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National accolades

Professor celebrated for exploring the links between water quality and human health

Dr. Graham Gagnon poses for a photo in the hallway of Dalhousie's Henry Hicks Building

By Alison Auld

A Dalhousie University professor who has led the way on water quality research in Canada has been chosen to receive the Albert E. Berry Medal for his significant contributions to the field of environmental engineering.

Graham Gagnon, dean of Architecture and Planning and a professor in the Department of Civil and Resource Engineering at Dalhousie, was recently selected by the Board of Directors of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) for the honour, which is awarded for notable contributions in education, applied engineering, research and development and in public service.

“As a CSCE member, I am humbled by this recognition and see this as a team award in which many students, faculty colleagues and research partners have helped me advance a better understanding of water quality and treatment,” said Dr. Gagnon.

Reimagining water infrastructure

Dr. Gagnon, who is also the NSERC Halifax Water Senior Industrial Chair in Water Quality and Treatment and the Director of the Centre for Water Resource Studies, has gained international recognition for research that has had a significant impact on the health and safety of citizens worldwide.

Dr. Gagnon has published on a range of topics linked to distribution system water quality, particularly those that relate to contaminants in drinking water, such as lead, manganese, and algae.

Inspired by his team’s research on lead, Halifax Water in 2017 provided funding to homeowners for up to 25 percent of lead service line (LSL) replacement costs. More recently, it was approved to cover 100 percent of the cost of LSL replacement, making it the first utility in Canada to cover the entire public and private LSL replacement cost.

“Throughout the approval process, Dr. Gagnon provided expert advice and data to demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of line replacement,” says John Newhook, dean of Engineering at Dalhousie.

“Dr. Gagnon is deeply committed to addressing the protection of public health and ensuring the sustainability of our drinking water infrastructure. Dr. Gagnon’s team has also developed strategies to manage lead through corrosion control treatment processes that ensure, where lead service line replacement isn’t possible, the amount of lead leaching into drinking water is minimized. His technical experience related to corrosion control has been applied across Canada and sought after by international engineering consulting firms.

“Congratulations to Dr. Gagnon on this well-deserved recognition,” says Alice Aiken, Dalhousie's vice president of research and innovation. “Dalhousie is very proud of the work that he has done to ensure communities have safe, clean drinking water.”

Water research, wider impact

Throughout his career, Dr. Gagnon has worked closely with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat and Indigenous communities to improve their access to safe, quality water supplies. In 2013, he testified before a federal committee on safe water, which ultimately resulted in the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. Dr. Gagnon also used the hearing to press for greater self-determination and the creation of a First Nations regional water authority to help oversee activities related to water and wastewater.

All of these activities have proven critical in helping the chiefs in Atlantic Canada form the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority, the first of its kind in Canada.

More recently, Dr. Gagnon has used his knowledge of biomass monitoring to develop a method for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. Working with LuminUltra, Dr. Gagnon and Dr. Amina Stoddart led a team of researchers in coming up with a qPCR-based method for the detection of the virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater. The method has been commercialized by LuminUltra with great interest from the international marketplace.

Dr. Gagnon has authored more than 190 peer-reviewed journal articles, 300 conference proceedings, and has supervised more than 100 graduate students in his 20‐year career at Dalhousie University.

The CSCE is a not-for-profit learned society created to develop and maintain high standards of civil engineering practice in Canada and to enhance the public image of the civil engineering profession.