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Researchers tackle water pollution from agriculture on a global scale

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Three Water Institute members – Philippe Van Cappellen (earth and environmental sciences), Nandita Basu (earth and environmental sciences and civil and environmental engineering) and Roy Brouwer (economics) – will receive more than $550,000 to address persistent, long-term pollution created by excess fertilizers in the lakes, rivers and wetlands in several parts of the world.

Nandita Basu

Philippe Van Cappellen

Roy Brouwer


Nandita Basu, Philippe Van Cappellen, Roy Brouwer

The interdisciplinary project entitled Legacies of Agriculture Pollutants (LEAP) is one of six international projects receiving a combined total of $1.84 million CAD over three years. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is the Canadian funding partner organization, supporting the international research collaborations through the European Commission Water Joint Programming Initiative.

“Protecting water quality in the face of a growing population and the corresponding demands on agriculture is critical to ensuring both water and food security for generations to come,” said Professor Philippe Van Cappellen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology and the principal investigator on the LEAP project. “The transnational and transdisciplinary research involved in this project, demonstrates the importance for collaboration across disciplines in order to help tackle the water challenges we are facing globally.”

This transnational project will see PhD students and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo focus primarily on the Great Lakes watersheds, and work with European researchers over the next three years in Sweden (Stockholm University), Denmark (University of Copenhagen) and Portugal (University of Coimbra) who will explore similar questions in their countries.

This project is a true reflection of the Water Institute’s core mission of promoting relevant, impactful, collaborative, interdisciplinary research,” said Roy Brouwer, executive director of the Water Institute and professor in the department of Economics, also working on LEAP.

Due to increases in agricultural production in past years, large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and animal manure are making their way into our waterways, contaminating drinking water and producing harmful algal blooms in lakes, reservoirs and coastal areas. Over time, nitrogen and phosphorus legacies have developed in soils and in groundwater, meaning that even when we improve current agricultural management practices, it may take a long time to see improvements in water quality.  LEAP aims to gain a predictive understanding of these legacy nutrients studying how they will be released into our lakes and streams over time.

“It is crucial to understand both the environmental and economic impacts of these nutrient legacies as we invest more time and resources into improving water quality,” said Nandita Basu, a professor jointly appointed to Waterloo’s departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering, and also working on LEAP.

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