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$4M research chair will probe groundwater for drinking

Waterloo, ON – A newly endowed $4 million research chair at the University of Waterloo will investigate ways to protect and restore the quality of groundwater in order to provide a reliable supply of safe and clean drinking water.

Based in the department of earth and environmental sciences, the chair will improve the quality of water by preventing contamination from pollutants or by removing those pollutants after contamination. About 35% of North Americans depend on groundwater for drinking water. Since aquifers convey water downstream to lakes and rivers, pollutants pose a threat to surface water quality.

“There is ample evidence from around the world that water – especially clean drinking water – is becoming increasingly scarce,” says George Dixon, UW’s new vice president of university research and a water researcher. “The impact on people and their economic activities will be enormous, but there’s also tremendous opportunity for researchers and industry leaders determined to seek innovative solutions.”

Imperial Oil will help launch the chair with a $250,000 donation over five years. The university will contribute $1.5 million toward the endowment, with the rest coming from private-sector contributions.

“Imperial Oil is pleased to support the University of Waterloo’s groundwater research program and its innovative work in the area of groundwater and surface water management,” says Cindy Christopher, manager of safety, health and environment at Imperial Oil. “Supporting environmental research, education and conservation has long been a priority at Imperial. Meeting the demand for energy in an environmentally responsible manner requires that we endeavour to support research in many different fields of science.”

Imperial is now encouraging other industry leaders to support this chair.

The new research chair will honour the founding chair of the department of earth and environmental sciences, the late Robert Farvolden, whose vision and leadership at the university were instrumental in building its worldwide reputation in hydrogeology since the 1970s. The department has named an annual groundwater lecture after Farvolden.

Over the years, the university has developed, patented and commercialized many innovative groundwater remediation technologies. For example, researchers have developed barriers that remediate or remove pollution from the groundwater. These barriers are now widely used around the world.

The specific topics to be explored by the research chair could include industrial contaminants in groundwater, contaminant transport processes in groundwater, groundwater in resource industries, role of groundwater in the ecology of wetlands, physical hydrogeology, or any combination of those areas.