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forWater: NSERC Network for Forested Drinking Water Source Protection Technologies


Drinking water is one of society's most critical water needs and delivery of safe drinking water is a national strategic priority. Most Canadians are just becoming aware how fragile this essential resource is and the potentially catastrophic effects climate change and high energy costs can have on drinking water security. To reduce risks to public health, Health Canada relies on the "multi-barrier approach" to prevent or reduce the contamination of drinking water from source to tap. All variations of this framework identify source water protection (SWP) for risk prevention and in-plant treatment technologies for risk management. Notably, all of the barriers in this framework must be effective to ensure drinking water security. Climate change-associated disturbances (wildfires, hurricanes, floods) have revealed alarming inadequacies in current implementations of the multi-barrier approach. These disturbances are causing increasingly variable or deteriorated source quality, and challenging in-plant treatment technologies beyond design and operational response capacities, to the point of service disruptions.

Water industry consensus points to the pressing need for new SWP technologies for climate change adaptation to ensure secure community water systems. In Canada, effective SWP must focus on forested source watersheds because that is where the drinking water for most urban, rural, and Indigenous communities originates. Healthy forests typically produce high quality water – the value of natural storage and filtration of water by global forests has been estimated at $4.1 trillion. Forest management approaches have been suggested as SWP technologies and include thinning or prescribed burning for preemptive risk reduction or reactive effects mitigation of potentially catastrophic disturbances. While forest management impacts on water have been well studied, little if any of that work has focused specifically on drinking water treatability, which will likely vary regionally.

The forWater Network will provide new knowledge regarding the impacts of different forest management strategies on drinking water source quality and treatability to assess their suitability as SWP technologies across the major ecological/forest regions of Canada.

Network Structure

The forWater Network connects 24 researchers and 9 universities across Canada to focus on technologies for enabling source water protection and providing opportunities for enhanced training for 110 HQP. In total, 16 Canadian partners, 9 Canadian academic institutions, and 5 international partners have committed their support for the Network.
Administration for the forWater Network is located at the University of Waterloo. The Network management structure is designed for effective and efficient management of a complex, transdisciplinary, multi-institutional research network focused on delivering high quality, science outputs and enabling meaningful outcomes for our diverse range of partners. It includes Theme Leaders, a Board of Directors, a Scientific Committee as well as a Knowledge Mobilization Manager.

Research Objectives

A source-to-tap thematic approach to coordinating research projects, participants, and partners is foundational to evaluating source water protection technologies. The forWater Network is organized in four distinct research themes, which that are linked from source-to-tap. They are:

Theme 1: Watershed Science and Forest Management
Design and deploy the forest management technologies across Canada’s major ecozones and meaningfully study their impacts on water quality and quantity at watershed scale.

Theme 2: Downstream Effects Propagation
Evaluate how far downstream the water quality and treatability effects are detectable and the extent to which they can be attributed to forest management.

Theme 3: Drinking Water Treatability
Evaluate the drinking water treatment implications of changes in source water quality to the full range of possible treatment plant typologies.

Theme 4: Resource Economics
Quantify the direct and indirect environmental/social/economic costs/benefits of forest management-based source water protection technologies.


Implementation of new forest management based source water protection technologies may offer an opportunity to mitigate climate change-associated threats to drinking water security. Thus, the water supply and treatment, industrial forestry, watershed management, public health, and all associated government sectors are necessarily implicated in any solutions that are developed to tackle these challenges. At a highly generalized level, it is expected that:

  • the municipal water supply and treatment sector (including government and indigenous/FNIM communities) will be able to 1) assess how/if forest management by harvesting threatens or benefits drinking water source quality and treatability and 2) make informed, proactive decisions regarding the relative benefits/costs of investing in grey vs. green infrastructure (or combinations therein),
  • the industrial forestry sector will gain a new understanding of 1) the implications (or not) of their industry activities to the provision of safe drinking water, 2) how to cross apply that knowledge across different geographic regions, and 3) the need for SWP technologies and their potential role in developing this need into a new market for their services,
  • the watershed/land management sector (including government) will be able to 1) decide if policies need to be developed/extended to prioritize high value municipal drinking water supply watersheds when developing forest management plans, 2) define the spatial scale across which forest management plans should consider implications to drinking water treatability, and 3) better integrate SWP policies with other land management policies, and
  • the public health sector (including government) will gain a new understanding of 1) how climate change associated threats to source water quality and treatability can be mitigated concurrently with operational practices/capacity evaluated by environmental health officers, 2) the public health significance of aligning climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies when creating and delivering programs related to water quality and disaster preparedness, and 3) the impacts of considering drinking water treatability concepts in addition to health-associated water quality targets when developing new public health and safety laws and policies.

The forWater Network’s collective science outputs and industry and policy outcomes will help to further establish Canada’s global leadership role in assessing the costs/benefits of investing in green vs. grey infrastructure in ensuring drinking water security.


Dana Herriman
Network Manager
University of Waterloo
Tel.: 519-888-4567, ext. 32851

Monica Emelko
Principal Investigator
University of Waterloo
Tel.: 519-888-4567, ext. 32208

Uldis Silins
Co-Principal Investigator
University of Alberta
Tel.: 780-492-9083

Mailing Address:

Dana Herriman
forWater Network
c/o University of Waterloo
Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
200 University Avenue West, E2-3306
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada  N2L 3G1

Contact us at 1-877-767-1767