Innovations
June 21, 2012

Collaboration key to environmental innovation

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment is leading a new approach built on results-based regulations to enhance environmental protection while encouraging innovation.

The results-based model focuses less on process and more on promoting new solutions and holding proponents accountable for achieving desired environmental outcomes.

It also builds on one of the ministry’s guiding principles: “Environmental protection and regulation will be based on science and environmental domain knowledge applied by appropriately qualified professionals, whether acting on behalf of industry or in the public service.”

In recent years, increased public knowledge in fields of science and interaction with the ever-changing environment has created a need to address more complex questions from the public, industry and interest groups.

There is no single discipline in science that can speak to these complex environmental issues. Saskatchewan needed to move from a silo working approach to multi-disciplinary teams of highly qualified people able to advise, evaluate submissions and advance the business of the ministry.  

In response, the ministry established the Technical Resources Branch in 2010. A team of scientific professionals and experts was established to provide technical and scientific support for ministry programs and to collaborate with key stakeholders, within and outside of the ministry, to address environmental concerns in the province.

The Technical Resources branch, led by chief engineer, Dr. Kevin McCullum, has developed partnerships with stakeholders, forming multi-disciplinary teams to promote a scientifically strategic approach to environmental risk assessment, cooperative monitoring and open, transparent reporting of information.

“We have been working to develop solid relationships with academia and industry so that we have a pool of qualified persons to call upon when addressing these new emerging issues,” McCullum said. “These partnerships form the basis of research-driven advice that will ultimately provide direction in science-based decision making.

One such partnership has been through the formation of a Science Community of Practice within the ministry, bringing together individuals with shared interests, knowledge and concerns for science. It is also an opportunity to share best practices and cross-collaborate on projects while providing an informal point of contact.

The ministry continues to seek for synergies in order to garner experience and expertise from a variety of current and potential partnerships. As government becomes leaner, it is essential that the ministry engage with internal and external stakeholders to work on common goals such as monitoring, assessing and reporting environmental data.

The results have been positive. The Technical Resources Branch has developed partnerships with several universities, other ministries and interest groups to help deliver the five-year Boreal Water Management Strategy, a northern Saskatchewan monitoring program now entering its second year.  

The program was developed to identify and assess potential environmental issues concerning development in the region. The information gathered will be available for ministry decision making and to stakeholders.  

First Nations and Métis expertise has been engaged to assist in data collection. The ministry has partnered with the Saskatchewan-based uranium companies, Cameco and Areva, to sample water, food and soil in the Eastern Athabasca Region of the province. It will compare environmental data from community and industrial sites.

Other partnerships include the ministry’s commitment to the national Comprehensive Air Management System (CAMS) in which government, industry and community have established regional airsheds that will work in collaboration to monitor air quality in the province. Currently, the ministry is partnering with the South East Saskatchewan Airshed Association to monitor air quality throughout the southeast corner of the province and with the newly established Western Yellowhead Air Management Zone, responsible for air quality monitoring in the west central part of Saskatchewan.  

This joint monitoring program ensures that local knowledge and partnerships between industry and government are utilized to identify regional air quality issues and develop innovative monitoring solutions.

Collaborating with partners is key to a positive approach in scientific research. While significant progress has been made, there is still work to be done. “We strive to continue to develop new and innovative strategies of delivering monitoring programs using satellite remote sensing in a fiscally responsive, cooperative manner with open and transparent methodologies,” McCullum said.

Barb Barootes is a communications consultant with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.

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