Water Community Research Education and Sustainability Seminars (WaterCRESS)

Water Community Research Education and Sustainability Seminars (WaterCRESS)

WaterCRESS bridges the gap between water researchers at McMaster and the general public to demystify science and work towards informed appreciation and protection of our shared environment.

Details

What is your project about?

Members of McMaster University and the greater Hamilton community encounter water-related issues, ranging from public health crises like E. coli outbreaks to innovations at the Dundas Wastewater Treatment Plant, on a daily basis. Often, these issues go unnoticed by students or are not fully understood by community members. However, water research is arguably McMaster’s most interdisciplinary and applied research endeavour, and a major topic of graduate student effort. Given the success of recent high-profile events such as McMaster Water Week and the funding of the Global Water Futures (of which McMaster University is a major partner), the McMaster community has both the resources and impetus to engage and inform the public about water-related issues.

Poor community engagement with water issues can result in members of the public being critical of significant changes to municipal infrastructure that can seem expensive or inconvenient in the short term. Similarly, a lack of constituent interest can result in politicians and stakeholders successfully downplaying the importance of sustainable development and infrastructure in their platforms and budgets, negatively impacting the community for future generations. It is therefore imperative that the general Hamilton community is properly informed about water-issues to ensure future sustainable development. Although some community members are conscious of water and other environmental issues in Hamilton, there is still a void between McMaster water research and related public initiatives that should be addressed.

Our proposed project will create a deeper public understanding of water-related issues and provide rationale for infrastructure changes using current research conducted at McMaster. By demystifying the science that underlies water-related issues and proposed infrastructure, we will build a more positive relationship between sustainable initiatives and impacted community members. Furthermore, bidirectional interaction between researchers and community stakeholders may shape research goals, and improve the transition from academia to social change and sustainable urban development.

What are you going to do?

WaterCRESS will break the ‘campus bubble’, allowing the scientific knowledge of McMaster researchers to flow into the public arena. This will expose the public to topics that are important to them as Hamiltonians, with unique insight, expert perspectives and cutting-edge information that would ordinarily be out of reach. At the same time, WaterCRESS will integrate expert community stakeholders to show the application of research directly to water issues through social and environmental initiatives that are meaningful to the Hamilton community. In this way, WaterCRESS will help meld the interface between research and the public interest. 

Why are you doing it?

Nicknamed “the City of Waterfalls” and built on the shores of Lake Ontario, Hamilton is surrounded by natural beauty that is vitally important for the recreation and health of its citizens. Protection of this environment is therefore intrinsically linked to public health, and must be a priority at personal and municipal levels. As mentioned above, the community can benefit by better understanding research that underpins decisions in urban development and water resource management. Nevertheless, there are countless initiatives led by local community and governmental organizations that work diligently to address water issues in Hamilton. Academic research can also benefit greatly from understanding the expertise, motivations, needs and goals that drive this important work.

Water security has become of increasing concern, and is the subject of growing research effort and investment on a global scale. As a co-recipient of Global Water Futures funding ($143M in total), McMaster University has been recognised as a capable leader in championing water security, and is therefore ideally suited to help build upon Hamilton’s existing energy and concern for the local environment. By engaging the Hamilton public with McMaster research to benefit both academic progress and community spirit, WaterCRESS is fundamentally designed to further the University’s vision to move “Forward with Integrity”.

How are you going to do it?

WaterCRESS will facilitate discussion between the local research and public communities. This will be done in a series of two-part seminars, the first part of each being a presentation of current water research by a graduate student at McMaster University, and the second part being a presentation and discussion led by an expert member of a community organization that works on related issues in and/or around Hamilton. For example, a student presentation on effective stormwater management technologies would be followed by a talk by staff of the Bay Area Restoration Council, discussing their work on implementing rain gardens adjacent to local school parking lots. This format will not only facilitate interactions between academic researchers and community leaders, but will also promote effective translation and application of academic research to meaningful community initiatives. These seminars will be accessible, advertized, and free to all members of the public, and held in local coffee shops or community centres located on or near McMaster University campus. We also hope that bringing the community together in such venues will help promote local businesses that share our goal for a sustainable Hamilton.

What results do you expect?

WaterCRESS will engage members of the McMaster and public communities with sustainability initiatives and water-related issues, increasing public awareness and involvement in the future sustainable development of Hamilton. Similarly, we hope that our graduate student speakers will benefit from the opportunity to communicate their research to a general audience, as effective communication skills are key to the development of successful graduate students. Finally, we hope our community partners will benefit from increased public support and participation.

By demystifying water science, we envision that the academic community will benefit from receiving feedback from and engagement with members of the public; a perspective that is often underutilized when defining research goals. Essentially, our main objective is to showcase important water research and initiatives that are performed in and around Hamilton to make the public aware of the strides that are being made with the goal of protecting their local environment. This should have the effect of increasing stewardship of Hamilton’s natural landscape, and initiate strong continued dialogue between the scientific and lay communities.

Involvement

  • Oliver Wearing – Faculty of Science, MSc Biology (PhD transfer April 2017), PhD completion April 2021, Project Leader
  • Brittney Borowiec – Faculty of Science, PhD Biology, September 2019, Project Promotions & Marketing and Treasurer

Timelines

WaterCRESS will run as six bimonthly seminars at venues on or close to McMaster campus. These will begin on May 28, 2017 (5:30-7:30pm), with planning occurring throughout April 2017. These seminars will continue every other month (i.e. July ‘17, September ‘17, November ‘17, and January ‘18) until the final seminar in March 2018. Each event will be planned at least a month in advance.

 

Report

Project Team

  • Brittney Borowiec, Marketing Director, PhD Candidate
  • Lulu Lu, Event Helper
  • Lauren McGregor, Event Helper
  • Hossein Mehdi, Event Co-ordinator, PhD Student
  • Reisa San Pedro, Blog Manager, MSc Candidate
  • Yina Shan, Event Helper
  • Lana Shaya, Event Co-ordinator, PhD Candidate
  • Oliver Wearing, Project Manager, Treasurer and Liaison, PhD Student

Project Contact

Deliverables

WaterCRESS 2017-2018 was launched on February 23rd2018, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH), hosting four talented artists who shared with our audience their artistic relationship with water in AquaCULTURE: Water & The Human Element. This event was a great start to our series, with many (~50%) of our 42-people (slightly over-capacity!) audience being from outside the McMaster community. This catered event included a pre-talk reception (with ticketed cheese and soft drinks as well as a cash bar), followed by a guided tour around the AGH’s current water-related exhibits including Witness: Edward BurtynskyWater Works, and Reservoir: Stories of Water. Finally, participants returned to the theatre, which became part of an immersive audiovisual underwater experience by McMaster professor and artist, Chris Myhr, for the seminar portion of the event. The seminars opened with welcome remarks and an overview of WaterCRESS, thanking our partners at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and our SPICES funding support from the School of Graduate Studies, before introducing the presenting artists. Firstly, Tanya Miladinovic (PhD Candidate, Medical Sciences, McMaster University) explored her influence by water as a local artist, and how that is translated when using it as a medium when painting. Secondly, Anastasiya Slyepchenko (PhD Student, MiNDS Graduate Program, McMaster University) showcased her watercolours, again sharing her experience of using water as both subject and medium. In fact, Anastasiya was struck when invited to give this presentation at how pervasive water is in her work, subconsciously being selected as a focal point in her art. It was fascinating to learn how surprised Anastasiya was when taking a step back from her work and looking at it in the context of water. The next presentation was given by Chris Myhr, who gave an inspiring talk about his work as a multimedia artist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Chris spoke about his Point-Line-Intersectionproject, which includes Approaches to Erg, an immersive short film and audio piece that Chris ended his talk by showing, mesmerizing the audience. This was an unexpectedly moving experience, and a few of the public audience members later shared how evocative – both engaging and reflective – the piece was. Finally, one of AGH’s Water Workscontributing artists, Christopher McLeod gave an entertaining overview of some of his water-related interactive creations he has produced as a social practice artist. Christopher’s work involves bringing water issues to the public attention through engaging them with mechanical and other interactive artworks that make them ‘work for their water’. By doing so, Christopher has brought several issues to the public’s attention, with the common theme of not taking our water resources for granted, exploring issues such as ownership and safety/quality/health. Overall, this inaugural event was a hugely popular success, and really set a high standard for the rest of the series, encouraging attendees to return for our subsequent events. Also, by starting with a more accessible topic, we aimed to pique the interest of a broader public with this first seminar. Gladly, this was certainly achieved.

 Our second instalment, WaterQUALITY: Monitoring Recreational Water in the Urban Environment, was held on March 16that Ye Olde Squire, Main St. W. Again, we catered this event, to encourage the public to join after work; something that we decided was important to provide to ensure happy participation at an evening event! This event was to include Mahi Mohiuddin (PhD Candidate, Biology, McMaster University) and Hamilton Conservation Authority’s Jonathan Bastien, who would each talk about their involvement in monitoring water quality in the Hamilton area. Unfortunately, Mahi was ill and could not attend. However, we were very fortunate that Jonathan is a great speaker, and we quickly adapted to him filling both talk slots. The 25-person audience enjoyed learning about HCA’s work in Hamilton, and how it relates to them as citizens. As such, there was a really great discussion period, which was followed by additional conversations with Jonathan during a post-talk ‘reception’. Again, public and student audience members had really positive reviews, and left looking forward to the next seminar.

Third in our series, WASTEWater: What’s Removed and What Remains?took place on March 27that Redchurch Café & Gallery, King St. E., and featured Dr. Shumaila Fraz (recent PhD graduate, Biology, McMaste University), Dr. Joanne Parrott (Research Scientist, Environment & Climate Change Canada), and Mark Bainbridge (Director of Water & Wastewater Planning & Capital, City of Hamilton). This was another great event, exploring the issue of pharmaceutical contamination of processed wastewater re-entering our natural environments, and drinking water sources. From reproductive physiology and behaviour, to ecology, and finally municipal strategies for improving processes for more effective wastewater treatment, the 20 attendees (largely from the public) learned how McMaster, Hamilton and Canada are working to provide safer water resources for us all. This event was once again concluded by an engaging discussion with all three speakers, over food and drinks.

Our fourth WaterCRESS event was held as part of the Spring Water Forum 2018 (in partnership with McMaster Water Network, McMaster Indigenous Research Institute, and the Indigenous Studies Program), on April 5that the Spice Factory, 121 Hughson St. N. WaterCRESS @ The Spring Water Forum 2018, like the rest of the Spring Water Forum 2018, was centred around Indigenous communities and their interactions with water. However, what separated WaterCRESS from the rest of the day’s events, was the perspective of research. As such, our speakers – Sarah Newell (PhD Candidate, Health Policy, McMaster University) and Troy Hill (Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River, and teacher at J.C. Hill Elementary School) – discussed how McMaster research is being informed and communicated through positive relationships with indigenous communities, and how that can be achieved in a way that is sensitive to traditional viewpoints and practices. In line with these cultural norms, this event was the only event during which food was not served. However, dinner was provided after the talks, as part of the rest of the Spring Water Forum 2018. This event was attended by 30 people, the majority of which were indigenous, facilitating what we hope will be a continued collaborative relationship with passionate ‘water warriors’ from the indigenous community.

The fifth, and latest WaterCRESS event, WaterWELL: Water & Human Health, explored water’s impact on human health, with water, health and wellbeing expert Dr. Corinne Schuster-Wallace presenting 3 short talks, broken up by informal discussion with the 15 student and public attendees. Held at Paisley Coffeehouse & Eatery in Westdale on April 27th, this informal, coffeeshop event was particularly successful at facilitating open dialogue between the speaker and audience. Corinne gave a fascinating talk covering health and equity issues from the developing world, to Canada, finally linking these to the vital and underappreciated role women have in providing water health, and how they bear much of the health burden when access to safe drinking water is limited.

 Although yet to happen, our sixth and final seminar is scheduled to happen at the end of May 2018. sixth will showcase a collaborative project McMaster Water Network Student Chapter (MWNSC) has had with MERIT Brewing Company over the last 9 months. This project involved 4 multidisciplinary McMaster students (3 of which were graduate students), who worked as ‘Water Sustainability Interns’ at MERIT Brewing Company, to monitor water usage in the brewery and develop strategies to improve efficiency. We felt the final WaterCRESS would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase this research, and again engage with the Hamilton public how McMaster is investing in sustainable water practices both on and off campus. This event will showcase the students’ work, and also provide an opportunity for the public to engage with the brewmaster at MERIT to discuss how industry and businesses in Hamilton are committed to being environmentally responsible. More information about MWNSC’s Brewing with MERIT: Water Sustainability Internships can be found at https://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/brewing-sustainable-water-solutions/

Lessons Learned

WaterCRESS has proved to be a really successful and publicly popular project, bringing multiple water-related topics to the public arena. We have provided a safe space for community members to explore and contributeto work being done at McMaster and in other local organizations, including those from the public, private and non-profit sectors. Through doing this, we feel that WaterCRESS has achieved its primary objectives. As such, we would like to extend this series in May 2018 to include an additional 7 seminars. As water-related topics are wide-ranging and generally of public interest, many of our topics this year were alternative to those proposed in the original grant application submitted last year, with many topics left unexplored. Also, McMaster has a rich diversity of graduate students undertaking water-related projects, and MWNSC has an extensive network of partners, who would be keen to contribute to the series. Although these seminars were originally planned to be held bimonthly, we decided to keep momentum high by holding these more closely together this year. Though this worked, we will hold more seminars on a monthly schedule, starting in September 2018.

Highlights

Two real highlights of this year’s series were partnering with the Art Gallery of Hamilton and connecting with local artists and the indigenous participants at the Spring Water Forum. These interactions proved particularly rewarding, and we would especially like to continue working with these passionate Hamiltonians in the future. Each of these experiences were not proposed in the original proposal, but we are very glad that they became a part of WaterCRESS. Another aspect of the project that was not proposed, but has proven popular with our audience and contributors is our accompanying blog (bit.ly/WaterCRESSReflections); a lasting mark of the project that features biographies of our speakers, images and photograph contributions, as well as photographs of each event. We wish to thank the School of Graduate Studies for providing us with the SPICES grant to facilitate the project, and look forward to continuing the success and momentum built so far through extending the project for an additional year.

Budget Narrative

WaterCRESS (2017-2018) budget and expenditureTOTAL 
Budgeted ($)$480.00$600.00$300.00$240.00$180.00$600.00$300.00$2,700.00 
Spent ($)$17.70$765.02$357.98$424.52$701.60$317.98$0.00$2,584.80 
DateItemPromotional materials ($)Venue ($)Miscellaneous ($)Speaker giftsRefreshments ($)A/V equipment rentalContingency fund$115.20< Remaining unspent
28/10/2017Projector/screen     $292.98   
21/02/2018Corkboard  $30.34      
13/03/2018Promotion$12.00        
15/03/2018Gifts   $9.02     
15/03/2018Flyers$1.98        
16/03/2018Catering    $201.60    
16/03/2018Ye Olde Squire $100.00       
29/03/2018Catering    $200.00    
29/03/2018Beverages    $300.00    
29/03/2018Set-up fee $75.00       
29/03/2018Easels  $40.00      
29/03/2018Projector     $25.00   
29/03/2018Service $40.00       
15/02/2018Flyers$2.71        
21/02/2018Gifts   $110.47     
21/02/2018Gifts   $50.85     
02/11/2018Clipboards  $70.68      
26/03/2018Gifts   $146.15     
28/03/2018Redchurch Café + Gallery $300.02       
29/03/2018Gifts   $56.50     
24/04/2018Speaker gifts   $51.53     
27/04/2018Flyers$1.01        
27/04/2018Paisley Coffeehouse & Eatery $250.00       
28/04/2018Next Day T-Shirts  $216.96      

Acknowledgements

As well as all of our fantastic speakers mentioned above, we wish to thank all members of McMaster Water Network Student Chapter for their contribution to this project, in addition to guidance and advice from members of the McMaster Water Network Leadership Team. We also thank Tor Lukasik-Foss, Jodie Faulman and their colleagues at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as well as staff and owners of our other aforementioned venues, including Aaron Spinney and Tej Sandhu at MERIT Brewing Company. We look forward to holding events in these great public spaces in Hamilton again soon! Our gratitude and respect is also extended to the indigenous communities we share this land with. We are particularly appreciative of the opportunity to learn from their deep knowledge of water during our Spring Water Forum 2018 event. Finally, we thank all of our attendees for their passion for water and curiosity for McMaster research, as well as McMaster School of Graduate Studies’ SPICES team for supporting this project.

Project Photos: