2014 Edition

The 2014 symposium, Water and Sustainability: Ideas, Research, Action! was held on March 13th, 2014. Thanks again to the academic steering committee: Jan Adamowski, Bernhard Lehner, and Julie Jones, and all the volunteers that helped make the day a success!


2014 speakers

Pascale Biron Associate Professor, Dept. of Geography, Planning and Environment (Concordia)

Abstract: Freedom space for rivers: a sustainable approach to river management River systems are increasingly under stress and pressure from agriculture and urbanization in riparian zones and require frequent engineering interventions such as bank stabilization or flood protection. A more sustainable approach to river management uses hydrogeomorphology concepts which take into account natural processes such as bank erosion and periodic flooding to determine the freedom space of rivers, i.e. zones that are either frequently flooded or actively eroding, or that contain riparian wetlands. This presentation will briefly present basic hydrogeomorphological notions relevant for river management. It will then present how, in practice, freedom space can be delimited for three rivers in Quebec: the de la Roche, Yamaska Sud-Est, and Matane Rivers. A cost-benefit analysis over the next 50 years for these three sites will be introduced to show how ecosystem services within the freedom space can contribute to offset the costs associated with leaving more space to rivers. The results will highlight that managing rivers using freedom space concepts is truly a sustainable approach as it is beneficial for future generations from an economic, environmental and social perspective.

Bio: Dr. Pascale Biron received a PhD in physical geography from Université de Montréal in 1995 and joined Concordia’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment in 1998. Dr. Biron’s research interests include river restoration for fish habitat, numerical modelling of river processes, impacts of human interventions and climate change on rivers, the development of hydro-geomorphological approaches in river management and geographical information systems (GIS). She has published several papers in journals in the fields of fluvial geomorphology, river engineering and fish biology.  Dr. Biron’s current research is funded by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) and the Ministry of Transportation (MTQ). She has recently completed a research project on climate change impacts on river management (funded by Ouranos) on the concept of freedom space for rivers. 

Tom Gleeson Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering (McGill)

Abstract: Groundwater—the world’s largest freshwater resource—is critically important for irrigated agriculture and hence for global food security. Yet depletion is widespread in large groundwater systems in both semi-arid and humid regions of the world. Excessive extraction for irrigation where groundwater is slowly renewed is the main cause of the depletion, and climate change has the potential to exacerbate the problem in some regions. Globally aggregated groundwater depletion contributes to sea-level rise, and has accelerated markedly since the mid-twentieth century. But its impacts on water resources are more obvious at the regional scale, for example in agriculturally important parts of India, China and the United States. Food production in such regions can only be made sustainable in the long term if groundwater levels are stabilized. To this end, a transformation is required in how we value, manage and characterize groundwater systems. Technical approaches—such as water diversion, artificial groundwater recharge and efficient irrigation—have failed to balance regional groundwater budgets. They need to be complemented by more comprehensive strategies that are adapted to the specific social, economic, political and environmental settings of each region.

Bio: Tom Gleeson is a hydrogeologist who researches the impact of groundwater on earth processes and society, and how we can sustainably use this crucial resource.  In his research, Tom works to integrate disciplines that are not often combined: field methods, numerical modeling, environmental chemistry, structural geology, GIS, and sustainability science. Tom enjoys new ideas and experiences, yoga, and helping people and the world.  His travels have taken him from his hometown of Ontario where he built forts as a kid, to western Canada for mountain climbing and geologic study, and then to zigzagging across Canada for a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering in 2009 at Queen’s University and then a postdoctoral fellowship at the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department of the University of British Columbia.  Today, Tom is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at McGill University and a CIFAR Global Scholar in the Earth System Evolution.

 Claude Demers Scientific Communicator, formerly with Hydro Quebec

Bio: Claude Demers graduated from Université de Montreal (1973) and obtained a Master’s degree from Université Laval (1976) in Physical Geography. He joined Hydro-Quebec in 1980 as a geomorphologist, where he conducted impact assessment studies related to hydropower projects. His involvement in different hydro projects, as an ecologist, has brought him all around Quebec, Canada and to many other countries conducting field work. Among other responsibilities, he was in charge for several years of the overall environmental follow-up program for La Grande Rivière hydro project, the largest hydro project in North America. He is the editor of the document related to hydropower and environmental studies published in 2001  “Summary of Knowledge Acquired in Northern Environments from 1970 to 2000″. Mr. Demers was a project manager at Hydro-Quebec-International for some years and he has also worked in the planning of electricity generation. All along his career, Mr. Demers has developed strong relations related to hydro project management and issues in European Nordic countries. He collaborates with the Ouranos Consortium on regional climatology and adaptation to climate change and over the past 10 years has worked as a science communicator giving numerous lectures in Canadian universities and participating in many panels related to hydroelectric issues.


2014 sponsors

Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences • Office of the Dean of Students • Faculty of Sciences • Department of Geography • Post-Graduate Student’s Society (PGSS) • Office for Science and Society • Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED) • Geographic Information Center • Dean of Arts Development Fund • Undergraduate Arts Society • McGill School of Environment • McGill Undergraduate Geography Society

2014 Organizing Committee

Camille Ouellet Dallaire, Project leader 

Lorna Harris, Academic 

Sarah Wilson, Finance 

Julie Jones, Communications, Academic Steering Committee 

Larissa Jarvis,  Communications

Rachel Dryden, Discussion 

Melissa Ward, Logistics 

Caitlin Watt, Undergraduate coordinator 

Anna Luz, Undergraduate coordinator