Saskatchewan River Delta

A team of researchers at the Global Institute for Water Security are studying the linkages between water, animals and people in the Saskatchewan River Delta to help communities plan for future scenarios and mitigate impacts to the livelihoods of residents living in the delta.

The Saskatchewan River Delta is the largest inland delta in North America and is a complex series of abandoned and active river channels, lakes and wetlands that straddle the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border. The upper delta is largely comprised of the Cumberland Marshes, and is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in Canada with an abundance of fish, waterfowl and game. Over 15,000 people live in the region - the majority in First Nations communities – and many rely on hunting, trapping and fishing for their livelihoods.

The region represents the culmination of water diverted and used in the Saskatchewan River Basin. Annual flows have decreased by around 30% since the turn of the last century, partly due to dams such as Gardiner and E.B. Campbell holding back water.

The implications of these changes in flow for the production of fish, waterfowl and mammals that depend on aquatic habitat are being addressed by an institute research team. The research will help communities in the delta understand how climate change and water resource development may affect the local habitat and plan for ways to ease the impact to their livelihoods.

Current scientific focus:

  • Develop a hydrodynamic model to determine how the current and potential future flow regime of the Saskatchewan River affects the distribution of aquatic habitats in the Cumberland Marshes.
  • Through stable isotope analysis, assess which of the aquatic habitats are most important in spawning/breeding and production of fish, birds and mammals.
  • Using household surveys and historical resources, evaluate market and routine resource use by people in the region and assign social, cultural and economic value to this harvesting and any related conservation activities.
  • Create a conceptual framework (Bayesian Belief Network) that will allow an estimation of the ecological and societal implications of future flow scenarios in the river delta.

Research group members: Tim Jardine, Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt, Norman Smith (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Howard Wheater, Keith Hobson (Environment Canada), David Natcher (University of Saskatchewan Indigenous Land Management Institute), Ken Belcher, Maureen Reed, Doug Clark, Graham Strickert, Merle Massie