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Groundwater scientist wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

Professor John Anthony Cherry from Canada has been lauded for his contributions and influence in the advancement of groundwater science, policies, and technologies.

Canadian hydrogeologist Professor John Anthony Cherry has been named the 2016 Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Laureate for his lifelong dedication to the protection of groundwater resources, a major water source that constitutes 95 per cent of usable freshwater on the planet.

His work in hydrogeology – which studies the distribution, flow and quality of groundwater – has provided the global groundwater community with a better scientific framework to formulate policies and best practices.

He has also contributed to a more effective risk management in groundwater pollution control measures, and assisted in the formulation of new groundwater remediation guidelines in several countries, said the Nominating Committee. 

Prof Cherry said: “It is an incredible honour to receive the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, and to be accepting the recognition in conjunction with World Water Day speaks volumes of its significance. I am confident that global accolades such as the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize will heighten awareness of the global water challenges and encourage the development of innovative water solutions and technologies for more effective water management and protection of our water resources.”

He has developed monitoring technologies and clean-up processes in countries – such as the United States, China and Brazil, among others – that face groundwater contamination.

This also helped unearth information that subsequently formed the basis for setting the benchmarks used in hazardous industrial and nuclear waste disposal, which are now integrated into regulations across the world.

Cherry was announced the seventh Water Prize Laureate on Monday at an event held at Singapore’s Environment Building, which marks the first time the announcement was timed to coincide with World Water Day, held on March 22 every year.

Named after Singapore’s first Prime Minister, the biennial Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize was first launched in 2008 to honour outstanding contributions – by individuals or organisations – towards solving the world’s water problems through innovative technologies or policies and programmes that benefit humanity. It is also the highlight of the Singapore International Water Week, a global platform for water solutions, technologies and ideas.

Past winners of the Prize include Orange County Water District in 2014 and Dutch water technology expert Prof Mark van Loosdrecht in 2012

Tan Gee Paw, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee, said that creating real impact and influencing policymaking and regulations require courageous, informed and decisive action.

“This is clearly reflected in Cherry’s approach to field research and advocacy. The insights and contributions made by Cherry form today’s framework in understanding one of the world’s most precious water resources, and ultimately lead to the provision of safe drinking water to populations that rely primarily on groundwater resources,” he said.

Currently a distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, Cherry continues to conduct research and provide research leadership as the director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research that he established in 1988.

He is an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph, and also an associate director of the G360 Centre for Groundwater Research.

His recent research on fractured rock – the least understood of all groundwater systems and also one that is particularly susceptible to contamination – has contributed towards the supply of safe drinking water to people living in mountainous bedrock regions with limited vehicle access.

The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2016, which includes a gold medallion, award certificate and S$300,000 sponsored by the Singapore Millennium Foundation (SMF), will be presented to Cherry at the award ceremony during the Singapore International Water Week from July 10 to 14 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. SMF is a philanthropic body supported by Temasek Holdings. 

Cherry will also be delivering the Singapore Water Lecture on July 11.

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