such a large-scale and multi-disciplinary water research initiative of this kind,” said Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and director of the U of S Global Institute for Water Security, who will lead the CFREF-funded program. The grant is the largest ever awarded to the U of S.

The U of S-led water research network will involve more than 380 Canadian university researchers at 18 universities in a wide range of disciplines, 19 federal and provincial agencies, seven Indigenous communities and governments, 39 industrial collaborators, 15 non-governmental agencies, and 45 international research institutes. Researchers will also work with international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Climate Research Program and Future Earth, to develop the tools and models to mitigate water disasters, protect the environment and take advantage of economic opportunities.

With climate change and increased human impacts on the environment, Canada is witnessing unprecedented flood, drought and poor water quality incidents, said John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in in Water Resources and Climate Change, and associate director of the new program. Economic losses from extreme events such as catastrophic floods and droughts have cost Canada an estimated $19 billion so far this century.

Researchers will use a transformative “big data” approach to water scenario modelling, and will develop marketable, new monitoring and predictive tools and technologies, Pomeroy said. New simulation models will enable communities and industries to predict the timing, location and severity of extreme events. New apps and other innovative tools will be developed to support informed decision-making.

“When this program is done in seven years, we will have designed and helped to implement a national water system to measure and forecast floods, droughts, water quality and water-related health problems in Canada, and we will have developed models for improved water governance and equity between upstream and downstream users,” he said.

The program will engage stakeholders in developing risk management solutions. For instance, it will build on relationships with Aboriginal communities in Canada’s North and along the major rivers and lakes to help solve growing water challenges in those areas.

“This research will vastly improve Canada’s water security and capacity for predicting where water will be, how much will be there, and how safe it is,” Pomeroy said, noting that such knowledge is critical to the prosperity of Canadian industries including oil and gas, agriculture, mining, insurance and power generation. “Canada has long been known as the water country, and now we will be known as the water solutions country,” he said.Quotes from key university partners:

University of Waterloo: “Water security and sustainability affects us all. That’s why we’re proud to partner with the University of Saskatchewan on this collaborative and globally ground breaking research that will protect this vital resource,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “As home to the world-leading Water Institute and host institution of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, Waterloo is deeply committed to this critical research area which impacts the health of people and communities around the world.”

McMaster University: "McMaster University has deep expertise in water research across many disciplines and we welcome this important partnership and strategic investment which will make Canada a global leader,” said Rob Baker, McMaster’s vice-president, research. “As one of this country’s top research-intensive universities, our researchers are well-equipped to tackle pressing issues such as climate change, natural disasters and water security, which represent some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Wilfrid Laurier University: “The success of this project is truly a collaborative effort of each of the partner institutions,” said Robert Gordon, vice-president research, Wilfrid Laurier University. “As a result of this incredible federal investment, Canada will be strategically positioned to be a global leader in supporting the sustainability of our most precious resource – water.”

More information about Global Water Futures is available at:

About the Canada First Research Excellence FundAnnounced in the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2014, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund will invest approximately $1.5 billion over seven years to support Canada’s post-secondary institutions in their efforts to become global research leaders. It will propel Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics to compete with the best in the world for talent and partnership opportunities, to make breakthrough discoveries, and to excel globally in research areas that will create long-term economic advantages for Canada.

Register for reporter access to contact details