Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework

Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework
The Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework is an NGO-led, collaborative project that has developed a comprehensive, scaled and nested approach for water monitoring to support efforts of decision makers to better address community and ecosystem climate adaptation options in the Canadian Columbia Basin.

Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework


Key Takeaways:

  1. The goal of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework is to establish a unified monitoring framework based on a Priority Monitoring Matrix that reflects local priorities within a scientific water balance approach to support future water allocation based on priority needs.
  2. In 2022 this innovative approach to water monitoring was piloted in three sub-regions of the Columbia Basin, with the goal to scale and expand this model across the entire Upper Columbia Basin region and eventually other river basin regions.
  3. With the development of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework, Living Lakes Canada aims to support communities across Canada in adapting to the impacts of climate change on water supply, ensuring long-term food security, ecosystem health, community safety and economic vitality.

PROGRAM GOAL

The goal of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework is to establish a unified monitoring  network based on a Priority Monitoring Matrix that reflects local community priorities and concerns within a scientific water balance approach. This collaborative approach, facilitated by Living Lakes Canada, will improve and strengthen the monitoring configuration for tracking and understanding a broader range of implications of climate change on the water supply for Basin ecosystems and its people. It will also support local and regional efforts to increase adaptation options and support the longer term viability of natural ecosystems and ecosystem services.


OVERVIEW

Climate change is the most critical issue impacting water management in the Columbia River Basin. Freshwater sources for agriculture, fisheries, power generation, Indigenous People and urban users are dependent on glaciers and snowpacks, which are declining. Climate impacts are resulting in extreme temperature and precipitation, flooding, fire events and diminishing glaciers. 

Existing water monitoring networks are insufficient to track and understand these impacts. The goal of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework is to establish a unified monitoring framework based on a Priority Monitoring Matrix that reflects local priorities within a scientific water balance approach that will help inform future local water budgeting needs and climate adaptation options for communities. 

Using an innovative methodology developed by senior hydrologists and climate change and ecosystem experts, Living Lakes Canada has piloted this project in 2022 within three areas in the Canadian Columbia Basin. The long term goal is to scale and expand this model across the entire Basin region and as a template for other regions as well. 


BACKGROUND

The critical issues of water resource management amid climate change impacts in the Upper Columbia Basin has been identified in a series of reports from the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) dating back to 2006. These reports highlighted the requirement  to increase monitoring and research to more appropriately understand climate impacts, while developing a collective, large-scale effort to prepare communities and industry for change.

Living Lakes Canada began implementing report recommendations in 2017 by holding a conference that brought together 120 water data experts to discuss what a water monitoring framework and an accompanying open source water data hub would look like for the Canadian Columbia Basin. Living Lakes Canada then led the collaborative multi-year development process, involving volunteer and paid steering committee members, various agencies, industry, academia, First Nations and community organizations, and in 2021, launched the Columbia Basin Water Hub, which serves as a central platform to access water data in the region.

The groundwork for a monitoring framework was established when Living Lakes Canada convened a meeting of senior hydrologists from government, consulting agencies, and academia, who reached consensus that a water balance approach was needed to fill the water data gaps in the Columbia Basin. Guided by the meeting outcomes, Living Lakes Canada contracted local experts to develop the Priority Monitoring Matrix methodology in 2021, outlined in the Terms of Reference document:


PRIORITY MONITORING METHODOLOGY

In accordance with the methodology, Local Reference Groups with broad cross-sector engagement are established in each Hydrologic Region (this two-page Local Reference Group Backgrounder provides a detailed overview). Through a multi-faceted public engagement approach (online workshops, online interactive maps and surveys, one-on-one consultations and in-person meetings), Local Reference Group participants identify key community concerns and priorities. Hydrologic modelling and data gap analysis are also completed to identify priority areas for monitoring from a scientific perspective. The Local Reference Group feedback and scientific results are combined to build a Priority Monitoring Matrix to guide selection of watersheds to monitor. Given limited resources but substantive monitoring needs, the Priority Monitoring Matrix methodology ensures that site selection and monitoring address both community and scientific priorities in a nested, cost-effective manner.

 


2022 PILOT PROGRAM

In 2022 we piloted this innovative approach to water monitoring in three pilot areas:

  • Mid-Columbia Kootenay - map (North Kootenay Lake/Slocan Valley in the West Kootenay)
  • Columbia-Kootenay Headwaters - map (Columbia Valley in the East Kootenay)
  • Elk River Valley - map (in the East Kootenay - in partnership with the Elk River Alliance)

Hydrologic modelling and a data gap analysis were completed in the pilot regions in Spring 2022, followed by broad cross-sector engagement with Local Reference Groups to capture community priorities and concerns. Once the priority monitoring sites were selected based on this extensive public engagement and scientific analysis, equipment installation began in July 2022 and will be completed by Fall 2022.

Preliminary data from the pilot project will be available on the Columbia Basin Water Hub in early 2023. The data can then be used by community members, researchers, the private sector and all levels of government to inform water management and stewardship decisions.


PILOT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

The Local Reference Group (LRG) model is instrumental to the success of this project. An LRG was formed for each pilot area, and participants shared information through several virtual meetings, surveys, an interactive mapping tool and individual consultations. This information was used to understand community priorities for water monitoring, and was helpful when assessing whether proposed sites would be feasible to monitor. Living Lakes Canada’s Applied Reconciliation Coordinator has worked closely with Indigenous groups in the pilot areas to create meaningful engagement and to incorporate Indigenous water priorities in this project.

See below for a summary of the community engagement that has taken place to date in our pilot areas:

MID-COLUMBIA KOOTENAY HR

COLUMBIA KOOTENAY HEADWATERS HR

ELK RIVER VALLEY HR


SCALING UP FOR THE FUTURE

The full implementation of the Framework will see monitoring in accordance with the methodology delivered in all 10 sub-hydrologic regions of the Upper Canadian Columbia Basin over 10 years.

The increased frequency of extreme events and the projected decreases in low flows both suggest urgency for a more comprehensive monitoring network of this kind to be implemented in order to understand the hydrological and water quality changes, and to mitigate and adapt to the growing risks of changes in flow regimes.

In June 2020, a University of British Columbia study was published, Detecting the Effects of Sustained Glacier Wastage on Streamflow in Variably Glacierized Catchments, suggesting the glacier-melt contributions to August runoff have already passed peak water in the Canadian Columbia Basin. The analysis indicates that there is a clear declining trend, which can have implications for streamflow forecasting and summer water temperature response during hot, dry weather (see the BC Drought Map) for current conditions.

The Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework developed through this project will be used as a template for other regions across Canada.  The data generated by this project will be used to inform decision making around water quality and quantity on a national scale. In this way, Living Lakes Canada aims to support communities across Canada in adapting to the impacts of climate change on water supply, ensuring long-term food security, ecosystem health, community safety and economic vitality.


CONTACT

If you are interested in learning more and collaborating on this project, please email Living Lakes Canada Program Manager Paige Thurston: paige@livinglakescanada.ca

See Paige's profile.

 

Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework

Status - Active


Categories


Water Bodies
GroundwaterLakesRivers, Creeks and StreamsSnowWetlands
Regions
British ColumbiaColumbia Basin
Collaborators
AcademiaCommunity groupsFirst NationsForestryGovernment – FederalGovernment – ProvincialIndustryMunicipalityRegional District
Types of Work
Citizen ScienceCommunity Based MonitoringDataMonitoringProtocol Development

News and Updates


Resources


Funders & Contributors


Province of British Columbia Stronger BC
Watersheds BC Real Estate Foundation
Digital Technology Supercluster Columbia Basin Trust
Make Way RBC Royal Bank
Regional District of Central Kootenay Vancouver Foundation
Sitka Foundation Slocan Valley Legacy Fund