Establishing a watershed framework for assessing cumulative impacts of development
Principal Investigator: Chin, Krista (5)
Licence Number: 15285
Organization: AANDC
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Issued: Jul 11, 2013
Project Team: Steve Kokelj (researcher, NTGO - GNWT), Deb Simmons (community coordinator, SRRB), Joseph Culp (researcher, Environment Canada/University of New Brunswick), Denis Lacelle (researcher, University of Ottawa), Erin Kelly (researcher, ENR - GNWT), Rob Fraser (researcher, CCRS), Mike Pisaric (researcher, Brock University), Jen Lento (researcher, University of New Brunswick), Wildlife Monitors/Field Technicians

Objective(s): To build a partnership between government, communities, regulators and researchers to develop a watershed-based cumulative impact study in areas of oil and gas exploration in the Sahtu region; to develop a framework to determine watershed characteristics, disturbance level and human use within key watersheds of development and community interest; to develop baseline water quality conditions and to assess the health of stream ecosystems as a baseline against which to examine the cumulative impacts of development ; and, to contribute to capacity building and decision making in the region.

Project Description: Objective 1: Build a partnership between government, communities, regulators and researchers to develop a watershed-based cumulative impact study in areas of oil and gas exploration in the Sahtu region.

The Sahtu Renewable Resource Board (SRRB) can play an important coordinating role in bringing partners together and working with the communities to determine appropriate engagement in the project. The project proposes to engage several monitoring partners in year 1 (via formal and informal discussions) to assist with monitoring design and implementation, and to establish roles and responsibilities of the project participants.

Objective 2: Develop a framework to determine watershed characteristics, disturbance level and human use within key watersheds of development and community interest.

This objective will involve mapping and characterizing watersheds in the Sahtu region west of the Mackenzie River. This will include watershed delineation (at the scale of ~100 km2), topography, erosion sensitivity, human disturbances, areas of proposed and potential development, natural disturbances (vegetation change, fire, slope failures), areas of known groundwater sources and potentially, areas of human use or cultural significance. It may also be possible to develop indices to predict areas of potential fish overwintering habitat.

Objective 3: To develop baseline water quality conditions and to assess the health of stream ecosystems as a baseline against which to examine the cumulative impacts of development.

The project team will compile existing water quality data for streams draining the Mackenzie Mountains. Water quality data for the Mackenzie River will also be compiled and analyzed so that temporal trends can be determined.

A water quality and stream health assessment will be designed with input from communities and regulators to determine baseline conditions throughout the watersheds and streams of key interest. In year 1, a modest sampling program will be undertaken with participation from the communities. Community participation will be coordinated by the SRRB. Aquatic health will be determined at 12 to 20 sites in representative streams through areas impacted by development as well as in unimpacted areas. Data will be collected using Environment Canada’s CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) protocol – an aquatic biological monitoring program that utilizes benthic macroinvertebrates to assess the health of freshwater systems. Water and stream sediment samples will be collected and analyzed for standard major ions and metals, and field physical conditions will be described for each of these sites. PMDs (passive monitoring devices) and DGTs (diffusive gradient in thin-films) will also be deployed to test for the presence of hydrocarbons and metals in the water. These samplers will be deployed in some of the lower reaches of streams where they enter the Mackenzie River. The water will be tested for nutrients, physical parameters, major ions, metals and organic parameters to get a complete picture of baseline conditions in the area.

If deemed useful, following consultations, the project will also endeavor to combine remotely sensed mapping and isotopic surveys of stream water to assess groundwater sources and their relative contributions to streamflow through areas of concern. The study techniques are currently being refined in the Gwich’in Settlement region along the Dempster Highway and there appears to be potential to apply these methods in the Sahtu region.

In year 2-3 the research team will examine the possibility of working with project partners to collect sediment cores to evaluate temporal trends in selected lake ecosystems.

Objective 4: Contribute to capacity building and decision making in the region.

The project team will work with the SRRB, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and local regulators to determine the most appropriate methods of engaging the communities and regulators with this project. Options include utilizing and supporting existing knowledge sharing venues, and providing project resources to appropriate Sahtu organizations to support capacity that will assist in implementation of this project.

The project will also endeavor to regularly engage regulators in the design of the monitoring and research. The research team will also attempt to support regulatory decision making through the provision of research and monitoring results and expert opinion on regulatory issues.

This project aims to develop a cumulative impact monitoring program for aquatic effects of oil and gas exploration in the Sahtu region, in particular, for watersheds draining the eastern foothills of the Mackenzie Mountains. In year 1 of the project, we propose to engage community organizations in the Sahtu (Tulita, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope) to understand their concerns and perspectives on monitoring and changes to the landscape and evaluating impacts to water resources. The research team will also work closely with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada inspectors in Norman Wells and the Sahtu Land and Water Board to ensure that research and monitoring questions and study design address key regulatory issues. Through partnership with the SRRB the research team will ensure appropriate and coordinated engagement of the Renewable Resource Committee’s (RRCs) by using and supporting existing knowledge sharing venues. Capacity building and RRC engagement in this work will also be coordinated through the SRRB.

The details of the baseline aquatic monitoring program will be developed in conjunction with input from communities, regulators and industry. This project aims to engage local communities in study design, data collection, interpretation and reporting. Specific details will be determined in partnership with the SRRB and respective RRC’s as project design is finalized. In summer 2013 the project team will implement a modest stream health assessment using the CABIN protocol. The appropriate communities will be engaged and local researchers will be hired and work with scientists to collect data on stream health in 2013. As the project develops the research team anticipate that the SRRB will work with community organizations to administer project funds and coordinate local participation in the project.

The collaboration between researchers, community organizations and regulators in the project will facilitate communication of results. The reporting and communication plan is based on what community organizations and regulators have expressed are important for them in order to share and discuss findings with the various stakeholders.

Results of this research project will be presented to the community through the project team working closely with SRRB to determine the appropriate venues for discussing the project with communities. There are two tentative opportunities including an on the land knowledge sharing workshop that this project would support and participate in. The SRRB would take a lead role in establishing appropriate venues for communicating with the communities. Project team members will take time in communities to meet with key people, including project participants and regulators. The mapping products will be made publically available and accessible via the NWT Discovery Portal and GeoViewer. An annual CIMP report is presented on the year’s activities and findings. The results of this project will also be uploaded to the NWT Discovery Portal.



The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 11, 2013 to August 17, 2013.