Funds drying up for water-monitoring program

SMU's online training course for water-quality testing is seeking a second phase of funding


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Emma Garden, SMU science student who designed the water project’s online training course, demonstrates a piece of monitoring equipment. Photo: Kirsten Goruk photo

A water-monitoring program at Saint Mary's University is seeking more funding to expand its work to communities throughout Nova Scotia.

The Community-Based Integrated Water Monitoring and Management project involves a training course for water-quality testing, as well as a specifically designed monitoring tool kit.

To fully implement the online course and increase community involvement, the project needs a second phase of funding from the Community-University Research Alliance.

"It's really important to protect and monitor our water and be able to address any concerns that come about," said Sarah Weston, the proposal co-ordinator, who has a bachelor of science degree from Saint Mary's.

She noted that the amount of the potential funding is just a starting point.

"A million dollars worth of funding over five years sounds like a lot, but when you break it down it doesn't amount to much per year," she said.

In addition to creating two full-time positions, the money would fund a pilot year with the online course and cover the cost of purchasing more tool kits.

About 50 environmental groups are interested in borrowing a kit. It would allow them to accurately measure things such as pH, water saltiness, and bacteria and oxygen levels.

Online course trains groups

Emma Garden, a bachelor of science student at Saint Mary's, was hired in the summer of 2009 to create a course to train the community groups in Nova Scotia that monitor watershed quality.

Garden researched other programs for water-quality testing in Canada and the U.S. to find the right design and template.

Garden and Weston agree that stewardship groups' work isn't taken seriously because there is no official training or uniform way of collecting data.

But a decrease in funding means that government environmental departments don't have enough resources and reliable volunteer data would help both sides.

"The work that they're doing is arguably equal to that of the Environment Canada water-quality monitoring team. It's filling a gap that the government can't meet," Weston said.

Tool kit 'invaluable'

The project operates under the Community-Based Environmental Network at Saint Mary's. According to its website, it has partnerships with the Halifax Regional Municipality, the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and the Salamander Foundation.

Such associations promote the involvement of surrounding communities, which - aside from grants - is what the program's ability to succeed depends on.

Colin O'Neal, the co-ordinator of the Sackville Rivers Association, an environmental non-governmental organization that monitors the Sackville River watershed, tested the tool kit.

"This sort of pre-prepared kit that has everything you need in an affordable package with guidelines on how to use it. It is going to be invaluable to us," O'Neal said.

A decision on funding won't be made until March. Regardless of whether the project receives funding, Garden said they will keep applying until more funding is found.

"We will continue regardless. We wouldn't want it to all go to waste."



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