South Saskatchewan River Basin Adaptation to Climate Variability Project

Introduction

Spring 2012 saw the launch of a new project with aims to harness the energy and creativity of southern Albertans to explore practical options for adapting to climate variability and change. Water is fundamental to community sustainability and growth, and the way water is managed in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) will become even more important in the face of changing weather patterns and climate.

In January 2012, the Climate Change Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corporation awarded funding for the SSRB Adaptation to Climate Variability Project. The funds were provided to Alberta Innovates-Energy Environment Solutions and WaterSMART Solutions Ltd. to support the first stage of this adaptation work.

This initiative built on and integrated existing data, capacity and knowledge of water users and decision makers to improve understanding and explore how to manage for the range of potential impacts of climate variability throughout the SSRB’s river systems. This understanding supported collaborative testing and development of practical and implementable adaptive responses to climate variability, from the local community scale to the provincial scale. Using existing analytical and decision-support tools, the project engaged many people and groups to build:

  • A common understanding of feasible and practical mechanisms for adapting to climate variability and change, and
  • Increased capacity for an informed, collaborative and adaptive approach to water resource management throughout the SSRB. This will enable organizations, communities and individuals to assess their risks in near real-time and determine their most suitable responses to climate variability within the physical realities of SSRB river flows, requirements and infrastructure.

This project builds on and expands the work done in the Bow River Project.

The first stage of the project is divided into four coordinated phases:

Project Phases

Foundational Blocks: Initial Assessment

The first phase of the work was an initial assessment of the data, tools, capabilities, processes and frameworks that already existed and could form elements of the foundational blocks to support integrated water management by water users, decision makers and other interested parties over the long term. This work identified the core resources for the project, identified critical gaps to be addressed, and ensure existing knowledge, tools, and experiences are leveraged, while avoiding duplication of work already completed or underway.

Bow River Basin: Adaptation and Live Test Year

The second phase re-engaged Bow River Project participants and engage new participants with an interest in the Bow River Basin to: advance climate adaptation decision making related to water resources, explore climate variability scenarios, identify impacts and risks to the river system and its users, and identify adaptation options. Participants also documented the net benefits of re-managing flows in the Bow River and identified infrastructure options that could assist with adaptation strategies. All of this work can provide support for a ‘virtual’ river test year, or perhaps an actual test year of modified flow, to better match the three "Water for Life" goals

Oldman River Basin and South Saskatchewan River Modelling

In the third phase, participants modelled the Oldman River Basin (Oldman River and Southern Tributaries, including the Belly, St. Mary and Waterton Rivers), and the South Saskatchewan River to the Alberta border. Users, decision makers and others in the Oldman and South Saskatchewan River (OSSK) Basins formed a working group and set principles to guide and inform the model-based work, incorporating an environmental and climate adaptation focus. A comprehensive river system model for the OSSK Basins was developed. Inputs to the SSRB from the Milk River were part of this data, but the Milk was not explicitly modelled. Throughout the model building, participants discussed work that has been or is being done, and possible next steps in building the capability and capacity for adaptation around river management in the SSRB.

Foundational Blocks: Development

The final phase developed new adaptation foundational blocks. This work was based on the gaps identified in the initial assessment, which included acquiring, updating, or purchasing useful data and tools for future work to develop adaptation options for integrated river management. 

This project took approximately two years to complete. It significantly advanced climate adaptation resilience in the SSRB, leave a legacy of data, information and tools, and inform similar future work throughout the rest of the SSRB.