Project: Quantifying the water budget of Coles Lake, Northeastern British Columbia
Climate research has repeatedly identified strong associations between anthropogenic emissions of ‘greenhouses gases’ and observed increases of global mean surface air temperature over the past century. Studies have also demonstrated that the degree of warming varies regionally. Canada is not exempt from this situation, and evidence is mounting that climate change is beginning to cause diverse impacts in both environmental and socio-economic spheres of interest. For example, north-eastern British Columbia (BC), whose climate is controlled by a combination of maritime, continental and arctic influences, is warming at a greater rate than the remainder of the province. There are indications that these changing conditions are already leading to shifting patterns in the region’s hydrological cycle, and thus its available water resources.
Within this context, northeastern BC is undergoing rapid development for oil and gas extraction: this depends largely on subsurface hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), which uses enormous volumes of freshwater. While this industrial activity has made substantial contributions to regional and provincial economies, it is important to ensure that sufficient and sustainable water supplies are available for all those dependent on the resource, including ecological systems. This in turn demands comprehensive understanding of how water in all its forms interacts with landscapes and the atmosphere, and of the potential impacts of changing climatic conditions on these processes. The aim of this study is therefore to characterize and quantify all components of the water budget in the small watershed of Coles Lake (141.8 km², 100 km north of Fort Nelson), through a combination of fieldwork, observational data analysis, and numerical modelling. Baseline information generated in this way will support assessment of the sustainability of current and future plans for freshwater extraction in the basin by oil and gas industry, and help to maintain the precarious balance between economic and environmental well-being.