Meeting Minutes - Dr. Phillipe Van Cappellen: Global Water Issues - May 25th. 2017
This meeting at Trinity United Church began at 10:00 am with President John Proctor welcoming 31 members in attendance. A new first-time membership guest, Trevor Dickinson, was introduced and welcomed as was Dr. Philippe Van Cappellen, today’s guest speaker. Special recognition was made to member Ken Watson, member since 2006. Several months ago Ken lost his wife of 63 years and he was invited to continue attending and taking part in Club activities.
Normand Genest introduced Dr. Philippe Van Cappellen.
Dr. Van Cappellen is the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology located at the University of Waterloo. His research focuses on the biogeochemistry of soils, sediments and aquatic ecosystems, the cycles of water, carbon, nutrients and metals, global change, geobiology, chemical hydrology, water-rock interactions and environmental modeling. At the University of Waterloo, he leads the research program in ecohydrology. Van Cappellen joined the University of Waterloo in 2011. He was previously the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Global Environmental Studies in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also a part-time professor in the department of earth sciences at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Van Cappellen holds a PhD in geochemistry from Yale University, and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in geology and mineralogy from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.
Dr. Phillipe Van Cappellen - "The Global Water Crisis " Presentation
A slide presentation can be found on the Club website under speakers notes
The availability and quality of fresh water is critical to both human health and the functioning of the world's essential ecosystems. However, the sustainability of the Earth's fresh water supply is being threatened by overuse and environmental stresses, such as climate change and pollution. To tackle these threats and ensure the future of our remaining fresh water, policy-makers need new approaches and tools for managing this vital resource.
Van Cappellen’s research is revolutionizing global strategies for managing water resources by revealing the range of effects that groundwater withdrawal, land use and climate change have on the chemical and ecological status of groundwater and surface water. It also allows policy-makers and stakeholders to make responsible decisions about water resource management that will balance the needs of human and ecosystem health.
The term “ecohydrology” is a contraction of the words “ecology” which is the science of living systems and “hydrology” which is the science of water. The concept of the use of water by humans is described as the water-footprint. Besides what we as humans use water for, most of the water on the planet is used for agriculture and next it’s used for industry.
When we talk about water use, we have to distinguish between water withdrawal and water consumption. Water withdrawal is the total amount of water we take out of the environment. In Guelph we use either ground water or surface water. Water consumption is the water that is taken from the source and not directly returned to the environment from which it came. Water consumption is a fraction of the water withdrawal. An example of water withdrawal is water from a river that is used for drinking or washing and eventually returned through a municipal treatment system and then returned to the river. Of the five continents, Asia has the most water withdrawal and consumption followed by North America. In both cases the water consumption is a fraction of the water withdrawal. However in the case of Asia, the water consumption is a greater proportion of the water withdrawal and this is mostly because of a greater population. The water used is mostly for food production. In the future, especially in China, water will be a huge factor in food production.
In recent years we have begun to think about ecological health, i.e. the health of the ecological system. In the water cycle, a water molecule keeps going around and around constantly being reused. Water is a renewable resource and the water cycle is a very efficient “engine.” Therefore, when we think about water we have to think about water flows rather than water stocks. As an example, if we think about the Grand River, we need to think about water flows rather than the amount of water stock. This means we need to consider demand and supply. This takes into consideration the amount of water used for daily living, industry and agriculture on one side versus the amount of water flowing in the water cycle. Environmental flows = quantity + quality
What are some of the water quality issues that we need to think about? These are called “anthropogenic nutrients” which are the chemicals Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), and Sulphur (S). These are elements that all organisms need to sustain life. Humans emit nitrogen into the environment sewage. Sewage then becomes and is used for fertilizer as nutrients to increase crop yields and some of these fertilizers will leach out of the soil and ultimately getting into water sources such as rivers and lakes. If you put too much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur into the water system then you get too many nutrients and this creates algal blooms. This is at the expense of all the other organisms due to oxygen depletion. These algal blooms are becoming more prevalent in coastal areas and in the Great Lakes. This is a problem that we know about and with that knowledge we can start doing something about it and actually solve. We have to reduce emissions of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur.
Another major concern is micro-pollutants. These are mostly compounds created by man as synthetic chemicals for all kinds of purposes. The American Chemical Society maintains a data base of new chemicals which contains over 100 million chemicals. The problem that exists is that less than 1 percent is regulated. They can be produced, used and disposed of without any regulations. For most of them we don’t really know what happens to them once they are in the environment but they are entering into the water supply. They typically exist in very low concentrations so they don’t have an acute toxic effect to fish populations. The question is what does this do to the fish and wildlife? The answer in most cases is that we really don’t know. The micro-pollutants and chemicals get all mixed up in the water and fish and wildlife are exposed to this. So this is a very serious concern. In Ontario and Canada federally we have a very good monitoring program but they do not look at these micro-pollutants. The concentrations are very low and are very hard and expensive to detect. This is a typical environmental issue where we know what the problem is but we don’t know how to fix it.
There is an upcoming concept called the “blue Economy.” It is analogous to the “green environment.” It identifies problems and if we have problems can we turn problems into opportunities? In areas of the world where we have water scarcity maybe we can develop ways of making water systems more efficient such as creating ways of recycling water. If there is a problem with water quality such as micro-pollutants, maybe we can develop analytical equipment to measure these in the environment or we can think about better water pollution plants. So we have to start thinking about the blue economy just like we think about the green economy.
We are very fortunate in Ontario to have the Laurentian Great Lakes which are the largest fresh water source in the world and which we share with the U.S. It is estimated that 60% of Canada’s GDP is somehow tied to the Great Lakes.
Ecosystems services …. We have healthy lakes, healthy wet lands, healthy ground water systems which provide so-called ecosystem services. What are they? They are food and biomass production, drinking water supply, habitat and biodiversity, storage of water, filtration, transportation recreation, support for animal structures, regulation of plants. These are all services that are provided by ecosystems essentially at no cost to us. The idea is these are systems that help us. For instance, wet lands are very good at taking out pollutants from the water; that is, the water that comes out of the wet land is cleaner than the water that goes into the wetland and therefore these are ecosystem services provided by nature to us that help human beings with economic development. Ecologists have come up with these services that are outside of the classic economy. They are not normally included in the regular economy. So let’s put a price on these ecosystem services. An analyst studying this used for a study the Grand River Watershed ecosystem services. Selecting just five services: - water purification - water supply for agriculture - carbon sequestration - nutrient cycling - flow regulation he came up with a value of $200 million dollars just for these five services and this is a conservative estimate. There are many many more services. These services are free to everyone. So you are richer than you think.
In summary Dr. Phillipe Van Cappellen’s take home message was water is our most precious resource. It is renewable.
Following Dr. Phillipe Van Cappellen’s presentation there was question and answer period.
Normand Genest thanked Dr. Van Cappellen and gave him a token of appreciation.
Nominations Committee – David Wallace - The slate of nominees for the Board as announced at the last meeting include: For President – Ed Herold For Vice-President – Martin Alderwick For Director of Events – Ray Biffis For Director-at-Large – John Sheflin For Past President – John Proctor - Further nominations will be accepted from the floor at the AGM, if there are any. - the AGM will start @ 9:45 am. - Two outings coming up are: - Honeybee Research Center visit on May 29th @ 10:30 am - RWDI visit at 600 Southgate Drive on May 31st @ 5:30 pm - Coffee Groups meet on alternate Thursdays @ 10:00 am at the Boathouse and the Airpark Café
The Annual Report for the AGM is on the website under Archives. Password: “Fields"
Next meeting: June 8th, 2017 @ 9:45 am Adjournment @ 11:13 am