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Albertans stage technology park invasion

Research council buys rental space to set up water research lab

Albertans have invaded the Island.

Citing Victoria's abundant expertise, research potential and resources, the Alberta Research Council has moved into 5,000 square feet of space at the Vancouver Island Technology Park to set up a water isotope lab.

According to John Gibson, ARC's senior hydrologist and a University of Victoria professor, expanding the council's footprint into Victoria just made sense.

"Water itself is a regional and global issue, and managing it requires knowing what your neighbour is doing as well," he said. "We want to work together with industry and government here on solutions that will work for the whole region. Reaching out to the nearest neighbour makes perfect sense."

UVic is also an excellent research university and has a lot of expertise in water resources, Gibson added. "This gives us access to a whole range of students and training opportunities here that are not available necessarily in Alberta."

The tech-park spot should also establish a more visible platform for ARC on the West Coast.

"Having a high-tech water research team in Victoria will enable ARC to build regional, national and global partnerships," said ARC vice-president of life sciences Shawn Gervais.

The lab ARC is setting up at the tech park will require significant renovations and is expected to be complete by the end of March.

The lab is used to "fingerprint" water, allowing researchers to determine its origin, age and history.

"Basically we look at the underlying issues that control the water cycle," said Gibson, noting the application of that knowledge serves the main industries in both Alberta and B.C.

"We work a lot with the oil and gas, forestry and mining sectors, because all of them can have an impact on the water cycle and it's in the best interests of the industry, government and everyone to try and minimize those impacts and preserve the ecosystem," he said, adding their techniques can provide rapid information to allow those industries to adopt new strategies to reduce the footprint on the environment.

The lab will immediately have a staff of 12, a mixture of full-time and part-time workers as well as graduate students, doctoral fellows and research assistants, though the staff will likely grow when the lab is up and running.

The ARC facility is currently investigating water ecosystem issues such as the impact of the Fort McMurray oilsands on sustainability of lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplies in the region.

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