Water quantity in the Peel sub-basin has undergone moderate change. Observations by Indigenous communities and scientists suggest the sub-basin is subject to significant reductions in snow and ice cover, earlier ice break-up and later freeze-up, and more variability in water levels in lakes, rivers, and creeks although levels are generally lower than in the past. These changes are largely the result of the effects of climate change over the past few decades, such as rising air temperatures and more precipitation events. Human water use within the sub-basin has no significant consequences on water quantity due to the small population. Annual average river flows have mostly been stable, but winter and spring river flows have increased by up to 2% per year. Changes in water quantity threaten to further disrupt the aquatic ecosystem health and the ability for Indigenous communities to practice traditional land uses in the sub-basin.
The following table summarizes the availability of information for each Water Quantity indicator.
Signs and Signals
Indigenous Knowledge Information and Data
Availability of Indigenous Knowledge Observations1
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
Limited observations from few locations.
Available modeling information / stats on snow quality, ice thickness, presence and break up of ice jams
Snow data and analyses available and presented. Snow Bulletins available. Low availability of ice data; limited ice monitoring.
Water Flows and Levels
Local observations and oral histories of changing flow / water levels in rivers / lakes and aquifers over time
Some observations from few locations.
Seasonal statistics including changes in flow / water levels in rivers / lakes and aquifers over time
Long-term data sets available from some Water Survey of Canada stations; analyzed two representative sites on the Peel River.
Local observations and oral histories of temperature, precipitation normals and extremes over time
Many observations from few locations.
Temperature, precipitation normals and extremes over time
Data available from weather stations within the sub-basin, analyses completed.
Not assigned to 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
Evidence from literature available.
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
Snow & Ice
Reduced duration of ice and snow cover and early ice break up and snowmelt have been observed in some locations in the Peel sub-basin.
Water Flows & Levels
Changes in seasonal flow patterns and lower water levels in some rivers and lakes have been observed in the Peel sub-basin.
Both Water Survey Canada (WSC) stations on the Peel River were analyzed for changes in monthly flows from the 1960s to 2017. Peel River above Fort MacPherson streamflow consistently increased from January to March by approximately 1.2% per year, and by 1.6% annually at the Peel River at Canyon Creek station. Winter flows (January to March), on average, have nearly doubled since the 1970s. These findings are consistent with previous studies, particularly in the continuous permafrost zone, and were attributed to increased surface-groundwater interaction due to permafrost degradation and increased active layer depth,.
Warmer air temperatures and increases in precipitation have been recorded in the Peel sub-basin. Climate data show that the largest changes have occurred in winter compared to other seasons.
Temperature trends in the Peel Sub-basin (1948 – 2016). From: Bonsal et al. 2020
Temp Change (°C)
Winter precipitation has increased significantly, with smaller rises in spring and summer. There is an upward trend in the number of heavy snowfalls in autumn and winter with a decrease in the ratio of snow to total precipitation in the spring.
Precipitation trends in the Peel Sub-basin (1948 – 2012). From: Bonsal et al. 2020
Precip Change (%)
Note: Spring: Mar-Apr-May Summer: Jun-Jul-Aug Fall: Sep-Oct-Nov Winter: Dec-Jan-Feb
The Peel sub-basin has a small population and no industrial activity, and thus minimal water demand.