By Shannon Boklaschuk
The Department of Geography and Planning has “incredible strength” in water science teaching and research, says Dr. Krystopher Chutko (PhD).
It’s that strength that makes the department a great place to house the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) new program in hydrology.
“In the future—around the world and in Canada—we need water scientists,” said Chutko, a faculty member in the College of Arts and Science. “We need people that know how water works, where it comes from, where it’s going, how it changes.”
Chutko and Dr. Alec Aitken (PhD), head of the Department of Geography and Planning, played integral roles in leading a curricular change that has resulted in approval for the department to replace its existing major in environmental earth sciences with hydrology. The college will begin accepting students into the hydrology program starting in the fall of 2020.
The purpose of the change is to create an undergraduate program that focuses on departmental strengths in water science and geomatics and that ensures new curricula meet the knowledge standards for professional geoscience accreditation in Saskatchewan.
Chutko said water is going to be “a massive topic going forward, considering everything that’s happening with climate change.” He noted the flooding that’s occurred in Ontario, the drought in Saskatchewan and the changing snowpack in the mountains.
“It all comes back down to water,” he said. “We’re trying to build that foundation (among our students).”
Water security is one of USask’s six signature areas of research. As a discipline, geography and planning plays a leadership role in hydrology research on campus and a collaborative role in providing hydrology training within interdisciplinary water security programming.
The new Bachelor of Science in hydrology program will leverage undergraduate research opportunities available through the Global Institute for Water Security, the Global Water Futures program, Canada Research Chairs, industrial chairs, and Canada Foundation for Innovation investments, to develop a pool of highly qualified undergraduate students capable of pursuing graduate research in physical hydrology and careers in the water industry.
“These ambitions align well with the University Plan 2025 as we seek to empower students to take on one of humanity’s greatest challenges—to ensure everyone has a sustainable supply of safe water,” said Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith (PhD), dean of the College of Arts and Science. “This new program also aligns with our college’s plan to 2025, which includes a commitment to new curricula. We will equip our students with the skills, knowledge and cultural competencies needed for the 21st century.”
The new hydrology program will also support the university’s goals of Indigenization at the individual course level, through the development of inclusive curricula. This will be achieved through the integration of faculty research on Indigenous issues into teaching, including the use and acknowledgement of data generated on Indigenous land, the development of experiential learning opportunities in Indigenous communities, and through the involvement of Elders in water-related teaching topics.
Chutko said researchers and water scientists are currently concerned about how precipitation and water storage will be altered as a result of climate change. Although scientists understand what’s happening to global temperature—it’s going up—precipitation is much more variable and therefore not as well understood.
As for storage, Saskatchewan’s rivers currently get most of their water from glaciers, which “are melting fast and they’re going to disappear—maybe in our lifetime,” said Chutko.
“Water isn’t something that you can take for granted,” he said. “In some parts of the world you could, but everything’s changing.”