February 24, 2010

CRI in the News - Millions in research money to flow to Rivers Institute

Harbour: Study could one day help developers provide better environmental impact assessments

(original published Feb 22, 2010 - April Johnson, Telegraph Journal)

SAINT JOHN - Researchers at the Canadian Rivers Institute will start testing Saint John Harbour next fall as part of new pilot project whose findings could one day be used to help protect the environment.

Kelly Munkittrick, associate director of the Canadian Rivers Institute, will be doing research in the fall on the health of many forms of life in the local harbour.

The institute, based out of the University of New Brunswick Saint John, will receive millions in federal funding to launch a partnership with different industries and groups who have an interest in what is discharged into the harbour.

"What we're trying to do broadly within the Canadian Water Network is come up with a unified framework and philosophy for water monitoring," said Kelly Munkittrick, associate director of the Canadian Rivers Institute.

Researchers will collect baseline data from the harbour - on anything from water contaminants to sea life - that will be accessible to anyone who needs data for environmental impact assessments.

The assessments are required for any new developments - such as the shelved second oil refinery at Eider Rock, which is going through the final stages of an environmental assessment now.

Federal rules require developers to not only assess what impact the new construction will have on the immediate environment, but also how it will interact with other existing or proposed developments.

But there has not been any consistency in the timing of sampling or how things are monitored, Munkittrick said.

"We're hoping to provide that baseline, so there is more consistency as development happens," he said.

The Canadian Rivers Institute, in partnership with the Canadian Water Network, has done more than 90 studies on the St. John River since 2002, but the work isn't entirely useful to companies that perform impact assessments, he said. The questions asked in research and in potential developments aren't necessarily the same.

"We want to come up with a common framework for the different types of monitoring that goes on, so they all feed in to one another," he said.

Saint John will be the first of about six other locations in the country to have the baseline monitoring. The other places have not yet been determined.

Munkittrick said the institute chose Saint John because it has a long history of working on the St. John River system.

The amount of proposed development and the city's potential to become an energy hub was another big factor, he said.

"It's exciting because of the opportunity to see the results of research actually make a difference to how the environment is managed on a large scale," he said.

It's also a way to keep a focus on sustainable development, he said.

"It will give people confidence that we'll be able to detect the problem if one is out there and be able to help clean it up."

Munkittrick doesn't yet know how much funding he will get for the project, but it's expected to be in the millions, he said. The research will likely attract more academics and students to the area.

Munkittrick will meet with potential partners on Tuesday to explain the concept and get feedback on what kind of research should be done. Partners will likely include the Saint John Port Authority, the provincial and federal governments, Saint John Water and the local fishermen's association.

Munkittrick made a presentation to common council last week. Council members were happy to hear about the influx of research and development dollars to the region.
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