Work under the International Watersheds Initiative (IWI) is continuing across the United States and Canada, with some research and educational projects wrapping up and others continuing.
Projects range from mapping food webs in the St. Croix River basin and investigating the impact of water management on wild rice in the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River basin, to hydrological mapping of entire binational watersheds. Once finished, information coming out of these projects will help water managers and the IJC’s control and watershed boards plan for the future, make more informed decisions impacting the ecology and local interests, and provide recommendations to IJC Commissioners.
The purpose of these IWI projects is to investigate transboundary water issues and support local community efforts to find solutions or assist government agencies with work relevant to local authorities and the public. Funding comes from the Canadian and US federal governments. The focus of these studies is primarily on ecosystems, which cross political borders and benefit from being managed holistically by people in both nations.
In the St. Croix River watershed, two projects are underway. The first project, a multi-year study mapping the food web and nutrition cycle in the St. Croix River, is set to be completed this summer. The mapping project should shine a light on the role of anadromous fish, like alewives, in the ecology of boundary lakes between Maine and New Brunswick. The second is studying the effectiveness of fish passageways on the Milltown, Grand Falls and Woodland dams and has been underway since the spring of 2016. As of April, fieldwork has been completed at the Woodland and Grand Falls dams, using transponders and radio tags to track herring as they move through the fish ladders. The final portion should be completed in the spring and summer of 2017.
A pair of studies in the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River basin about the effect of water management on wild rice and invasive cattails concluded with a joint report delivered to the International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board in March. A third project underway aims to extend a US Geological Survey (USGS) StreamStats model to the Canadian side of the watershed. This would allow for web access to more accurate water flow information. The project got underway in 2015 and is expected to wrap up this year.
In the Red River basin, a telemetry study is ongoing to support the sport fishery in the US and Canadian portions of the river. Little is currently known about the migratory behavior and population dynamics of fish species, such as channel catfish and lake sturgeon – this project aims to help answer those questions. A project evaluating how the IJC’s recommendations from 2000 have played out on the Red River – and what remains to be done – wrapped up in March 2017; the final report, “How Are We Living with the Red?” has been submitted for publication to the International Red River Board. The report is an update to one released in 2009.
Two research projects are continuing in the St. Mary River and Milk River basin. The first is to build and establish a database of natural flow data for the two rivers, information vital to work that USGS and Environment and Climate Change Canada perform measuring streamflows and apportioning water -- essentially divvying up water supplies between the United States, Canada, and the people, businesses and ecosystems on either side according to a formula agreed to by both countries in the Boundary Waters Treaty. The database would improve hydrological conditions in the rivers and their tributaries, help assess the impact of climate change on the basin, and assist in apportionment work important to the people in the area. A preliminary version of the database has been built, but work is still continuing. The second project is a continuation of work to study and update water usage estimates in the St. Mary and Milk river basins.
A documentary explaining water management practices and issues in the Okanagan River and Okanagan Lake system is underway in the Columbia River basin, with an expected completion date of Sept. 30. The Okanagan River is linked to Osoyoos Lake, a transboundary water body downstream with IJC board oversight.
In addition to IWI projects for specific boards, there are a number of initiatives underway that serve the needs of multiple boards and the broader transboundary region. These consist primarily of data harmonization – unifying information collected by the United States and Canada - and water modeling projects. One project is continuing development of “spatially referenced regression on watershed attributes,” or SPARROW transboundary water modeling in the Great Lakes and Winnipeg River basins to help identify how these waterways are receiving and transporting excess nutrients. This would effectively create a complete watershed model for the mid-continental region of North America. A second project is designed to harmonize US and Canadian data. The goal is to develop a common hydrological data model between Canada and the United States, and it’s expected to be completed by June.
A multi-board IWI pilot project is currently running in six watershed boards as part of the IJC’s proposed climate change framework.
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Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.