Saskatchewan River Basin

The Global Institute for Water Security experimental sites are located across Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan River Basin is a primary focus for Global Institute for Water Security research. Located in one of the most extreme and variable climates of the world, the basin is a critically-important water resource for the Prairie Provinces, includes regionally and globally-important biomes and represents many of the major challenges faced by water resources world-wide.

Research conducted here will benefit Canadian communities and lead to new insights and decision support tools for managing water resources and environmental change with world-wide application. The data will also be used internationally as part of the World Climate Research Programme to improve climate and hydroecological models and test remote sensing data products.

For decades, U of S faculty and researchers have been working at various experimental sites across Western Canada, gathering significant amounts of data. The institute is investing in these and new sites to provide a unique state-of-the-art observatory to improve our understanding of climate and environmental change in the river basin. Data collected will be used to create improved modelling tools to develop better predictions of climate and land use change, improve land and water management practices, and guide policy decisions.

About the Saskatchewan River Basin: Fed mainly by snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, the Saskatchewan River Basin is the major water resource for the three Prairie provinces and is home to three million people. It supports 80% of Canada’s agriculture production and is globally important for potash mining, oil and gas extraction, and forestry. 

  • Urban growth and agricultural intensification are increasing pressures on water quality, with nutrient pollution affecting recreation, ecosystem health and drinking water quality.
  • Water resources are already fully allocated in southern Alberta, and the rapidly growing economy places increased pressure on these resources.
  • Climate change is affecting land and water resources in complex ways by changing the balance of snow and rainfall, reducing natural storage in snowpacks and changing river flows.
  • Extreme events are projected to increase with climate warming.

The Global Institute for Water Security is focusing major new research investments at the following research sites across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, working in conjunction with Canadian and international collaborators. These sites were chosen due to the extensive data records already being collected at many of them, and also because of their potential as benchmark examples of how prairie and mountain water basins respond to environmental change.

 

 

Marmot Creek Research Basin

The U of S Centre for Hydrology re-established the Marmot Creek Research Basin in 2005.
  • Located in the Rocky Mountain front ranges in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
    • Tributary to the Kananaskis and Bow Rivers.
    • Basin area is approximately 10 km2 area, 1600 to 2800 m elevation.
  • Established as a research basin by the Government of Canada as part of the International Hydrological Decade in 1962 to study the hydrological effects of forest management with the Canadian Forestry Service as the lead agency. 
  • Research Canadian Forestry Service program ended in 1986 for development of Nakiska Ski Resort.
  • Monitoring and research program re-established in 2005 by the Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan and Biogeoscience Institute, University of Calgary.
  • Montain and subalpine forest cover, alpine tundra and talus/rock at higher elevations.

Current Scientific Focus

  • Mountain snow processes, hydrochemistry, groundwater and hydrological modelling (including climate change sensitivity analysis and hydro-climatic trends). 
  • Impact of forest cover change on mountain hydrology.
  • Mountain hydrological model development and testing.  
  • Instrumented with twelve permanent meteorological stations at elevations from 1450 to 2500 m, covering a variety of surface cover types and slope orientations.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

Peyto Glacier

The Peyto Glacier has retreated significantly since monitoring began in 1966.
  • Located within Park Ranges along continental divide in Banff National Park, Alberta.
    • Peyto Creek flows into the Mistaya and North Saskatchewan Rivers.
    • Research area is approximately 24 km2, 2100 to 3150 m elevation and mostly covered by Peyto Glacier.
  • A glacier mass balance program was established here by the Government of Canada in 1966 as part of the International Hydrological Decade and operated by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
  • The site remains a focal point for a wide range of glaciological and hydrological research and reports to the World Glacier Monitoring Program. 
  • The glacier has undergone considerable negative net mass balance, downwasting, and terminal retreat over the past 50 years.

Current Scientific Focus

  • Primarily glacier, hydrology and climate studies.
  • Single meteorological station within basin adjacent to Peyto Glacier, and two stations located on the glacier surface representing different elevation zones.
    • Hourly solar radiation, air temperature/humidity, wind speed, precipitation, snow depth measurements.
    • Shorter records of surface energy and flux profiles.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

BERMS (Boreal Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Sites)

This BERMS tower at the Old Jack Pine site is operated by Environment Canada.
  • Located in the southern Boreal Forest of Saskatchewan.
  • BERMS project began in 1996 following the end of BOREAS (BOReal Ecosystem and Atmosphere Study), which took place from 1994 – 1996.
  • Operated and funded by Environment Canada (EC), NRCan, and Parks Canada, with collaboration from University of British Columbia, University of Saskatchewan and Queen’s University.
    • Main sites within BERMS are mature Jack Pine, Black Spruce, and Aspen stands, as well as Fen, and reference stations in nearby burned and cleared forest stands.
    • The area covers a number of watersheds in the southern Boreal Forest, including White Gull Creek, Torch River, Garden River and White Fox Creek.

Current Scientific Focus

  • BERMS’ primary science goal is to understand the carbon and water balance of the Canadian Boreal Forest.
    • Investigation on climatic, vegetation, disturbance and management controls on carbon and water fluxes.
  • Groundwater and surface water monitoring of creeks and rivers in the research site.
  • The Global Institute for Water Security program at BERMS seeks to expand the multidisciplinary collaboration to understand ecosystem sensitivity to climate variability and change, in particular prairie/boreal forest transitions.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

Kenaston Flux Tower/Soil Moisture Site

  • Observation sites located in central southern Saskatchewan within the moist mixed grassland ecoregion. 
    • Primarily cultivated with cereal crops, with areas of native grassland and pasture.
  • The basin area is approximately 900 km2 and covers much of the headwaters of Brightwater Creek, which drains to the South Saskatchewan River.
  • Research site was established in 2007 as part of a National Agri-Environmental Standards Initiative (NAESI) research project.
  • Station network set up and operated by Environment Canada and University of Guelph.
  • The site is part of the CanEx-SM10 experiment run in collaboration with NASA.

Current Scientific Focus

  • Hydrological modelling and remote sensing validation.
  • Flux towers for surface mass/energy balance measurements.
  • Soil moisture and precipitation networks.
  • Large scale soil moisture/evaporation measurements.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

St. Denis National Wildlife Area (SDNWA)

The St. Denis National Wildlife Area landscape is characterized by large wetland areas and Prairie pothole topography.
  • Located near the transition between Aspen parkland and moist mixed grassland ecoregions in central southern Saskatchewan. 
  • Landscape characterized by large wetland areas and prairie pothole topography, with a rich diversity of plant and animal species.
  • Three-hundred and sixty-one acres established as a National Wildlife Area in 1968 by Environment Canada for wetland monitoring and soil surveys.
  • Beginning in 1980, a number of other research initiatives have been carried out, including investigations of waterfowl and habitat, hydrology and soil science.
  • Wetland draining of SDNWA is characteristic of much of the prairie landscape.

Current Scientific Focus

  • There is a wide range of interdisciplinary research focusing on interactions among agriculture, natural habitats, wildlife and the physical environment.
    • Disciplines involved include biology (aquatic ecology and migratory birds), hydrology (prairie wetlands, snow accumulation/melt), soil science (soil formation, carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emission), and toxicology (water quality, pesticides).
  • Meteorological station measuring air temperature/humidity, precipitation and wind speed.
  • Continuous monitoring of water levels in selected wetlands, used to track runoff and estimate water balance.  
  • Monitoring and modelling of surface and subsurface hydrological and water quality response, including extreme events.
  • Hydrogeology: the role of groundwater on quality and the water balance.

 Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

Lake Diefenbaker

Lake Diefenbaker was created in 1967 by the construction of the Gardiner Dam and the Qu'Appelle River Dam
  • A large, multi-purpose reservoir on the South Saskatchewan River in south-west Saskatchewan, Lake Diefenbaker was formed by the construction of Gardiner Dam and Qu’Appelle River Dam.
    • Approximately 430 km2 surface area, 9.4 km3 volume and 22 m average depth.
    • Uses include power generation, flood control, irrigation, industrial water supply, recreation and fishing, aquaculture, and augmentation of the Qu’Appelle River.
  • Fed by Old Man, Bow and Red Deer Rivers in southern Alberta.
    • Most of the upstream basin area is dry, treeless prairie; primary land use is grain and livestock production.
    • Irrigation return flows and municipal/industrial effluents represent major sources of contaminants in upstream contributing watersheds.

Current Scientific Focus

  • The Global Institute for Water Security research is among the first long-term research program established at Lake Diefenbaker and aims to understand current and future vulnerability of water quality and aquatic ecosystems to nutrient loading. 
  • Past research projects include: 
    • Water quality analysis on nutrient loading and algal blooms (2008) by the Toxicology Centre, University of Saskatchewan.
    • Sampling and analysis of nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria (1994 – 2005) by Department of Biology, University of Regina.
    • Intensive study (1984) by Water Quality Branch of Environment Canada and Saskatchewan Department of Environment on nutrient loading from upstream areas and sediment toxicity.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

Smith Creek Research Basin

  • Located in eastern Saskatchewan within the Aspen Parkland sub-basin of the Assiniboine River.
  • Approximately 435 km2 basin characterized by prairie pothole topography, with numerous isolated wetland areas with little or no surface inflow/outflow.
  • Established in 2007 by the Centre for Hydrology, U of S with funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Prairie Habitat Joint Venture Committee, Prairie Provinces Water Board, Manitoba Water Stewardship, Saskatchewan Watershed Authority and Ducks Unlimited Canada.
  • Basin has undergone rapid changes over the past 50 years, transitioning from areas of extensive woodland and wetlands to grain and oilseed cultivation.
  • There has been a reduction in wetland areas from 17% to 9% during 1958 – 2001.

Current Scientific Focus

  • Smith Creek is being studied to understand the effects of land use changes and drainage on eastern prairie hydrology, flooding and drought, and to develop a hydrological model for predicting these changes.
    • Investigations of the role of wetlands in governing streamflow and effects of wetland drainage through modelling and experimental techniques.
  • More recent focus on water quality issues related to wetland drainage.

Global Institute for Water Security Working Groups

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Contact Us:
Global Institute for Water Security
University of Saskatchewan
National Hydrology Research Centre
11 Innovation Boulevard
Saskatoon, SK S7N 3H5 Canada
Email: water.security@usask.ca
Phone: (306) 966-8014
Fax: (306) 966-1193 

For media inquiries contact:
Meagan Hinther, Communications Specialist
Email: meagan.hinther@usask.ca
Phone: (306) 966-1019