CURA-H2O is a five-year Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to increase community capacity for integrated water monitoring and management in Canada and internationally.

The project team is composed of an alliance of partners representing community stewardship organizations, environmental NGOs, academia, government agencies, First Nations communities, public schools, and the private sector. This project is run out of the Saint Mary’s University Geography Department in Halifax Nova Scotia, and is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Cathy Conrad.

Project Purpose and Main Components
  • Implement water quality monitoring training program
  • Integrate data into governmental watershed management
  • Project guidance through academic research
Training Program
  • Consists of an online water quality monitoring training course and an accompanying monitoring equipment toolkit. Together they are referred to as Wet-Pro
Data Integration
  • A database has been established to house data collected by stewardship volunteers and to facilitate the sharing of data and resources between stewardship organizations.
  • It will also function as a tool for the integration of stewardship data into watershed management at the government level
  • This project has evolved with the support of and in close collaboration with Nova Scotia Environment and Environment Canada

To ensure the advancement of knowledge and the social benefits of this CURA, a theoretical research component will be carried out by a well-developed alliance of academic leaders, students, community members, and government partners. This research will generate new knowledge around issues of effective community-based resource management, improved accuracy of data collected by volunteers, and the successful integration of volunteer monitoring into resource management.

This research is focused on four main themes:

  1. Community-Based Monitoring in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Internationally
  2. Community-Based Data Collection
  3. Linkages Between Government and Community-Based Monitoring Groups
  4. Community-Based Monitoring and Ecosystems

Further detail on these themes, as well as the specific research questions that accompany them, is available in the Research section of this website.

Knowledge generated through CURA H2O’s project activities and research will be disseminated through a variety of media, including: educational outreach programs in Nova Scotia and abroad, in elementary, high school, and university curriculum, through community and conference presentations, online social media, peer-reviewed publications, television, radio, and print news media, through an online monitoring database, and through participation in advisory groups such as the Nova Scotia Water Advisory Group.


While significant amounts of valuable data are collected each year through the process of community-based environmental monitoring, the integration and use of this data by resource managers and decision makers remains limited. One of the most prevalent challenges in integrating environmental data gathered by volunteers is a lack of consistency in the collection methods, which results in uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the data. This gap has been identified through the last 7 years of work by the Community-Based Environmental Monitoring Network (CBEMN), which is also housed in the Saint Mary’s University Geography Department and of which Dr. Conrad is the founder and Research Coordinator.

The CBEMN and its CURA H2O project seek to build capacity within stewardship organizations through a variety of resources and training, and to address the lack of consistency by standardizing data collection at the community level via the Wet-Pro training program.

Relevance and Contextual Background

Water is an essential component of all life, yet its increasing scarcity and declining quality has put mounting pressure on populations worldwide (UN3, 2010). A variety of factors have contributed to this phenomenon on global scale, including a lack of government leadership, resources, and effective management strategies; a combination which has culminated in a failure to provide basic access to clean water both as a resource and as a human right for over 2.5 billion people (UN3, 2010, WHO, 2010). This realization has led the United Nations (UN) to designate 2005-2015 the “Water for Life” International Decade of Action. It has also led the UN World Water Assessment Program to publically recognize that “the water crisis is largely a crisis of governance” (UN2, 2006).

In response to these failures, new approaches such as Integrated Environmental Management have become increasingly common as governments around the world attempt to address criticisms and issues related to the traditional top-down governance approach. This shift coincides with a global recognition that “environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens”, a principal first articulated in the UNs Earth Summit Agenda 21 (UN1, 1992). This principal was strengthened further in July, 2009, with the formal ratification of the Aarhus Convention which mandates participation by the public in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (UNECE, 2008). Emphasizing that “the serious environmental, social and economic challenges faced by societies worldwide cannot be addressed by public authorities alone”, the convention articulates a framework from which to involve and support of a wide range of stakeholders, including individual citizens and civil society organizations (UNECE, 2008). World-wide, decision-makers are increasing their linkages with citizen volunteers to enhance their ability to monitor and manage natural resources, with water quality and quantity being a resource of common community concern.

In light of this policy shift, CURA H2O aims to contribute to the development of integrated water management through a “Citizen Science” and Community-Based Monitoring approach by engaging non-scientists in the scientific research process of water quality monitoring and data collection. Community-Based Monitoring can be defined as collaborative environmental monitoring that engages concerned citizens, government agencies, industry, academia, community groups, and local institutions to monitor, track and respond to issues. It differs from academic research in that its research questions are defined by the needs of communities (Conrad, 2006, 2007, Conrad & Daoust, 2007). The benefits from this approach for societies, citizen scientists and local ecosystems have been remarkable, including increased environmental democracy, improved scientific literacy, growth of social capital, citizen inclusion in local issues, legitimization of government policy, and benefits to the ecosystems that are monitored.


Conrad, C. 2006. Towards effective and meaningful community based environmental monitoring initiatives in Nova Scotia: where we are at versus where we would like to be? Environments34: 25-36.

Conrad, C.  2007. “Community-based monitoring and the science of water quality” Water Quality and Sediment Behaviour of the Future: Predictions for the 21st Century”. Published in: IAHS Publ., 314, p. 217-228.

Conrad, C., Daoust, T. 2008. Community-Based Monitoring Frameworks: Increasing the Effectiveness of Environmental Stewardship. Environmental Management 41: 358-388.

UN1 (United Nations). 1992. Earth Summit Agenda 21: the United Nations Programme of Action from Rio. New York, New York, USA.

UN2 (United Nations). 2006. The 2nd UN World Water Development Report: “Water, a Shared Responsibility”. Available from:  [cited 3 August 2010].

UN3 (United Nations). 2010. International Decade for Action: “Water for Life”. Available from: [cited 3 August 2010].

UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). 2008. “Vision and Mission” of the Aarhus Convention Strategic Plan, paragraph 4, adopted by the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, in Riga, Latvia, on 13 June 2008. Available from: [cited 3 August 2010].