High Snowpack Level Won’t Necessarily Lead to Flooding

With snowpacks in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains above to much above average normal (120%-144%), there is a rising concern for flooding as temperatures warm during the spring.

But John Pomeroy states that there isn’t a major concern for flooding – yet. The long-term forecast is still calling for a cooler spring, which means the snow in the mountains will likely melt slower this year. In addition, snowmelt alone has never driven flooding in Calgary and it would take a large rain-on-snow event to cause flooding. “With a changing climate, we can experience unprecedented weather extremes so it is important to stay vigilant, ” says John Pomeroy.

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Water Resources Warnings for Canada from Cape Town

Writing in The Conversation, CH and Global Water Futures Director Dist. Prof. John Pomeroy has discussed the risk of extreme impacts related to water resources – in the form of drought, floods, adverse water quality and wildfires – in Canada.This post offers a synopsis of the article, which is available in full here.

In recent years, rationing has been implemented as a temporary solution to water shortages in several major cities and conurbations across the country. Such measures have yet to attain the extreme constraints currently being experienced in Cape Town, South Africa, but this may only be a matter of time. Where shifting meteorological patterns driven by anthropogenic climate-change diminish snow and rain, shortages are likely to become more intense and frequent, and will translate into increased wildfire risk, poor water-quality, and major impacts on agricultural and ecological systems.

At the other end of the scale, widespread settlement and development along major rivers, together with increasing occurrences of intense or extended rainstorms, has increased the potential for damaging flood events.

In Canada, disruption to the key contributions made by seasonal snowpack and glaciers is a particular cause for concern.

With many hitherto “unusual” weather events increasing in frequency as atmospheric and oceanic warming continues and meteorological systems respond, methods previously applied to gauge the risks of drought and flood are rapidly becoming obsolete.

In the light of such challenges, improvements in water security in Canada could be achieved by:

  1. Improving integration and coordination of water governance, planning and services, by developing national-scale capabilities to forecast floods, droughts, water quality and water supply.
  2. Working to reduce flood damage through more active and integrated river basin water management, calculating future flood risk and restricting development in future flood zones.
  3. Reassessment of infrastructure, and capabilities to manage and store water, in expectation of droughts longer and more severe than any previously experienced.
  4. Managing the cumulative effects of development within watersheds, thereby reducing the contamination of lakes and rivers, so that the water is safe to drink and sustains aquatic ecosystems.

This in turn will depend on moving away from the mosaic of local, regional, provincial and federal authorities which currently manages water governance, and establishing more coordinated, inclusive and effective services within a national water security strategy. The Global Water Futures program seeks to drive progress towards these goals, both nationally and internationally.

Canada Not Immune to Water Shortages

In the wake of a water crisis in Cape Town, Dist. Prof. John Pomeroy talked to CBC News about the rising risk of water shortages in Western Canada. In a country known for its abundance of fresh water, Canadian scientists warn that some communities could face their own water crisis in the not-so-distant future.

Read the CBC article here.

For a more in-depth look at the water risks Canada is facing, read John Pomeroy’s article in the Conversation.


Researchers Use More Precise Models to Better Predict the Water Future

Western and Northern Canada has experienced some of the highest rates of warming anywhere in the world. This warming has affected various aspects of the environment, from increased rainfall in the winter months to changes in the magnitude and timing of streamflow across the region.

As the Changing Cold Regions Network comes to an end in March 2018, researchers have improved models at both small and large scales to better predict what the future may hold under more changing climatic and environmental conditions. These models have been used to evaluate changes in the Mackenzie and Saskatchewan River basins and included work from 40 scientists from eight universities who worked with four federal agencies.

More information can be read in a National Post article here.

A short documentary film on the research conducted during the Changing Cold Regions Network can be viewed here.

Western Economic Diversification provides funding for Smart Water Systems Lab

CH has received $1.37M from Western Economic Diversification (WED) to establish the Smart Water Systems Laboratory (formally the Autonomous and Airborne Cold Regions Innovation Laboratory), which will deliver transformative technological capabilities for water-related observation and data collection.

The funding will be used to purchase a range of advanced equipment (including drones, specialized cameras, a 3D printer and scanning system), and fund the development of new specialized sensors.

More information of the broader award to the U. of S. from W.E.D. is available here.

Tundra Hydrology Research Profiled by CCRN

The research of Sebastian Krogh, a CH student from Chile working towards his PhD under the supervision of Dist. Prof. John Pomeroy, has been profiled in an article released by the Changing Cold Regions Network (CCRN).

Sebastian is studying interactions between climate, landscape and hydrology near Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Using the Cold regions Hydrological Model (CRHM), he has reconstructed flows over the past 56 years in order to improve understanding of the processes associated with warming air temperatures and increasing vegetation on the tundra.

The article is available here.

25 years of Research at Wolf Creek Celebrated by CBC

The Wolf Creek research watershed near Whitehorse (YT), which has repeatedly been a prime focus for work by CH scientists and their affiliates, has recently completed its 25th year of operation. To mark the occasion, a group of researchers gathered at the watershed, and the meeting was covered by the CBC.

The watershed continues to provide an invaluable resource for studying hydrological processes in upland northern landscapes, and shifting influences under changing climatic conditions.

The CBC report is available here, and also within the Northbeat video of 2 October 2017 (at 20:23 minutes).

U of S hydrologist Howard Wheater to advise on US national water future

Renowned University of Saskatchewan hydrologist Howard Wheater, who co-leads the world’s largest university-based water research initiative—Global Water Futures (GWF), has been appointed to a distinguished U.S. National Academies panel looking into the future of water resources in the United States.

The panel of leading water science experts is charged with identifying America’s highest-priority water science and resource challenges over the next 25 years, and making recommendations on the strategic water science and research opportunities to address those challenges. It will report its finding in 2018.

“The loss of life and $180-billion damage from Hurricane Harvey is a wake-up call to the U.S. for the need to better manage water-related threats, including risks from climate change, and the hurricane’s effect on rising gas prices in Canada shows the far-reaching impacts of extreme events on the global economy,” said Wheater, who attended the panel’s first meeting in Washington this week.

“The work of this U.S. panel reinforces the importance of the work we are doing with our U of S Global Institute for Water Security to address Canada’s challenges of coping with a rapidly warming climate and its impacts on our water environment.”

Wheater lends his expertise to several other international water-related issues. He serves as an independent international expert supporting the Republic of Chile in a dispute with Bolivia before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.  He is also working with the State of Nevada in a dispute with the U.S. Department of Energy over the proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository. He also gives keynote addresses to national and international water science meetings.

To devote more time to international work, Wheater is stepping down from the GWF directorship on September 30th.  He will take a one-year administrative leave next year, but will continue to provide strategic support to John Pomeroy who has served as GWF co-director over the past year. Wheater will also continue to provide support and advice to the GWF core team responsible for hydrological modelling and co-supervise graduate students. He will stay on as director of the Global Institute for Water Security, which he founded in 2010, until next March 31st.

“The $143-million Global Water Futures project is now well launched and is gathering momentum with the support of our three key university partners and scores of other partners across Canada and around the globe,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president of research.

“Howard Wheater has made an outstanding contribution over the past seven years, and I know that this nationally important Canada First Research Excellence Fund initiative is now going to be in very capable hands under the stellar leadership of Canada Research Chair John Pomeroy.”

Wheater noted that a number of major projects that he has been leading at the U of S are drawing to a close. The research program of the seven-year Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Water Security concludes this month. Federal funding for Changing Cold Regions Network concludes in March of 2018.

Through the CERC research program, U of S researchers have developed new in-depth knowledge of water issues in the enormous Saskatchewan River Basin and the Mackenzie River Basin, ranging from drought and flooding, to competing societal water uses, to water quality issues. They have used new experimental modelling and remote sensing approaches to understand, diagnose and predict changing land, water and climate in these major river basins.

“Due to our CERC, the U of S has become one of the world-leading research-intensive institutions in the area of water security,” Wheater said.

One of the CERC accomplishments of which he is most proud has been the training of almost 800 graduate students, more than 140 post-doctoral fellows, and more than 250 research scientists, technicians and assistants.

Wheater, who is a Distinguished Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor in Hydrology at London’s Imperial College, served as chair of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Sustainable Management of Water in the Agricultural Landscapes of Canada which reported in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the American Geophysical Union and winner of the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water.

For more information about the U of S-based Global Water Futures initiative, visit: https://gwf.usask.ca