Changes in water quality have been observed in parts of the Peel sub-basin and have affected the ability of some Indigenous communities to practice traditional land uses. The Gwich’in and members of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun have observed warmer water temperatures than in the past, which they associate with observed declines in the health of some fish species. Observations by Indigenous communities and scientists indicate that permafrost thaw is accelerating across the glaciated terrain in the Peel sub-basin, as evidenced by a rise in observations of slumps and ‘holes’ in the earth, and erosion along the banks of streams and rivers. Permafrost thaw has led to an increase in sediment and solute loads in adjacent watercourses, leading to observations of muddy water in local waterbodies by the Gwich’in. Streams affected by such permafrost-slumping showed lower abundances of benthic invertebrates. The potential for industrial development in the sub-basin is a concern for local communities, specifically how contaminants could affect water quality and ecosystem health.
The following table summarizes the availability of information for each Water Quality indicator.
Indigenous Knowledge Information and Data
Indigenous Knowledge Availability in Public Sources1
Science Information and Data
Science Data Availability2
Local observations and oral histories of good water, poor water, seasonal differences, land-based consumption practices
Some observations from few locations.
Ambient surface and ground water concentrations
Some ongoing surface water monitoring programs.
Not assigned to a Sign or Signal
Relative abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrates
CABIN* database contains benthic data, one academic study.
Land Use Changes
Stories and oral histories of land use cover and practices
Many observations from several locations.
Map and statistics of current vs. past land cover and land use
Georeferenced data available, but limited data on change over time.
Not assigned to a Sign or Signal
Volume of effluent discharges
Evidence from literature available.
1 Qualifiers 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
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
CABIN = Canadian aquatic biomonitoring network.
A reduction in water quality and warmer water temperatures have been observed in some locations in the Peel sub-basin.
One study observed reduced abundance of benthic macroinvertebrates in streams affected by permafrost slumping in the Peel sub-basin.
Declines in the quality of resources and land disturbances are leading to changes in Indigenous land use practices in the Peel sub-basin. Natural land cover has not been directly impacted by human activity, but communities and scientific data show increased land disturbance due to major permafrost thaw slumps.
 In one study, the most prevalent observation by the Teetl’it Gwich’in of environmental change in the lower Peel watershed was the erosion and melting of permafrost, which participants attributed to climate change. Similar observations were recorded in scientific studies describing increased frequency and magnitude of large permafrost slope disturbances (mega slumps) in glaciated terrain of northwestern Canada, due to the intensiﬁcation of permafrost thaw from increased temperatures and precipitation., The Gwich’in have also observed that cut banks along local rivers and streams are more numerous and taller as the banks erode. There is a concern for how permafrost thaw will continue to impact traditional use sites and remote settlements. The safety of infrastructure in towns built close to rivers is in question and there are many accounts of hunter’s and trapper’s cabins falling into the rivers in recent years.Erosion of river banks and permafrost thaw slumps are a significant concern for the Gwich’in, who have observed mass cave-ins and the formation of ‘holes’ and thaw slumps in permafrost terrain, particularly along the Dempster Highway.
Shrubland comprises 27% of current land cover in the Peel sub-basin. Forest covers 24% of the basin while 22% of the land cover is barren. There is currently no measurable degree of human impact on land cover.
Percent Land Cover
Water quality is currently not impacted by effluent discharges in the Peel sub-basin.
Habitat & Species