Better Water, Better Jobs and the next generation of water practitioners

Today marks World Water Day, designated by the United Nations. This year’s theme is “better water, better jobs.” The Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) uses the occasion to celebrate its 19 Science Directors, 81 Research Associates, 88 graduate students, 30 research and administrative staff, and over 200 alumni researchers across the country and around the globe whose collective job is to make every river a healthy river.

One of the many examples of how the CRI community contributes to advancing professional opportunities for the protection of water quality and aquatic ecosystems around the world is a project that supports water managers in identifying the risk to lakes and municipal drinking water from cyanobacterial outbreaks.

In 2015, Dr. Allen Curry, one of CRI’s Science Directors, sought out Dr. Mouhamed Ndong to build a 3-D model, the most advanced in the world and the first physical limnology model in eastern Canada and possibly North America. A deterministic model can control all inputs and outputs of a specific lake, which allows researchers, and ultimately, lake and source water managers the ability to predict blue-green algae blooms under different scenarios, including: changes to lake water levels, precipitation, sedimentation and even future climate change projections.

Before accepting a postdoctoral position with CRI at the University of New Brunswick, Dr. Ndong completed a PhD at the École Polytechnique Montréal in Civil Engineering under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Dorner, the Canada Research Chair in Microbial Contaminant Dynamics in Source Waters. In his home country of Senegal, Dr. Ndong received both his BA and MSc. Degrees in Chemical, Process and Environmental Engineering from the École Supérieure Polytechnique de Dakar (University Cheikh Anta DIOP de Dakar-Sénégal). Before coming to Canada he spent three years focused on developing a fluoridation system for drinking water in Senegal.

The CRI is excited to have Dr. Ndong part of the network of the next generation water practitioners working towards solving real-world issues of water quality.

"Dr. Ndong is the perfect person to do this work. He has an integrated background in engineering and modelling and is quickly learning the biological background of lake systems.  He also has multiple language abilities and international experience. As this model becomes functional we can apply it to places like India and Africa where the necessity to predict water quality and blue-green algae outbreaks is becoming an important public health initiative,“ says Curry.

The structure of Dr. Ndong’s model is near completion for three New Brunswick Lakes and the reservoir above the Mactaquac hydroelectric dam.  “The model is very large and can accommodate a lot of data. We are focusing on the data we have, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and nutrients, but many more parameters can be collected and added one step at a time,” Dr. Ndong says.

“Ideally we would help develop a lake monitoring program that collects water quality parameters over a shorter time period — once a month water sampling does not tell us much. The water quality conditions of a lake can change by the day or even by the hour. An intense rain can elevate the sediments and push the lake into having those characteristics that have the potential to induce a blue green algae outbreak.  It is those short windows of data collection that will be more informative.”

Dr. Ndong prefers to do practical research – research that helps solve a problem for people, especially of public health concern. “It is a driving factor for me, to understand how the problem impacts the people who live around and use lakes as their drinking water supply. The research is great, the graphics are nice and the results are interesting, but how does it help the problem?” he says.

Dr. Ndong focuses on modelling data as a way to help solve problems. His current work in New Brunswick demonstrates how his interest directly supports communities: “For example, the Town of Saint Andrews, who uses Chamcook Lake as their drinking water source and has a persistent blue-green algae problem, can use this model to determine how changes in their watershed and in the lake will have direct impacts on their drinking water and the risk for a potentially toxic algae outbreak. They can make management changes as a result,” he says.

Modelling is also fun for Dr. Ndong. “I get to be at the centre of a research question. I may not know much about the fish or the bugs or the geology, but I get to learn what happens to a system when something is added or removed. And it’s through the Canadian Rivers Institute that I have this opportunity. I love working at the Institute because it is so multi-disciplinary; the collaboration among the researchers in different fields is what attracted me here,” he says.

Dr. Ndong is excited about the opportunity to continue working to answer pressing questions about water quality and its impact on communities and increasing the professional development opportunities for the next generation of water practitioners with the CRI.