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Priscilla Williams displays her research on climate change and the Great Lakes.Priscilla Williams, a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering, displays her research on climate change and the Great Lakes in the Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Engineering students posit climate change responses

UWindsor engineering students are bracing for a wetter future created by climate change by examining and improving the design of local water systems.

More than 100 students of civil and environmental engineering gathered in the Centre for Engineering Innovation on March 22—United Nations World Water Day—to present ideas that combat growing levels of precipitation scientists say is a result of climate change.

Since 1900, the average annual precipitation has increased by roughly five percent in the U.S. and nearly two percent worldwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Most of us agree that precipitation intensities are increasing,” said Tirupati Bolisetti, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “An increase in rainfall has a significant effect on water management systems.”

Dr. Bolisetti said he assigned this project to his fourth year-hydrology students and graduate students taking his Climate Change Adaptation for Engineers class to prepare them for real-world situations they may encounter in their professional careers.

As temperatures rise and the air becomes warmer, more moisture evaporates from land and water into the atmosphere leading to an increase in rain and snow, which can wreak havoc on water systems, said Bolisetti.

Students were tasked with assessing and mitigating climate change impacts on storm water management in select Windsor neighbourhoods, including the University of Windsor campus. One project suggested UWindsor’s Centre for Engineering Innovation could curb the impacts of excess water by utilizing retention ponds, disconnecting downspouts and using permeable pavements.

Doctoral candidate Priscilla Williams used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to examine watersheds and sediment and nutrient loading in Lake Erie. The SWAT model can help researchers predict long-term impacts in large basins and develop water management strategies.

“If we don’t do the research now, we can’t prepare,” Williams said. “Climate change is happening. The proof is there. We can already see the effects on Lake Erie.”

Williams said Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and its southerly location allows the water to warm faster than the others. This coupled with nutrient-rich runoff from municipal drains and agricultural activity has resulted in severe algal blooms that pose a risk to aquatic life and human health. Williams’s research will provide information about the future of flows and nutrients, and the location of potential problem areas.

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 as World Water Day to invite people worldwide to learn more about water-related issues and take action to make a difference. For more information, visit unwater.org/worldwaterday.