Flood prediction, climate change impacts on water studied at new Canmore lab

At a new research lab in Canmore, scientists are studying the impact of climate change on water, glaciers and snow, and developing tools to predict and warn people about future floods.

The Coldwater laboratory recently moved from its former home in Kananaskis and expanded

The Coldwater Laboratory, a new research centre, opened in Canmore earlier this month. Scientists at the lab are studying the impact of climate change on water resources. (John Pomeroy/University of Saskatchewan)

At a new research lab in Canmore, Alta., scientists are studying the impact of climate change on water, glaciers and snow, and developing tools to predict and warn people about future floods. 

The Coldwater Laboratory, led by John Pomeroy, recently moved from the Barrier Lake Field Station in Kananaskis Country to the Bow Valley.

The expanded lab in Canmore opened earlier this month and is part of the University of Saskatchewan-led Global Water Futures Program, funded in part by a $77.8-million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

Pomeroy, who is also the Canada Research Chair in water resources and climate change, and director of the Centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, spoke with the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday about the lab.

Below is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q: Tell me about your new facility. What have you done? 
John Pomeroy is the director of the Coldwater Laboratory. (University of Saskatchewan)

A: We enjoyed Kananaskis but we needed a larger space and better Internet connectivity, and it's nice to be right in the community of Canmore as well.

It's part of a larger initiative called Global Water Futures… that's allowing us to do a number of things across Canada. One is to develop improved flood and drought forecasting systems, and the second is to start to look at the impacts of climate change on our water supplies and the quality of that water in 50 years, 100 years time, so we can anticipate what's coming down the pipe.

And then the third is to work with various industrial sectors and communities to help them prepare for the impacts of the climate change and other changes on their water.

Q: Why is the University of Saskatchewan leading this study, in the backyard of the University of Calgary and University of Alberta?

A: U of S is the overall lead of Global Water Futures, but it involves 18 universities across Canada including the U of C and U of A. The reason we're in the Rocky Mountain headwaters is that's where over 90 per cent of the flow of the South Saskatchewan river comes into Saskatchewan from, so it's the source of Saskatchewan's drinking water.

The Rockies are where it's at. That's where the stream flow is generated heading west and east through various river systems, so we just need to understand much more about what's happening with mountain snow packs, glaciers, groundwater, lakes, wetlands, the water quality changes associated with this, and then the big challenge of how do we design systems that can better predict what's going to be happening in the near and far future?

Q: Canmore itself is vulnerable to flooding. Is that part of what this is about, putting the lab right in the heart of the action?

A: There's a personal motivation there. I was there [in Canmore] with 15 students and other researchers when the floods hit. We're living there, we very much experienced it as part of the community.

Let's not have a repeat of this situation. There will be floods in the future but let's see if we can develop systems and make them available to governments so there's greater lead time and so that there's more precise mapping of flood plains and more careful scientific, evidence-based evaluation of different ways to mitigate floods.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener