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


The goal of the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework is to establish a unified monitoring network to support the tracking and understanding of climate impacts on water supply for communities and ecosystems. It will support local and regional climate adaptation efforts and support the longer term viability of natural ecosystems and ecosystem services.


2022 Pilot Implementation in Columbia-Kootenay Headwaters, Mid-Columbia Kootenay, and Elk River Valley:

2023 Pilot Area Memos:

2023 Community Engagement for Project Expansion:


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. We are expanding into two new areas in 2023. 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. 


The critical issues of water resource management amid climate change impacts in the Upper Columbia Basin have 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:


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. Geospatial data gap analysis is 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.


In 2022, we piloted this innovative approach to water monitoring in three areas (see the Pilot Report here):

  • 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)

A data gap analysis was completed (see the detailed Technical Report here) 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.

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


In 2023, we're expanding this project into two new areas in the Canadian Columbia Basin: the Upper Kootenay and Lower Columbia-Kootenay Hydrologic Regions. Public engagement was conducted in early 2023 to capture community water concerns and priorities. This feedback has been integrated with scientific criteria to inform hydroclimatic site selection. 

Monitoring site installations will be taking place through Fall 2023.


The full implementation of the Framework will see the program delivered in all 10 hydrologic regions of the Upper Canadian Columbia Basin over 10 years.

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 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.

By developing the Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework as a template that can be used in the regions across Canada, 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. The data generated will inform decision making around water quality and quantity on a national scale.


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

See Paige's profile.


Columbia Basin Water Monitoring Framework

News and Updates


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
Columbia Valley Community Foundation Employment and Social Development Canada
ECO Canada Regional District of East Kootenay