A national water research network based at the University of Guelph has been awarded $4.6 million over five years to study water and environmental issues in China.

Researchers in the Canadian Water Technology Exchange (CWTX) led by U of G engineering professor Ed McBean will work with a new research centre to be established in the Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) near Beijing.

Under the partnership, researchers will be invited to propose 10 projects for TBNA funding in 2016 in such areas as surface and groundwater contamination, infrastructure failure, flood and drought control, and solid waste management.

Northern China lacks sufficient water, and the entire country faces water quality problems.

“The economy of China is now at a turning point such that the central government there considers water and the environment critical in its drive for domestic economic development,” said McBean, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Water Supply Security.

He said working with the new Chinese research centre will allow Canadian scientists to “help make a real difference and help solve many of China’s critical water and environmental issues.”

CWTX involves 37 water researchers at 22 universities across Canada.

The new venture will involve faculty members and students, and McBean says students might receive joint degrees from both China and Canada.

Researchers will work in dedicated laboratories in TBNA and conduct fieldwork. They will consider a range of solutions, from low-tech water treatment for small rural populations to sophisticated contaminant warning systems and risk assessment tools.

McBean has studied and introduced custom clay pots made by a Honduran non-governmental organization for use as household water filters in various countries.

“Water is vital to human life, but when it’s contaminated by bacteria such as cholera, it can act like a poison, causing long-term illnesses and oftentimes death,” said McBean. “My goal is to give people control over their own water supply in a way that makes sense to them.”