Source to tap: PhD student immersed in water research and outreach

Feb. 22, 2017

Source: Memorial Gazette


You can’t travel by boat from Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador, but you could say that water brought Sarah Minnes here.

With a master of science in rural planning and development from the University of Guelph, Ms. Minnes, an interdisciplinary PhD candidate at Memorial, had experience in various areas of conservation, water policy and regional development in her home province before moving to the East Coast.

Drinking water
While much of her previous background in water research had been from a conservation perspective, her work in Newfoundland and Labrador has extended into the area of drinking water.

Working with Dr. Kelly Vodden of the Environmental Policy Institute at Grenfell Campus, Ms. Minnes was co-ordinator and lead researcher with the NL Rural Drinking Water Project from 2013-15, which was funded by the Harris Centre – RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund.

For this project, Ms. Minnes says the team examined provincewide perspectives on rural drinking water systems.

The report, Exploring Solutions for Sustainable Rural Drinking Water Systems, examined various facets of rural drinking water, including source water quality and quantity, infrastructure and operations, perceptions, awareness and demand, and policy and governance, acknowledging these aspects as deeply interconnected.

Ms. Minnes says the research team looked at systems serving 1,000 residents or less, exploring everything from “source to tap.” Among the many findings of this project is that there are implementation gaps in source water protection.

“We found the policy in Newfoundland and Labrador was very strict, but policy wasn’t being implemented,” she said. “Communities often indicated they didn’t know they had to take ownership of monitoring their drinking water supplies.”

The report named capacity building at the local level, greater monitoring and enforcement, and improved monitoring and reporting tools as some of the recommendations to improve the state of drinking water systems in the province.

Crossing disciplines
Since her work on the report, Ms. Minnes has gone on to work as a water liaison for Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, and is currently working with the Rural Policy Learning Commons.

The learning commons works with researchers, policy-makers and citizens to analyze and address rural issues across Canada and internationally.

Ms. Minnes’s PhD supervisors are from the geography department on the St. John’s campus, the Environmental Policy Institute at Grenfell and Grenfell’s environmental science department.

Sustainable solutions
Ms. Minnes is currently investigating source water protection for rural areas, research that has grown out of her work with the Exploring Solutions for Sustainable Rural Drinking Water Systems project.

Her doctoral research examines source water protection planning and implementation in Ontario, and implications for rural areas.
She hopes her research provides transferable lessons for Newfoundland and Labrador. She says that challenges for the implementation of source water protection measures in this province are linked to a lack of human, technical, social, institutional and financial capacity at the local level.

“I’m looking at the Clean Water Act in Ontario, which is more of a collaborative governance model on a watershed basis where source protection committees have made enforceable source protection plans. I’m looking at the implications for rural regions, particularly. In Ontario, the act was created specifically to build capacity in local areas so that they could better protect their drinking water.”

Apply now
Projects such as the NL Rural Drinking Water Project not only enhance understanding of drinking water in this province, they help to provide opportunities for researchers such as Ms. Minnes — developing the next generation of drinking water expertise in Newfoundland and Labrador, and beyond.

Since 2010 the Harris Centre – RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund has awarded almost $300,000 in funding for 20 projects on issues ranging from assessing filtration technology for small community water supplies to water quality monitoring.

The fund provides up to $15,000 per project for creative, relevant, applied research on rural and remote drinking water issues in Newfoundland and Labrador for a maximum of a one-year period. The fund is open to all Memorial faculty, staff and students, from all disciplines, interested in drinking water issues in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Harris Centre also encourages multidisciplinary and collaborative projects between faculty, staff and students and external stakeholders.

Research projects can be in the broad categories of health, society, economy and environment, but must clearly demonstrate how the project can assist policy- and decision-makers in addressing real-world drinking water issues in this province

Applications are now being accepted until March 17, 2017. For more information, applicants can contact Mandy Strickland, co-ordinator, Yaffle and funding programs.

Learn more about Exploring Solutions for Sustainable Rural Drinking Water Systems here.

You can find Sarah Minnes on Yaffle.