A group of PhD and master's students from places as far flung as Ecuador, Columbia, Ethiopia, Croatia and the west coast of Newfoundland have taken a class assignment into the real world and onto the web.
The AQUAwareness group was established in January 2010 for the graduate class Conservation and Sustainability, taught by Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee of Memorial’s geography department.
"Water was one of the resources that we covered in class. After learning about water situations in places like Ethiopia and Turkey, we turned our attention to Newfoundland,” says Dr. Chuenpagdee. “The project reflects the students’ commitment to raise awareness about local water issues by providing a one-stop information portal."
The portal consists of an overview of municipal water policy, the importance of the Windsor Lake watershed and municipal water shed area and a section on education for water conservation. The education section includes an online brochure compiling all the information currently available on water issues in St. John’s. All the documents are in PDF format and can be easily printed and used by teachers, students and parents.
“Newfoundland and Labrador uses a ridiculous amount of water per capita,” explains Shawn Meredyk who created the AQUAwareness website.
The figures are indeed staggering. Newfoundlanders use 501 litres per capita per day compared to 260 litres per capita per day in Ontario. And as international students Viviana Ramirez and Maria Jose Baragan observe, there is a major myth surrounding water in this province and in Canada generally.
“Newfoundlanders see all this water around them in ponds, rivers and streams and think there is a never ending supply. But much of this water is unusable due to high concentrations of minerals such as uranium, arsenic and cadmium.”
The students go on to explain that the east coast of the island is unable to tap many underground sources of water due to the lack of waterbearing rocks such as limestone. Much of the rest of the province can access this aquifer. Bog in areas such as the Burin Peninsula also acts as a natural filter which results in a comparably large amount of useable water.
Metering of water is another issue the students explored. There is no current metering for residential use in Newfoundland and Labrador (athough there is a pilot project in Corner Brook looking at domestic metering) whereas in Ontario, for example, 92 per cent of the water is metered.
“If you don’t know how much you’re consuming,” Shawn points out, “it’s difficult to establish sustainability objectives.”
Metering, the students explain, is not necessarily enough to make a difference in water consumption but it does cause users to think differently about water as a resource and about the security of the water supply.
Initially, the group found accessing information about educational initiatives and activities surrounding water in St. John’s to be a frustrating process; however that process has now proved worthwhile from several perspectives. AQUAwareness is now linked via the website to groups and associations such as Conservation Corps of Newfoundland, Well Aware, Northeast Avalon ACAP, Ocean Net, and the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland. Due to their own limited resources, these community groups are very happy to be linked with the project.
Putting the results of their work online was the best way for the students to reach as many people as possible.
“As Memorial University students, we feel part of the overall St. John’s community and we felt an online medium was the way to go,” says Ms Ramirez.
The website is being hosted by Project Green who have agreed to keep the site up to date and to add to it in the future. Although Memorial University itself has no definitive data regarding the amount of water used each day due to lack of metering, all associated with the project agree that it’s a great start.
The AQUAwareness project can be accessed at www.mun.ca/projectgreen/AQUAwareness.