A study of the Attawapiskat River looks to answer questions about the impact of mining and development on rivers across the country.
A group of scientists is starting a multi-year project this week.
The director of the Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian said the group will look at everything from flood control issues, the quality of water for drinking and how mercury flows through rivers.
John Gunn added he believes cities the size of Timmins or Sudbury may one day be located in what is now an isolated part of the province.
"This is not going to be a small development," he said.
"As the mining discoveries continue and as transportation enters the area, this is an area of enormous growth."
Gunn said funding for the project comes from the federal government and private industry.
Early results should start coming out next year, he added.