Water Quantity

Water Quantity

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Summary

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.

Climate

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[3].

Water Use

Not assigned a Sign or Signal

Not assessed.

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.

Snow mass decreased in the northern and southern portion of the sub-basin and increased in the headwaters from 1981 to 2015.

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.

Snow mass trends were derived using a multi-dataset approach described in Mudryk et al. 2020, and provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Hydrometric data from the Water Survey of Canada indicates a number of trends during the 1966-1995 time period at stations along the Liard River. These include trends of earlier initiation of river ice break-up and earlier maximum instantaneous water level during break-up at some hydrometric stations on the Laird River. Almost all hydrometric stations on the Laird River indicate significant trends in the ‘last break-up date’ (the last day when ice conditions are assumed to be affecting the channel flow hydraulics at a hydrometric station), with the last break-up date trending significantly earlier in the season over the 1966-1995 time period.[4]

Documented sources of Indigenous Knowledge information regarding changes in ice and snow quality in the Liard sub-basin were not found, consistent with the findings of a previous recent literature review that also considered this topic.[5]

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,[6] 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.[7]

Trends in January streamflows at Selected Water Survey of Canada Stations in the Liard sub-basin. Data labels are the Sen’s slope (annual change in mean monthly flow in m3/s) and annual percent change relative to long term mean monthly flow. Data from the Water Survey of Canada

Trends in June streamflows at Selected Water Survey of Canada Stations in the Liard sub-basin. Data labels are the Sen’s slope (annual change in mean monthly flow in m3/s) and annual percent change relative to long term mean monthly flow. Data from the Water Survey of Canada

Mean annual and peak instantaneous discharge both remained generally steady across the period of record. Slight decreases were observed, but they were not statistically significant. The one exception is that peak instantaneous flow decreased significantly at Muskwa River near Fort Nelson between 1974 and 2014, with a 2.5 % annual decrease in peak instantaneous flow, corresponding to approximately 60 m3/s lower peak instantaneous flows.

Liard River east of Lower Post, BC. Image source: tuchodi via Flickr Creative Commons (copyright-free).

Freshet flows in the Liard River at Fort Liard have, on average, occurred about 10 days earlier in the past 20 years compared to the mid-20th century. As a result, May flows increased in the Cottonwood River above Bass Creek by 1.4 % per year (0.44 m3/s per year), in the Frances River by 0.73 % (1.44 m3/s) per year, and the Liard River at Fort Liard by 0.4 % (14.3 m3/s) per year.

Mean Daily Flow in Liard River at Fort Liard from April to July for the earliest and latest 20 years of record (Water Survey of Canada data)

Documented sources of Indigenous Knowledge information regarding changes in water levels in the Liard sub-basin were not found, consistent with the findings of a previous literature review that also considered this topic.[8]

Climate

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.

The Liard sub-basin experienced increases in temperatures from 1948 to 2016, with the greatest temperature increase of 5.4°C occurring in the winter. The smallest increase was in the fall with an increase of 0.8°C. Precipitation increased in all seasons, with the largest increase recorded in summer at 17.9%.[9] The fact that cold regions and the cold season warm faster than warm seasons and warm regions is explained by the “Arctic amplification”. It is driven, amongst others, by the retreat of seasonal snow and ice that exposes darker surfaces and land cover underneath, introducing an additional warming effect across the region.[10]

Temperature and Precipitation trends in the Liard Sub-basin (1948 – 2016 for temperature, 1948 – 2012 for precipitation). From: Bonsal et al. in review

Sub-basin

Season

Temperature Change (°C)

Precipitation Change (%)

Liard

Spring

2.3

10.6

Summer

1.1

17.9

Fall

0.8

13.3

Winter

5.4

6.4

Annual

2.2

12.0

Note: Spring: Mar-Apr-May, Summer: Jun-Jul-Aug, Fall: Sep-Oct-Nov, Winter: Dec-Jan-Feb

Documented sources of Indigenous Knowledge information regarding changes in air temperature or precipitation in the Liard sub-basin were not found, consistent with the findings of a previous literature review that also considered this topic.[11]

Water Use

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.[12] 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.[13]

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Water Quality