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Complex new UBCO research position draws industry, government and scholarly attention

(Left to right) UBC Provost Wesley Pue, Okanagan Water Basin Board Executive Director Anna Warwick Sears and the new Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF) BC Regional Innovation Chair in Water Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability John Janmaat at the announcement of Professor Janmaat
(Left to right) UBC Provost Wesley Pue, Okanagan Water Basin Board Executive Director Anna Warwick Sears and the new Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF) BC Regional Innovation Chair in Water Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability John Janmaat at the announcement of Professor Janmaat's appointment to the complex new water stewardship position.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

Friday afternoon, UBCO revealed a unique new position on its campus designed to bring the community, political sphere, its researchers and industry together to examine water resource management.

Economics professor John Janmaat will now serve in a position called the B.C. Regional Innovation Chair in Water Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability.

John Janmaat"People want water for a whole lot of things. The big challenge is figuring out how we're going to share it," said Janmaat. "This is a very dry valley and we have a limited amount of water that we have to figure out how to share among the various different interests for which we see water as being important, ranging from protecting the environment to agriculture to urban industrial growth."

Sponsored by the provincial government's Leading Edge Endowment Fund to the tune of $1.25 million, the $2.5 million position brings together funds from industry, government and academia.

The industry partner, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., provided $250,000 while local government leaders on the Okanagan Basin Water Board provided another $500,000 to the pot and the Columbia Basin Trust some $150,000.

The money is already going toward a string of research projects like Janmaat's ongoing effort to monitor residential water use in Kelowna and a new doctoral student's work developing a hydrologic and economic model of the Columbia Basin.

The model should flush out important issues before the Columbia River Treaty governing cross-boarder water use in B.C., Washington and Oregon is renegotiated. The basin houses four dams for flood control and to generate hydro electricity.

"The more we examined the need for water and ecosystem management, the more apparent it became that this region can learn a great deal from its own experiences," said Cynthia Mathieson, Dean of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences.

Mathieson indicated it took some time to establish the position as it demands international co-operation in addition to pushing industry and government to work together. Yet she also noted the partnership has global implications.

"We can learn a great deal from ourselves, but also help other parts of Canada and the world become better stewards of water resources," she said.

Janmaat has already been working in Nepal with a post-doctoral fellow where a partnership with the International Water Management Institute is helping them identify optimum water storage technology for rural mountain villages.

"I see tremendous potential to make the Okanagan campus of UBC a globally recognized centre for multidisciplinary research that addresses important water challenges around the world," he said.

Some of the other projects highlighted in the Friday afternoon press conference delineating what's to come included work on water quality and quantity, modelling and measurement in the Columbia Basin. Janmaat is also working with UBCO researchers Craig Nichol and Adam Wei supervising a doctoral student modelling land use changes and measuring the impact of those changes on water use in the Deep Creek Watershed in the North Okanagan.

Another project in the North Okanagan partners with Agri-Food Canada and the University of Alberta to monitor drought response. And finally, a master's student is looking at the impact of community size on community sustainability policies.

Newly appointed B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, was on hand to make the official announcement on behalf of Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Technology and Skills Training, which overseas LEEF.

"The B.C. government supported the 2010 development of an innovative computer model that determines water resource requirements for Okanagan agricultural land and that model is now being adapted for use in other parts of the province," he said. "As British Columbia's new agriculture minister, I look forward to building on the strong partnerships established with all levels of government and stakeholders as we work together on the common goal of water sustainability in the region."

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