Scientific studies indicate that water quantity in the Liard sub-basin is consistent and not largely affected by human uses such as industry. Stream flows have increased in winter across the basin and in spring in some tributaries, possibly linked to recorded increased winter temperatures and earlier freshet. Documented sources of Indigenous Knowledge information related to water quantity were not found.
The following table summarizes the availability of information for each Water Quantity indicator.
Signs and Signals
Indigenous Knowledge Information and Data
Indigenous Knowledge Availability 1
Science Information and Data
Science Data Availability2
Snow and Ice
Local observations and oral histories of changes in snow quality, ice thickness, presence and break up of ice jams
No information found.
Available modeling information / stats on snow quality, ice thickness, presence and break up of ice jams
Snow data and analyses available. No data on ice found.
Water Flows and Levels
Local observations and oral histories of changing flow / water levels in rivers / lakes and aquifers over time
No information found.
Seasonal statistics including changes in flow / water levels in rivers / lakes and aquifers over time
Long-term data sets available from Water Survey of Canada stations; analyzed three representative sites on the Liard River mainstem and three tributary sites.
Local observations and oral histories of temperature, precipitation normals and extremes over time
No information found.
Temperature, precipitation normals and extremes over time
Data available from weather stations in the sub-basin, analyses completed, other sources are Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC), Climate BC and Climate WNA.
Not assigned a Sign or Signal
Number of water licenses, purpose, volume allocated, and volume used vs. water flow / level; Water demand from various sectors, including dams, agriculture, oil and gas, etc., trends in water use over time
Summarized Information on water licences available, but not up to date. Water License information available from Yukon Government and NWT water board websites.
1Qualifiers for the availability of local and Indigenous Knowledge observations in publicly available sources: Limited = 1-2 observations; Some = 3-4 observations; Many = 5 or more observations; Few = 1-3 locations; Several = 4 or more locations
2 Qualifiers for the availability of science data in publicly available sources: Low = Individual studies or locations; Many = Network of monitoring stations across the basin
3 University of British Columbia. Climate BC, WNA, NA. https://cfcg.forestry.ubc.ca/projects/climate-data/climatebcwna/
Snow & Ice
Changes in snow mass have varied across the Liard sub-basin since 1981. There is limited scientific data on ice condition and breakup timing.
Change in Average March Snow Mass (as Snow Water Equivalent, in mm/decade) in the Liard sub-basin 1980 to 2015. Positive (yellow, orange) values indicate increases in snow mass, negative (dark green) values indicate declines in snow mass.
Water Flows & Levels
Scientific observations indicate flows have increased in winter across the Liard sub-basin and in spring in some tributaries and freshet has occurred earlier.
There has been a consistent increase in winter flows (January to April) in all six analyzed WSC stations (1940s to present for lower Liard River, 1960s to present for upper Liard River and tributaries). Increases in monthly flow ranged from ~0.5 % annually in January to ~ 1% annually in March and April. This trend is likely due to increased surface-groundwater interaction due to permafrost degradation and increased active layer depth, since most of the Liard sub-basin is in the discontinuous permafrost zone.
Freshet flows (June) were steady over the period of record, except for Muskwa River near Fort Nelson, which had increasing freshet flows (increasing 0.49 % annually, equivalent to 2.77 m3/s annually). These results are consistent with previously reported increases in winter discharge and some increase in snowmelt freshet.
Air temperature and precipitation have increased in the Liard sub-basin, with the greatest warming occurring in winter and greatest precipitation increases occurring in summer.
Temperature and Precipitation trends in the Liard Sub-basin (1948 – 2016 for temperature, 1948 – 2012 for precipitation). From: Bonsal et al. in review
Temperature Change (°C)
Precipitation Change (%)
Note: Spring: Mar-Apr-May, Summer: Jun-Jul-Aug, Fall: Sep-Oct-Nov, Winter: Dec-Jan-Feb
Industry remains the dominant water user in the Liard sub-basin. Water use has increased slightly but remains a small fraction of annual runoff.
There are few water licenses in the Northwest Territories portion of the Liard. Two industrial licenses are reported; one expired in 2015 and the other is an active license for a natural gas facility. The community of Fort Liard also has a water use license.
In the British Columbia portion of the Liard River sub-basin, there were 564 water licenses in 2013 (539 oil and gas related, 25 non-oil and gas related), for a total licensed annual water usage of 10.5 million m3, which corresponds to approximately 0.02 % of the total annual streamflow in the Liard River at Fort Liard. Actual usage was only reported for oil and gas related licenses, where of 7.4 million m3 licensed for use, only 1.7 million m3 were withdrawn. In 2015, there were a total of 384 water licenses (short-term) in the British Columbia portion of the Liard River sub-basin. Of these, 355 were oil and gas related and 29 were non-oil and gas related. The total licensed water withdrawals remained steady at 10.5 million m3. Actual water usage for the oil and gas sector licenses increased slightly to approximately 2 million m3.
Most of the oil and gas water usage is used for hydraulic fracturing of shale for natural gas.