Water Institute Symposium 2014: The Future of Groundwater Research

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Waterloo Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Dave Rudolph Water is no longer the completely renewable resource we once thought it was according to Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Dave Rudolph.

Rudolph, also a member of the Water Institute, presented an overview on the future of groundwater research at the 2014 Water Institute Symposium last Thursday. In 2013, he was selected as the Henry Darcy Distinguished Lecturer in Groundwater Science by the US National Groundwater Association.

We have very little headroom left to manage our water resources,” said Rudolph.

The limits we face include both water quantity and water quality.

By 2050 the world will need to increase food production by 70 per cent, requiring up to 50 per cent more water for irrigation. Because of the growing uncertainty in surface water sources due to climate change, much of this additional supply will have to come from groundwater.

Meanwhile, water quality has reached a point where rivers and lakes in heavily developed areas are unable to assimilate the cumulative inputs from wastewater treatment plants and watershed runoff.

Researchers are also realizing that groundwater and surface water should be considered an integrated, finite resource where physical and chemical changes in one reservoir may directly lead to changes in the other.

We can no longer depend on our water resources to solve our problems for us,” said Rudolph. “Our hydrological system has lost the resilience to handle whatever we throw at it.”

In other words, the solution to pollution is no longer dilution.

To manage these constraints, Rudolph says hydrogeologists need to improve the accuracy of their predictions as they will be asked to help decision makers in unprecedented ways.

In most cases, we have the models needed to make these predictions, but what we often lack are the data to appropriately inform these models,” said Rudolph.

Unfortunately, hydrogeologists can no longer completely rely on historical data to indicate hydrologic trends because of climate change.

Rudolph is currently working to fill this data gap through the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, a multi-institutional consortium that supports capacity for the development and testing of innovations in watershed management. In collaboration with SOLINST Canada Ltd. and IBM Canada, Rudolph’s team is working to develop a ”smart watershed” data platform network that captures and analyzes near real-time information across an entire subwatershed.

For more information on this project, visit the Southern Ontario Water Consortium website.

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