For Margot Parkes, Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society at the University of Northern British Columbia, watersheds are living systems that are essential for healthy communities.

"My research focuses on the relationships between ecosystems and health," says Parkes, who presents her work at the THINK CANADA Press Breakfast panel discussion today at AAAS. Originally trained as a medical doctor, Parkes says it is important to take a holistic view of the issue.

"As with the body, you need to view the whole of the system to better understand the parts," she says. "This applies not only to the circulatory system of the body, but also the circulatory systems of landscapes, which are the watersheds in which we all live."

As Parkes explains, water is the bloodstream of the natural world and, in a nutshell, if our water sources are not healthy, then neither are the communities that depend on them.

To better understand how changes to our water systems affect our health and well-being, Parkes works with knowledge from across the sciences as well as research into social processes and health dynamics to answer questions about better water management.

For example, who is responsible for ensuring our water sources are clean and healthy?

"Everybody… and nobody," says Parkes. "There is often an assumption that because this issue is so important the lines of responsibility are very clear. Instead, responsibility is often partial, or shared between many different agencies, which means it is essential that we work together to bridge the gaps. How we manage our water has a direct correlation on how we live as a species."

To promote an integrated approach to water management, Parkes brings together communities, different levels of government, health agencies, researchers and First Nations to discuss issues around watershed management and what this means for the health and well-being of the communities living within them.

"Our common challenge is to create a dialogue among the different groups involved so we can weave a 'safety net' from their individual knowledge," she says. "This will help ensure thoughtful and sound decisions for the future health of our waterways and the communities who depend on them."

Parkes will discuss her research and answer questions from the press as part of the THINK CANADA Press Breakfast on the theme of water. The breakfast will be held in Room 202A of the Washington Convention Center at 8 a.m. on February 20, 2011 and will feature Canadian research experts across natural sciences and engineering, health, social sciences and humanities.