Water is precious and preserving fresh water is the need of the hour. Monique Dubé, from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, is one such scientist who has made it her mission to work in this direction. She uses GIS technology to measure the health of rivers, track changes over time and communicates that information to the relevant people, sometimes developing strategies or recommending technology and advising on ways of improving river health.
She recently kayaked 700 km of the Yukon River, to assess various indicator chemicals of water quality, along with water flow rates and an analysis of the species inhabiting that portion of the river. Using GIS, she was also able to map where ecological zones changed and record all her data as she went along.
“It allowed me to fully appreciate the river system,” she told environmentalresearchweb. “I could interact with local people and communities and I could start to understand some of the history and legacy of the river.”
Back at the turn of the 19th century, the Yukon River was the principal means of transportation during the Klondike Gold Rush. Later it suffered from pollution sourced from military installations, agriculture, rubbish dumps and wastewater. But in recent decades, the river has been well cared for and is generally considered to be in good health. However, Dubé discovered it wasn’t as clean as she might have expected.
“Before I went I had a preconceived notion that this would be a pristine river,” she said. “However, my measurements showed that there were still traces of DDT [the notorious pesticide last used to spray agricultural crops in the 1950s] and evidence of the organic chemicals associated with previous dumping by military facilities. I was surprised that we could still see the impact of our actions ever after 50 years.”
Along with the Yukon, Dubé continues to use her “Cumulative Effects Assessment” on a multitude of Canada’s rivers, monitoring the entire watershed to appreciate the greater picture and work out exactly what the stresses on any one system are. In many cases, her work has led to a number of improvements, ranging from developing and recommending a new waste-product removal technology to pulp and paper mills to suggesting remedial strategies such as planting wetlands and regulating river flow.
“I’m not a tree-hugger,” says Dubé. “I understand that we need development to be economically viable, but we also need to be sustainable. So I work with industry to find sustainable solutions.”
Now she is turning her attention further afield. Working with the United Nations on the Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme, she is taking her approach to 160 different countries.