Groundwater expert, Dr John Cherry, wins 2020 Stockholm Water Prize

News Mar 23, 2020

Dr John Cherry receives the world’s most prestigious water award, the Stockholm Water Prize, in 2020. He is awarded for discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of groundwater vulnerability. Dr Cherry’s work has raised awareness of how groundwater contamination is growing across the world and has led to new, more efficient methods to tackle the problem.

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Dr John Cherry is a world-renowned hydrogeologist and a leading authority on the threats to groundwater from contamination. As the creator of the academic field contaminant hydrogeology, he has changed the scientific paradigms of groundwater research.

Contaminant hydrogeology studies how chemicals and waste leaches into the groundwater. A geological engineer by training, Dr Cherry has pioneered highly collaborative field experiments and new systematic approaches to monitor, control and clean up contaminated groundwater. This has provided keen insights into contaminant transport processes and made it easier to protect groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half the global population.

On receiving news of the prize, Dr Cherry said: “I’m very pleased to receive the Stockholm Water Prize and to get this opportunity to speak about the importance of protecting groundwater. Though the global water crisis is starting to get more attention, groundwater is often forgotten, despite making up 99 per cent of the planet’s liquid freshwater. Many people still perceive it as pristine when in fact it is threatened by human activity.”

In its citation, the international Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee said: With the Stockholm Water Prize, John Cherry is recognized for his contributions to science, education, practice and for translating his well-earned stature into a passionate and highly effective advocacy for groundwater science to inform current and future policies, laws and collective deliberations that governments must establish to protect water, our most essential and yet most imperilled resource.”

Dr Cherry’s work has had enormous influence. Through the innovative Borden Groundwater Field Research Facility, which he established already in the 1980s, many important scientific discoveries have been made by researchers from different parts of the world. Dr Cherry’s approaches to groundwater monitoring have also been used in many countries, including Canada, Brazil and the United States.

Many students have had their understanding of groundwater shaped by the textbook Groundwater, which John Cherry co-authored together with Alan Freeze in 1979. Making groundwater knowledge available to students and practitioners around the world has always been close to his heart and most recently this has resulted in the innovative Groundwater Project. In response to recurring requests for him to update the textbook, Dr Cherry started collaborating with other leading groundwater scientists around the world to make their texts available free of charge for anyone to use. The project will be launched in August 2020.

“We urgently need to raise awareness of the importance of groundwater. It’s the essential water for our ecological world and sustains rivers, lakes, peatlands, wetlands, everything. For humans, groundwater is also becoming more and more important. Already today, almost half the global population is drinking groundwater. In coming years, when our planet will have an additional two or three billion inhabitants, most of them will rely on groundwater,” he says.

Dr Cherry emphasizes that groundwater is overused in many places and contaminated in others, for example from agriculture, the leaching of industrial solvents and fuels, as well as from energy production, such as shale fracking. But in other places, groundwater is underutilized as a source of safe drinking water. He hopes that the Stockholm Water Prize will help bring attention to the global water crisis and the threat to groundwater from both contamination and over-extraction.

“Groundwater should be monitored and valued, but all over the world, it is overlooked and abused. The technology exists, but not a single country is doing enough to keep its groundwater safe. For the sake of future generations, we must start protecting our groundwater,” Dr Cherry says.

SIWI’s Executive Director Torgny Holmgren comments: “Dr Cherry has made us aware of how much we depend on groundwater and that it is all too often threatened by contamination. We are very grateful for his invaluable contributions in helping us understand how we can protect the world’s groundwater from the threats it faces.”

Dr Cherry is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Guelph, Canada, Director at the University’s Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Research and Associate Director of the G360 Institute for Groundwater Research. He is also a Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Waterloo.

Dr Cherry has published over 210 peer-reviewed publications and been cited over 35,000 times.

Read more about his work here and here.

Follow how the Groundwater Project evolves here.

Meet the 2020 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate