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National, international students drawn to Rockies water course

They came from Nelson, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Oslo, Norway and Graz, Austria.

They came from Nelson, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Oslo, Norway and Graz, Austria. They included grad students, PhD candidates and young professionals working for Crown corporations, provincial water authorities, Canada’s federal government and as consultants for private industry.

In March, 30 students participated in the University of Saskatchewan’s Principles of Hydrology course at the University of Calgary Biogeoscience Institute’s Barrier Lake Field Station.

Covering such topics as river hydraulics and ice, infiltration and soil water, and micrometeorology and precipitation, the latter taught by Dr. John Pomeroy, the Canmore-based head of hydrology for the U of S, the course offered a first-rate opportunity for those working in various channels of water resource management to expand their knowledge base while also expanding their professional connections.

Kevin Shook, a former Alberta Environment flow forecaster and now research scientist with the U of S and one of the course instructors, said the diversity of the group, and the course’s two-week duration, is a great benefit to all the participants. The Barrier Lake Field Station location offers excellent recreation opportunities too, and a quiet atmosphere for students to engage in conversation.

“The people taking this course include some from academia, operational jobs, consultants – it’s about as diverse a group of hydrologists as you can get together,” Shook said.

Sarah Crookshanks, a Nelson, B.C. resident working as a water stewardship technician with B.C.’s Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, said she was eager to come to the Rockies to gain a graduate level understanding of the complexity of micro-scale processes, including those that go into producing streamflow from snow melt, as are being studied on mountain headwaters.

“It’s pretty intense, there’s a lot of info in the course,” Crookshanks said. “It’s good to come back to school and challenge my brain. And it’s really good to meet the other students and learn about the jobs they do.”

Among those with interesting jobs was Iain Smith, who works with the Crown corporation Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, which is responsible for surface water management in regards to water quality and water health. Smith is also working on a PhD project through the U of S, examining the health of the bugs that live in the water.

Similar to what people see on the TV show CSI, Smith explained that by studying the health of bugs living in the water and by identifying the concentrations of chemicals in those bugs’ tissues, stresses in the watershed can be identified.

“Water governs the bugs,” Smith said. “Before you know how people are affecting the water, you need to know how the water affects the bugs.”

The behaviour of the snowpack also influences the bugs, which most of the time rest in dormant stages, coming to life only every five years.

“Studying the snowpack can help predict those kinds of assemblages,” Smith said. “That’s really important to the bugs.”

Building benchmark information through such studies improves how water health can be examined and better understood for the benefit of all, he said.

“My job is to care about ecosystem health,” Smith said. “Taking this course helps give me better tools to serve the public. I chose this school (U of S) and this course for its reputation, not just in Canada, but internationally too.”

With different instructors teaching different segments of the course, other students appreciated delving into relevant topics with some of Canada’s most knowledgeable and best respected water experts.

For University of Manitoba grad student Phil Slota, who is working on a masters degree developing regional scale hydrological models with a focus on lake evaporation in the boreal regions of Canada, the course offers information and field trips to Rockies research sites that are relevant to uniquely Canadian water issues – information that’s hard to find through traditional sources.

“I thought it would be a good chance to learn more about the hydrological processes that dominate cold and northern regions,” Slota said. “The classical textbook approaches are not designed for the Canadian climate. It was nice to go to the Marmot Creek research site to get a hands-on approach to some monitoring that goes on in the Rockies.”

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