A University of Saskatchewan hydrologist appointed to a U.S. panel on the future of water resources says Hurricane Harvey was a wake-up call for Canada’s southern neighbours.
Howard Wheater co-leads the Global Water Futures program, which the U of S describes as the world’s largest university-based water research initiative.
His work looks at risks and solutions to water challenges presented by global warming in cold regions.
Water in the 21st century
Now, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Wheater has been appointed to the U.S. National Academies panel tasked with investigating the future of water resources in that country.
He said water is one of the biggest issues for the 21st century.
“Obviously threats like floods and droughts are what hits the headlines and there are really important strategic issues around that,” Wheater told CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning on Friday.
“How is the climate changing, how is the landscape changing, how are people’s behaviours changing and how do these interact to create these immensely damaging hazards?”
Preparing for climate change
Behind the immediate risks like major weather events, he said there are ongoing issues with the environment changing as a result of global warming.
He said society’s reliance on water to produce food and energy, in addition to preserving life, presents complicated strategic and policy challenges for leaders.
“We’re seeing changing patterns of rain and snow — less snow, more rain — changing patterns of flooding in the Prairies,” said Wheater.
“The big issue is how do we as a society prepare for these and manage these, and also get better warning of these events?”
Working on new systems
Wheater said the U.S. has a new national water model that was used for the first time to help forecast Hurricane Harvey.
He said there were plans to implement a similar model in Canada, and the U of S is working on systems for Yukon and southern Saskatchewan.
Wheater said the work of the U.S. panel was relevant to Canada because the two countries share a lot of water.
“I think we want to come up with a vision of how the challenges in water are going to develop over 25 years,” he said.
At the same time, he said there are “terrific opportunities that we’ve got from new technologies to do a better job at understanding change and managing change.”