Research looks at climate change effects on the Nechako River basin


Dr. Stephen Dery talks about research into the effects of climate change in the Nechako River basin. Bill Phillips photo
Dr. Stephen Dery talks about research into the effects of climate change in the Nechako River basin. Bill Phillips photo

Tubers heading down the Nechako River might take comfort in the fact the river is a couple of degrees warmer than it was 70 years ago, but it is certainly an issue of concern for local researchers.

Four the past four years a group of researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia have been studying the effects of climate change and the issue of water security in the Nechako River basin. That work will continue for another five years thanks to funding announced Tuesday at UNBC.

Through a grant, the Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund (NEEF), which was created through an agreement between the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, and Rio Tinto, is providing Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry, Forest Renewal BC Research Chairs in Landscape Ecology Dr. Phil Owens and Dr. Ellen Petticrew, and Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society Dr. Margot Parkes who are part of the Integrated Watershed Research Group, with a $499,950, grant. The remaining $499,950 will be matched by other sources.

Dr. Déry and his students are studying climate change and water security. During the first research phase, overall means and recent changes in air temperature, precipitation and runoff were compiled for the Nechako River basin and its main tributary sub-basins.

“Our analyses revealed that temperature warmed by approximately two degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2010 across the watershed but there were few changes in precipitation,” said Déry. “In Phase Two, we will address the role of observed climate change and flow regulation on streamflow volumes and water temperatures in the Nechako River.”

The four UNBC professors will build on their four-year study in Phase One of their research, in which they examined the impacts of climate change and water security, sediment sources and dynamics, and developed tools to help inform integrated understanding and decision-making in the watershed.

Drs. Owens and Petticrew studied sediment sources and dynamics and during the first phase determined the main sources of the contemporary fine sediment transported by the Nechako River and how these have changed over the last few decades in response to river management and land use change.

During the first phase of work, Dr. Parkes and her group developed and refined a web-based spatially-referenced portal tool that brings together different forms of knowledge and provides a platform for watershed partners to share and exchange new and existing information about the Nechako River basin.

The four faculty members involved with IWRG have studied watershed-based issues for several years, with a focus on the Fraser River basin and other watersheds in Northern B.C., including the Nechako River basin.

Rio Tinto agreed to establish and contribute on a matching-dollar basis up to $50 million to the NEEF as part of a 1997 agreement between the Province of B.C. and Rio Tinto.

In 2012, the NEEF committed to $1 million towards the study of integrated watershed research over the course of 10 years.