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University of Alberta researchers predict Alberta water demand will increase

The University of Alberta water research centre is analyzing Canada’s waterscape using simulation models and artificial intelligence.

The team looked at water use nationally, as well as in major river basins. Evan Davies with the University of Alberta’s water research centre said that while water use in general in Canada is declining, it’s not declining everywhere.

“What we noticed is that water use in general is actually falling in Canada over time. However, we think that in places like Alberta, water demand will increase because of increase in temperatures, increase in population and a drive to irrigate more land.”

Davies said they use simulation models to evaluate what water use might look like in different areas. They also utilize simulation tools to project the future.

“If we are looking at short-term projections of water availability, so hydrology — the flows in our rivers — then we can use things like machine learning which are like pattern recognition tools, so they tie larger climatic factors like precipitation, temperatures, some of the larger factors like El Nino and so on to our flows in our rivers.”

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Davies said that if the team is trying to determine what water demands look like into the future, more complex models are used which are based on different processes that require water.

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“We try to look at how cropping choices may affect water use or population changes within our cities or technological change towards low-flow appliances. “

Davies said that water use findings are fluid and dependent on so many factors. He explained that the global climate models are complicated but can simulate the entire global climate, showing what temperatures could look like in the future, depending on factors like how many greenhouse gasses we emit.

The Alberta government is making moves to mitigate the risk of severe drought in the province this year. Global News

“They can tell us a little bit as well about what water availability might look like. And then if we want to know how water demands may change, then we want to look at some of the technological processes or energy using processes or agricultural processes that drive greater use or that can reduce our water use over time.”

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Davies is looking into further research into something called “anthropogenic drought.” He defined it as a natural-caused phenomenon that is affected by our choices of how we use water or how we rely on water. He said it’s a topic that is becoming more and more popular among the academic community, but right now it’s hard to evaluate it.

“At the moment we don’t have very good tools for trying to quantify some of the effects of drought. We have very good hydrological models that can simulate changes in water supply. We have very good agricultural models that can simulate changes in demand, but we aren’t necessarily putting those together in the same way.”

Evans said he is interested in how we can understand some of the changes with technologies that can change our water demand and give us better choices in the future.

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