Archived IWI Project Summaries
Since 2010, the governments of Canada and the United States have invested a total of approximately $5 million in the IWI. By funding studies, decision-support tools and other work, this investment has provided the capacity to address a number of binational water-related issues.
Key watershed issues are identified by the IJC’s various water management boards. A project proposal that addresses one or more of these issues is then developed by a board and submitted to the Commission for funding support consideration. These projects are reviewed by Commission staff and upon approval are funded.
International St. Croix Watershed Board
Estimation of unregulated, natural monthly and annual streamflows on Forest City Stream, and unregulated lake levels on East Grand Lake
In 2018, the International St. Croix River Watershed Board collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to complete a study assessing and compiling historical data on upstream and downstream changes in East Grand Lake levels and Forest City Stream flows along the Maine-New Brunswick border. The study was conducted in response to a request to transfer the ownership and operation of the Forest City Dam, which impounds water in East Grand Lake and outflows via the Forest City Stream. As of spring 2020, the ownership transfer request is still under review by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Proposed changes to dam operation include leaving two or all three of the dam’s gates open, substantially changing East Grand Lake levels and outflows to the Forest City RiverStream. The study conducted with the USGS provided estimates of unregulated monthly, annual, and peak flows associated with proposed changes in Forest City Dam operation, which may impact downstream interests such as fish passage, information which may be used in the assessment of impacts on downstream interests.
A Tool for Understanding Likely Fish passage and Harvest Management Outcomes for Alewife on the St. Croix River
Building on the data collected from the fish counts at the Milltown Dam and the assessments of fish ladders along the St. Croix River, this project focused on developing an online tool to estimate potential changes to alewife populations resulting from changes in fish passages and in commercial harvest management on the St. Croix River. Results from this user-friendly, plain-language tool will provide a clear platform for communication and weighing and assessing pros and cons associated with theoretical management scenarios.
2015-2019 St. Croix River Alewife Count
A total of 93,503 river herring (alewife) were recorded at the Milltown trap in 2015. This was the highest return since 1998 and six-fold the average run of the last 15 years. A very high proportion was four year-old fish returning for the first time.
A total of 33,016 river herring were recorded at the Milltown trap in 2016, a large drop from 2015 but still higher than the ten year average of 27,765 (2006 – 2015). No shad were recorded in 2016, after appearing in the St. Croix last season for the first time since 1999.
The 2017 fish count at the Milltown dam counted 157, 750 blueback herring and alewives, up from 27,312 in 2014.
The 2018 fish count at the Milltown dam counted 270,659 blueback herring and alewives.
The 2019 fish count at the Milltown dam counted 480,500 blueback herring and alewives. The 2019 run was the largest seen since 1996 (645,978).
Fish conveyance and migration in the International St. Croix River
The Sipayik Environmental Department (SED) of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, Maine, in parallel with the yearly fish counts, conducted this multi-year study to determine the effectiveness of fish passages in the watershed in 2016 and 2017. Efficient fish passage is imperative for migrating fish to reach their spawning grounds in the lakes of the watershed.
The study evaluated the three fish ladders in the basin by tracking fish through the ladders using passive integrated transponders and determining water quality near the dams (Milltown Dam, Woodland Dam, and Grand Falls Dam). These dams are the first obstacles that river herring and other fish encounter in the St. Croix Watershed, and are hypothesized to be significant obstacles to their upstream migration. SED installed tags on fish and an electronic fish counters to provide and understanding of fish (river herring) passage through these ladders. This study led the way for the next step in alewife restoration.
St. Croix Basin Food Web Map and Nutrition
The Board has identified as one of its top priorities to further the development of the water resources of the St. Croix River to include the improvements of the anadromous fishery. Historic changes in connectivity have resulted in a cascade of ecological effects. Aquatic systems in the Northeast are generally oligotrophic and nutrient levels were likely bolstered by historic anadromous fish runs in the spring.
The objective of the work is to provide a critical assessment of the status of the ecosystem by providing a synthesis of species specific passage and habitat requirements and system limitations; and model the food web to document conditions in the watershed including the seasonal dynamics of water quality. A report on the progress of this project was presented at the International Association of Great Lakes Research annual conference in May 2015.
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River
Extended CaPA and GEM Hindcasts of Water Supply Components in the Great Lakes Basin
The Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA) is an operational near real-time gridded precipitation product from Environment Canada available since April 2011 for North America. CaPA has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the Great Lakes area, due to its unique capability of capturing some of the precipitation features that are specific to the Great Lakes, in particular organized shallow convection events which are responsible for lake-effect snowfall. Indeed, because it uses a background field from the Global Environmental Multiscale (GEM) atmospheric model, it can represent the effects that the lakes have on the precipitation patterns, something that is very difficult to catch with the existing precipitation gauging network, as it is entirely over land.
During the International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS), it was demonstrated that GEM and CaPA can be used together to obtain skillful estimates of all three components of the net basin supplies (including basin runoff and lake evaporation, in addition to precipitation) at the monthly time scale for the Great Lakes. The objective of this project is to provide the foundations for extending CaPA and GEM hindcasts to 1983. Samples of daily analyses will be provided (one per week from 1995 until 2012). Furthermore, the added value and computing cost of extending the hindcast to either 1983 or 1995 at either 50-km or 15-km resolution will be assessed. The preliminary work is expected to be completed by the end of March 2016.
This proposal directly supports the GLAM Committee in efforts to improve measurement and understanding of the individual components of the water supply and reduce uncertainty in hydrological conditions which could lead to better forecasting and improvements to regulation of water levels and flows in the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River system. The project methodology also will be applied outside the Great Lakes basin in other transboundary watersheds along the Canadian-U.S. border.
Survey of impacts of high water levels in 2017 on Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Municipal and Industrial water uses
In 2017, high Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River water levels caused problems for municipal water and wastewater operators as well as some industrial facilities throughout the system. Challenges included poor drainage through municipal wastewater infrastructure in low lying areas close to the shoreline as well as reports of problems with pumping infrastructure for both waste and potable water. Many of these issues are consistent with those identified during the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River study which identified some municipal and industrial plants on low-lying elevations near the lake that may have their facilities impacted by flooding should water levels rise to levels similar to those experienced in2017. As well, some operators may have benefited with increased intake pressure due to higher water levels. The GLAM Committee will be conducting a survey of municipal public works departments responsible for wastewater, water intake and sewer systems as well as some key industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding and high water conditions on the U.S. and Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River as well as the lower St. Lawrence River from to acquire better information on impacts and benefits this industry experienced from the high water levels in 2017. The information will help the GLAM Committee refine estimates of critical problem areas and thresholds and will ultimately support longer-term activities to review existing regulation plans.
Survey of impacts of high water levels in 2017 on Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Marinas and Yacht Clubs
High water levels throughout the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system in 2017 impacted several shoreline communities, stakeholders and businesses including recreational boating marinas and yacht clubs. Media reports highlighted several marinas and yacht clubs that were flooded and had their business and operations negatively affected. This project consists of contacting and interviewing marina and yacht club owners or managers on the U.S. and Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River as well as the lower St. Lawrence River from Lac St. Louis through Trois Rivières to acquire data and information on how their businesses and the industry were affected by high water levels in 2017. The information will be summarized and analyzed to support the GLAM Committee’s annual reporting to the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board and will also be used to support performance indicator review.
State of Science Assessment of Remote Sensing for Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
During both the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study (LOSLRS) and the International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS), coastal wetland performance indicators were developed and used to help assess how changes in Great Lakes water level management strategies may impact wetland vegetation response along the shoreline of the lakes. As part of the LOSLRS, the meadow marsh performance in particular was critical to the decision to support the newly adopted Plan 2014.
This project was focused on developing a state of science assessment of remote sensing of Great Lakes coastal wetlands, particularly related to the optimum approach or approaches to monitor and separate six vegetation classes:
1. Transition to uplands;
2. Meadow marsh;
3. Typha (cattail);
4. Miscellaneous Mixed Emergent (non-persistent emergent);
5. Mixed Emergent (defined here as cattail invaded sedge-grass meadow marsh)
6. Floating (or submerged aquatic vegetation).
Baseline Common Reed extent in selected Lake Ontario coastal wetlands
The European strain of common reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis) is considered invasive, effectively colonizing and expanding in roadside ditches and wetlands across eastern North America.
This project examined the presence and quantity of Phragmites at 15 wetland sites around the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario from the Niagara Peninsula to the Kingston area. Regulated wetlands that were continually open to Lake Ontario were compared to wetlands that had limited or no surface water connectivity to Lake Ontario to examine whether connectivity was associated with common reed presence. Relatively little common reed was found at either type of site, but common reed appeared to be more likely to occur near urban centres in dynamic barrier beach wetlands, a type of wetland with sporadic connection to Lake Ontario. The scarcity of common reed observed in the study wetlands limited conclusions that could be drawn regarding the association between lake connectivity and common reed establishment but does support the notion that common reed is less established in Lake Ontario than other lower Great Lakes.
The study found that following the implementation of Plan 2014 in Lake Ontario, which allows for periodic sustained low water levels compared to Plan 1958DD, adaptive management monitoring should involve screening for new common reed stands and should be repeated, particularly after a low water-supply period.
Monitoring of Lake Ontario coastal wetland habitat in support of adaptive management
The GLAM Committee has conducted monitoring projects studying the extent of wetland types on the shores of Lake Ontario in order to develop a strong database of wetland conditions to be used for adaptive management. The monitoring study collected data on vegetation type referenced to elevation, water level fluctuations and water quality. The data helped quantify levels of disturbance in each site and how coastal wetland habitat is responding to new regulation plans. The GLAM Committee will be looking to develop their long-term wetland monitoring strategy, implementing guidance from an upcoming wetland experts meeting exploring the potential role of remote sensing to support wetland vegetation monitoring.
Comparison of modeled and monitored outcomes of Lake Ontario wetland habitat in support of adaptive management
This project aims to produce an updated Lake Ontario wetland meadow marsh modelling tool that incorporates recent observed wetland monitoring data, and allows for an assessment of the actual wetland characteristics observed during recent water supply conditions in comparison to expected wetland performance indicator results from existing planning models used during the Lake Ontario- St. Lawrence River Study. This effort will serve to evaluate the accuracy of existing meadow marsh performance indicators algorithms, transfer expertise on these evaluation tools from contractors to government agencies, and inform the broader adaptive management effort.
Closing the water balance of the Great Lakes: developing a new historical record reconciling bias and uncertainty
This project developped a new historical record of monthly runoff, over-lake evaporation, over-lake precipitation, and connecting channel flows for each of the Great Lakes using a novel statistical model that (through an explicit acknowledgment of bias and uncertainty) reconciles discrepancies between model- and measurement-based estimates of each component while closing the Great Lakes water balance. This project leveraged a similar project completed in early 2015 between NOAA and ECCC that successfully developped new estimates of the monthly water budget for Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron for the historical period between 2004-2015.
This project resulted in the first comprehensive water budget estimates for the Great Lakes system that systematically close the entire water balance while addressing both measurement bias and uncertainty. It led to a modeling framework that was designed to incorporate qualitative perceptions of measurement uncertainties that can be incorporated, through a process of Bayesian updating, into the final estimates. Furthermore, the newly-developed water budget estimates provide a much more robust basis (relative to previous estimates) for decision making not only because they include an expression of uncertainty (a gap in decision making that has been evident for decades) but also because they provide a full explanation for changes in water levels from month-to-month.
Finally, this approach can now contribute to help resolve the regional water budget across monthly and inter-annual time scales and is an important stepping stone towards addressing a long-standing need in the Great Lakes for clear and defensible differentiation between hydrological, climatological, geological, and anthropogenic drivers behind seasonal and long-term changes in Great Lakes water.
Update the computing code of the Lower St. Lawrence Environmental Performance Indicators (IERM2D)
The environmental performance indicators (PI) for the Lower St. Lawrence River (IERM2D) are a critical component of the evaluation of water level regulation plans for the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system and are important to maintain in an adaptive management perspective.
All Lower St. Lawrence River environmental Performance indicators included in the IERM environment have been migrated to the Python programming language. Re-design, re-coding, creation of additional supporting programs and execution coordination re-arrangement contributed to substantially improve the assessment of new regulation plans by decreasing execution time and avoid spending time manually handling data in the many steps involved from time series reception to global results output. While the assessment of a new regulation plan analyzed over 41-year worth of data took about 48 hours, it now requires about six hours; an eight-fold improvement in computation time.
Given that Python code is portable across OS such as Windows or Linux, and that the IERM project is now self-contained in its own folder, it can now be easily transferred and executed in a Linux environment like CMC’s operational environment or environments that IJC partners might have access to as long as a connection to a database is possible. The improvements described here brought the IERM system to a nearly-automated, efficient, cross-platform, and OS-independent state.
Programming support for update of Coordinated Great Lakes Regulation and Routing Model
This project resulted in the development of a new, authoritative, coordinated numerical model that efficiently and accurately simulates water levels and connecting channel flows in the Great Lakes system given user-specified net basin supply scenarios. The new regulation and routing model replaced the previous Coordinated Great Lakes Regulation and Routing Model (CGLRRM), which has been employed since the 1990s, but which was poorly documented and became increasingly outdated and difficult to use.
The new model was developed to meet the needs of a variety of users. It is now being used by GLAM plan formulators to simulate Great Lakes water levels and flows under alternative regulation strategies and future water supply scenarios and changing climate conditions and evaluate their impacts. The new model is also used by the Lake Superior Board of Control, who operationally runs Plan 2012 and was previously using using the CGLRRM model, and by the St. Lawrence Board of Control, who operationally run Plan 1958-D and was using alternative tools developed by the agencies, and by both these Boards and the agencies to forecast water levels and flows under various water supply scenarios.
Furthermore, academic and other researchers are able to access the new model and its documentation, and use it for their own research initiatives and/or those in support of GLAM, the Great Lakes Boards, and the government agencies.
Great Lakes Runoff Intercomparison Project (GRIP) for Lake Ontario
The Great Lakes Runoff Inter-comparison Project for Lake Ontario (GRIP-O) aimed at applying and comparing various hydrologic models in their abilities to estimate Lake Ontario's direct incoming runoff. Despite its regulated regime, the Lake Ontario watershed revealed that it was possible to simulate runoff with very satisfying performance. The results also highlight each of the different models' strengths and weaknesses, and propose recommendations related to the more general goal of improving Lake Ontario's runoff simulation.
This work provided a comprehensive exploration of achievable hydrologic performances for the Lake Ontario watershed. For example, two lumped conceptual models used during this work were found to be useful tools, and this has allowed for the establishment of targets in terms of hydrologic performance for the newer, more sophisticated and more complex distributed models. Each of these families of models possesses its own advantages and drawbacks, and one cannot replace the other. The work presented also has allowed for a significant improvement to the soil vegetation and snow-land surface scheme, yet much work remains to be done to further improve it.
The improvements made in the lake's runoff simulation will benefit the International Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee, the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control, and the Coordinating Committee for Great Lakes Basic Hydrologic and Hydraulic Data by providing them with an efficient modelling tool having various potential environmental applications in the general field of water resources management, such as Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence water level and streamflow forecasting, and climate-change impact studies.
Additional shore protection structure survey for completing LOSLR study data
Estimates of shore protection damages evaluated within the Lake Ontario- St. Lawrence River (LOSLR) Shared Vision Model (SVM) are sensitive to assumptions about the quality and height of existing shore protection structures. A 2013 survey of some of these structures showed that most of the surveyed structures were taller than assumed in the LOSLR models; to the degree that this is true generally and could be captured in the model, overtopping damages would be reduced, and it might be that the differences between regulation rules is smaller than previously estimated. This additional shore protection structure survey is important in supporting any LOSLR decisions made by the IJC.
The Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used IWI funding to support additional field surveys of shore protection structures along the Lake Ontario shoreline. The final report for this project was completed at the end of 2015.
Preliminary Development of a State-Space Model for Lake Superior Water Balance Computations
Changes in water levels on the Great Lakes are determined by a dynamic interaction among primary water budget components including over-lake precipitation and evaporation, basin runoff and groundwater flows, inflows and outflows through the connecting channels, and flow augmentations and diversions. These components are used to derive a water budget for each of the five Great Lakes.
The overall objective of this work is to provide a basis for assessing the potential utility of advanced statistical models to estimate the magnitude and uncertainty of water budgets in the Great Lakes. This initial phase involved formulating alternative discrete-time state-space models, applied through Kalman filters, and evaluating a form appropriate for application to Lake Superior. Future projects, which are currently being pursued, will involve extending this initial work to the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system. By looking at the water budget components and evaluating their discrepancies systematically and simultaneously with these sophisticated statistical tools, the source of any errors or inconsistencies might be more evident, and this may help us correct such errors or target resources to these areas for improvement, and in an effort to “close the water balance. All of this, together with better observations and modelled estimates of the various components, will lead to improvements to the accuracy of our water estimates (both historical and forecasted), and the improved ability to forecast water levels and flows, evaluate regulation plan performance, and monitor the onset of climate change.
Great Lakes Evaporation Station Data
A major task of the International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS) was to improve understanding of hydroclimaticconditions in the upper Great Lakes system, focusing on the possible impacts of climate variability and climate change on future water levels. Numerous studies were conducted to examine how hydroclimatic processes affect Great Lakes water supplies and water levels. Included in this effort was the installation of two observing systems (Stannard Rock on Lake Superior and Spectacle Reef on Lake Huron) to collect meteorological data for the purposes of directly measuring over-lake evaporation. Success with using observation stations to estimate evaporation rates and improve operational hydrometeorological models in both countries during the IUGLS has led to an extension and expansion of observations to include four more sites across all five Great Lakes. Interest remains in these measurements because of their usefulness for helping to explain fluctuations in water levels, but the long-term commitment to operating and maintaining these observing systems is uncertain.
The purpose of this project is to scope, design, and develop a custom user interface to support easy access to the evaporation data in addition to making the data searchable through the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) data portal and its supporting GEONetwork metadata catalog.
International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board of Control
Assessment and public communication of low water level impacts to fish species and aquatic habitats of Lake St. Lawrence
Historically low 2018 water levels in Lake St. Lawrence have prompted concerns that fish populations and habitat may be locally impacted. Long-term residents of the Long Sault area have indicated that low water levels have exposed an unprecedented area of river bottom that has been affecting both boat navigation and recreational fisheries.
This project seeks to address these concerns by conducting a comprehensive scientific review of the life histories and critical habitat of all known fish species inhabiting Lake St. Lawrence (Iroquois Dam to Moses-Saunders Dam). A compilation of the data and information is to be used to create scientifically-based outreach materials that would address recent public concerns over the impacts of low water levels on fish populations and aquatic habitat in Lake St. Lawrence. A technical report, website content and video would be produced to disseminate the results of the study.
This project represents an important opportunity to address public concerns about the local ecological effects of Plan 2014 on Lake St. Lawrence, while building an important dataset that can help guide water level management policies.
Communications Assessment of 2017 High Water Event: Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River System
In May 2018, ECO Strategy was contracted by the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSRB) to undertake a review of the media coverage of the 2017 flooding event of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in, and to conduct a review of all communication products, including media releases, Facebook postings and correspondence with stakeholders.
From a review of the media coverage and an assessment of the effectiveness in communicating key Board messages surrounding the flooding event, the report summarized key findings and recommendations and provided a detailed analysis of media activity during the 2017 flood event.
International Lake Superior Board of Control
Substrate Classification of St Marys River to Support Future Ecosystem Modeling
Lake Superior regulation affects levels and flows in the lower St. Marys River. Unnatural changes in outflow can occur at the beginning of each month and the Board of Control has been working on methods to quantify impacts associated with regulation to better accommodate environmental objectives. One of these methods is the implementation of an Integrated Environmental Response Model (IERM) developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. A pilot project covering the St Marys Rapids using the IERM was implemented in September 2017. An IERM of the entire St Marys River will be proposed by the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee in the future to quantify ecological impacts throughout the entire river. The IERM relies on many data sources including bathymetry, hydrodynamics, biological data and substrate and vegetation characterization.
The lower St Marys has a start on most of the required data to build an IERM. However, no known substrate or vegetation classification data are available. This project is to collect side scan sonar imagery and sufficient surficial grab samples over selected portions of the lower St Marys River to help with substrate and habitat classification. Areas will be selected to coincide with locations in the river that have complete enough data (except for substrate and vegetation classification) to build an IERM, as well as locations that make sense from an ecological perspective.
Detailed scoping of requirements for developing an ecohydraulics model of the St. Marys River and prototype application to the St. Marys Rapids area
The unique physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the St. Marys River, which is the outlet of Lake Superior connected to Lake Michigan-Huron downstream, provide for a rich and diverse environment that is a vitally important aquatic resource in the upper Great Lakes system.
In 2017 this project, completed by ECCC with collaboration of USACE, initiated the creation of an Integrated Ecosystem Response Model (IERM) to evaluate the effects of water regulation plans on the rapids’ ecosystem. The model was based on an existing 2D hydrodynamic model previously in development by USACE-Detroit and now has the potential to be extended to the full St. Marys River and a larger range of water supply scenarios.
The project included the identification of critical objectives for the model and appropriate performance indicators; the collection and documentation of all availble data and models at the time; the identification of gaps in the information and potential strategies; and development of a prototype version of the model for the St. Marys Rapids area.
Compensating Works flow measurements in support of improved management of St. Marys Rapids
As a result of the recent rise in upper Great Lakes water levels, regulated outflows from Lake Superior through the St. Marys River also have increased, and this has required increased flows through the Compensating Works at the head of the St. Marys Rapids. Starting in August 2013, when six gates were fully open (the highest gate setting since 1997), a number of concerns were raised related to the unusually high water level and flow conditions in the St. Marys Rapids, including the impact on the St. Marys Rapids fishery and recreational anglers, potential flooding of Whitefish Island, the risk of ice damage to the Compensating Works and structures in the lower St. Marys River, the impacts of “spilled” water on hydropower production, and impacts to commercial navigation.
The Board has since worked with the IJC, the hydropower entities, and other stakeholders, to try to address these concerns, while adhering to the principles of the Boundary Waters Treaty and the Orders of Approval for Lake Superior regulation. Starting in May 2014, the Board began employing multiple partially open gates in lieu of fully open gates in order to provide a number of potential benefits in the St. Marys Rapids. Severe ice conditions in May 2014 prohibited the use of fully open gates. By partially opening the gates this reduced the amount of ice that was passed through the Compensating Works structure and reduced the risk of ice-related damages and the potential for damages to structures further downstream in the St. Marys River. Fisheries experts and recreational anglers also provided positive feedback on the potential benefits to the St. Marys River ecosystem of having the flow more evenly distributed across the St. Marys Rapids. Partially open gates can also be set with more precision, allowing for more consistent flows and a potentially reduced risk of flooding of Whitefish Island.
As a result of these and other benefits, partially open gate settings were employed for the remainder of 2014 and the Board agreed to continue this practice again in the summer of 2015, and potentially long-term. However, one issue with this new approach is that existing hydraulic relationships and flow measurements are applicable to flow through fully open gates at the Compensating Works only, and cannot be applied to partially open gate settings. These flows constitute a significant component of the total St. Marys River flow, and as a result, understanding the relationships between water levels and flows is critical to the operation of the Compensating Works and to the determination and regulation of the total outflow from Lake Superior.
To address this, a series of flow measurements were conducted at the Compensating Works during the summer and fall of 2015 under varying water level conditions and at various partially open gate settings. These measurements were conducted jointly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, and Water Survey of Canada on behalf of the International Lake Superior Board of Control, and were partially funded by the International Joint Commission through the International Watersheds Initiative program. Flow measurements were conducted at the Compensating Works over the course of a week during each of the months of June, July, August, October and November (generally near the start of each month to coincide with normal regulatory operations), and during each of these five weeks the gate settings were changed gradually in between measurements in order to allow for a variety of gate settings to be measured, but without the need for large, abrupt fluctuations in the St. Marys Rapids and potential adverse impacts on stakeholders. The measurements, along with data collected in 2014, will be used by the Board to establish and verify flow relationships, which will be used operationally to determine St. Marys Rapids flow. The measured flows also will be used in further studies aimed at better understanding the hydrodynamics of the St. Marys Rapids and the effects on stakeholders.
Establishment of Compensating Works Gate Movement Limits to Prevent Fish Stranding in St. Marys Rapids
Starting in the spring of 2015, the International Lake Superior Board of Control began a study, led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Detroit District, to measure and analyze flow, velocity, and water level data in the St. Marys Rapids under varying Compensating Works gate settings with the objective of establishing field-verified limits on the rate of gate changes in an effort to prevent harm to fish and other organisms caused by stranding or flushing. This study, first proposed by the Board in 2013 and partially funded by the Commission through the IWI, had been postponed due to scheduling issues and recent high-flow conditions in the St. Marys Rapids.
As a result of continued high flows and water levels and related concerns on the impacts of large fluctuations in hydraulic conditions in the St. Marys Rapids on fish and aquatic organisms, the Board made adjustments to the gate movement limits study plan. Rather than scheduling a series of gate changes and collecting field measurements in a single week, as originally planned, the Board installed water level sensors in the spring of 2015 as soon as conditions permitted, and kept them installed for the entire season before removing them in November, prior to winter. This allowed the Board to continuously measure the effects on water levels of gate changes and natural factors (such as wind effects) and make comparisons. Furthermore, flow measurements were collected throughout the field season at the beginning of months that the gate setting of the Compensating Works was expected to be changed as a result of normal regulatory operations. This avoided any additional negative impacts from additional gate changes, while providing flow measurement information at a wider range of gate settings and flow conditions.
The net result was an extensive dataset of hydraulic information on the St. Marys Rapids collected in 2015, which is expected to be extremely beneficial to the work of the Superior Board, GLAM, and others interested in the effects of water levels and flows on the St. Marys Rapids. For example, the data collected in 2015 will be used to develop and calibrate hydrodynamic models of the St. Marys Rapids to further extend the analysis to a broader range of flow and water level conditions, with the objective of establishing improved operational procedures for operating gates at the Compensating Works. The data collection component of this work was completed in the fall of 2015, with subsequent modelling and analysis expected to follow in 2016.
International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board
Development of an international, web-based StreamStats model for the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Basin
The objectives of this study are to (publish a report that describes the development and application of new regression equations for estimating peak-flow frequency statistics for the combined areas of the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River basin and the state of Minnesota, and release to the public a StreamStats application for the basin. The report will (a) document the analytical techniques used for annual series peak-flow frequency computations, basin characterization, regionalization, and development of equations for estimating peak-flow frequency statistics on small drainage basins (less than 7,800 square kilometers or about 3000 square miles); (b) present peak-flow data and basin characteristics at streamgages; (c) discuss techniques for estimating peak flows at ungaged sites on small, unregulated streams; and (d) describe methods used to estimate peak flows at ungaged sites that are near streamgages.
During 2015, streamgages in and near the study area were reviewed for period of record, length of record (at least 10 years), regulation, and documenting peak-flows outside of recorded period of record. The Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Canada provided streamgage data through 2013.
Seine River Temperature Project
In an effort to better understand the correlation between water levels and temperature and fish spawning in the Rainy Lake system, the International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board needs water level, temperature and fish data in the Seine River upstream of Rainy Lake. The data will be used to develop a correlation between the dates of sturgeon spawning obtained from the fish data.
The underlying premise of this initiative is that water resources and environmental problems can be anticipated, prevented or resolved at the local level before developing into international issues.
This project will help define the spring spawn for Seine River sturgeon through surrogate environmental indicators. This monitoring will respond to requests from the Seine River First Nation to look into the impact of dam operation on sturgeon and to repeated requests from the dam owners to demonstrate the effectiveness of a peaking window based on water temperature. The year 2015 marked the fifth field season of this project.
2015 Update of Upper Rainy River Numerical Model
In light of a planned three-year gate refurbishment project at the Fort Frances dam on the Rainy River, an existing 2-D hydrodynamic model was updated with recent measured water level data in order to simulate the conveyance losses due to gate closures during refurbishment. In addition to this, the update extended the range of the interactive visualization tool that is publically available on the Watershed Board’s website and includes simulation results of the 2014 high water levels and the overtopping of the dam spillway.
Effect of Water Management Regime on Wild Rice Production and on Cattail Invasion into Wild Rice Stands
Water level management in the Rainy-Namakan system has detrimental effects on the existing and historical strands of wild rice within the Rainy Lake and Seine River sections of this system. This has been an ongoing concern of the Seine River First Nation as well as other First Nations in the basin. Elders of the Seine River First Nation report that rice stands have disappeared or declined in size in much of their traditional ricing areas. In 2013, no wild rice was harvested from the Rainy Lake or the Seine River. This compares to historical commercial sales of wild rice from Rainy Lake and the Seine River of up to 150,000 pounds and more than 1,00,000 pounds on Lake of the Woods.
The loss of the wild rice harvest is primarily attributed by the wild rice industry to high water levels on Rainy and Lake of the Woods. Another consideration is the recent invasion of wild rice strands in Northwestern Ontario by the exotic perennial narrow leaf cattail. The competitive advantage of this exotic cattail over wild rice has not been quantified but it is suggested that it has contributed to the total eradication of southern wild rice in the lower Great Lakes. On Rainy Lake, there seems to be recognition of the detrimental effects of these cattails on wild rice.
This project seeks to quantify how water level fluctuations affect wild rice productivity at critical stages of development. It is also examining the effectiveness of cattail removal via cutting in relation to the recolonization of wild rice. This project is taking place over two years from 2014- 2016.
Accredited Officers of the St. Mary-Milk
Milk River Consumptive Use Study
Estimates of consumptive use and evaporative losses are an important component of the computation of the natural flow of the Milk River and apportionment of Milk River water between the U.S. and Canada. The most current estimates of consumption were developed R. E. Thompson in a 1986 USGS report but the irrigation in the basin has changed significantly in some areas since these estimates were published and more advanced methods are now available.
The objective of the project is to update the assumptions used by Thompson (1986) and to assess alternate approaches, methods, and data sources required to determine consumptive use in the St Mary and Milk River watersheds in Canada and United States, including the Milk River watershed prior to entry into Canada and the Southern Tributaries to the Milk River.
St. Mary and Milk Rivers Natural Flow Data Warehouse
A major task of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers Technical Working Group (SMRTWG) is to identify data, procedural or technological limitations and barriers that restrict the determination of the natural flow in the St. Mary and Milk rivers and their tributaries in the state of Montana and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The focus of the SMRTWG is on the evaluation and development of alternative methods for determining consumptive use for the Milk River basin, conducting a sensitivity analysis on the components used in the MilkNat2010 natural flow model, and assessing alternate methods of determining evaporation and evapotranspiration losses in the Milk River channel.
The purpose of this project is to scope, design, and establish a database (with a custom user interface) to house time-series natural flow data for the following transboundary river basins that are administered by Accredited Officers of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers as defined by the 1921 Order of the International Joint Commission respecting the St. Mary and Milk rivers.
International Souris River Board
Determination of factors affecting dissolved oxygen levels in the Souris River to inform operation decisions and assist with water quality objectives review
This project will investigate how variations in river flow affect dissolved oxygen levels, which are important to determining river biological conditions. The project covers a 5-year period from 2019 to 2023. The proposed work is to install and maintain continuous water-quality monitoring sensors (3) to measure water temperature and dissolved oxygen at the stream gaging (flow) stations on the Souris River at the SK/ND border near Sherwood, ND, above Minot, ND and at the ND/MB border near Westhope, ND. Due to the current insufficiency of data on seasonal and diurnal dissolved oxygen levels, these sensors are needed to provide an understanding of the river water quality under the range of conditions experienced in the Souris River. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) will install and maintain the sensors.
This project will result in the collection of data and creation of analysis reports containing needed information on the dynamics of dissolved oxygen in the Souris River; specifically, how flow and under-ice conditions affect oxygen levels. This information can then be integrated into control structure (reservoir) operation decisions for improving riverine dissolved oxygen levels. It will also be used to inform suitable ISRB dissolved oxygen objectives as part of the required objective review process.
International Red River Board
Water-Quality Trend Analysis for the International Red River
Water-quality in the Red River is of concern for both federal governments as well as for the states and province. In response to the need for a comprehensive trend analysis which accounts for natural hydroclimatic variability in the Basin and an assessment of exceedances of the water-quality objectives at the Red River at Emerson, a study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the International Joint Commission, North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. A basin-wide comparison of trends in concentration for sulfate, chloride, total dissolved solids, nitrate plus nitrite, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids at 34 sites for a recent period (2000-2015) and 5 sites for a historical period (1970-2015) with a more detailed evaluation of constituent concentrations against which current and proposed water-quality objectives are compared for the binational site, Red River at Emerson was completed.
The analysis used the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) software QWTrend to effectively estimate the water quality trend, and took into account changes in the Red River’s stream flow over the past few decades. This trend analysis filled a critical need to identify changes in water-quality across the Red River Basin while accounting for changes in streamflow. These flow changes provided water managers and governments with a new trend analysis to determine more accurately the best courses of action to improve water quality in the river. In addition, an interactive story map was developed and is hosted on IJC’s online map service.
2-D TELEMAC Modelling of the Lower Pembina River-Phase 5
The International Red River Board has completed the fifth phase of the two-dimensional hydrodynamic model to simulate hypothetical flood mitigation scenarios on the lower Pembina River Floodplains. The latest modelling efforts on hypothetical flooding in the Pembina Basin explored the potential relief of floods through the development of short floodways.
How Are We Living With the Red? Report update
Following the 1997 Red River flood, work was undertaken to increase the flood resiliency of the basin. The International Joint Commission’s (IJC) 2000 report, “Living with the Red”, identified a number of feasible flood mitigation measures. In 2009, IWI funding was provided to determine the status of each of the IJC’s recommendations in the report, How Are We Living With the Red?, that summarized progress on each of the recommendations.
In the summer of 2016, funding was awarded through the IWI initiative to provide another update on the recommendations made in 2009. The project updated the “How Are We Living With the Red?” report to review the status of each of the IJC’s recommendations, and identify the key items left undone. The work has been completed and the Board has recieved the final report titled “Twenty Years Later: Flood Mitigation in the Red River Basin” (dated March 31, 2017) for sharing on the Board’s website.
Osoyoos Lake Board of Control
A River Film Distribution Plan
A River Film, produced by Ascent Films, Inc. and the Washington State Department of Ecology in coordination with the IJC’s International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control (IOLBC) and Okanagan Water Board was finalized in August 2017 and premiered at the IOLBC annual public meeting in Osoyoos, B.C., and at the IJC semi-annual meeting in Ottawa, ON in October 2017. The first theatrical release was to a sold-out crowd of 300 watershed residents from the U.S. and Canada, on October 25, in Oliver, B.C. The film was met with enthusiastic reviews and the IOLBC currently seeks funding to distribute A River Film to maximize its exposure to audiences within and outside of the Okanagan/Okanogan basin. This proposal outlines a coordinated approach to distribute A River Film at screenings in theaters and at film festivals, distribution through libraries and educational institutions, educational television outlets, online outlets, and through DVDs.
Osoyoos Lake High-Water Monument
Monuments indicating the historic peak lake level of Osoyoos Lake documented in 1894, 1972, 1974, and 1997 by the U.S. Geological Survey will be constructed at public parks on both sides of the border in Osoyoos, British Columbia and Oroville, Washington. These prominently displayed historic peak-lake levels will provide current residents and visitors to Osoyoos Lake with visible context to understand the effects of current regulation prescribed by the IJC Orders of Approval.
Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum 2015 - A Watershed Beyond Boundaries: Stewardship of our Shared Waters
The The International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control (IOLBC) received funding support for the 2015 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum. The third binational Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum was held at the Sonora Centre in Osoyoos, BC. The forum included presentations and panel discussions by scientists, environmental professionals, advocates, and officials from all levels of government on both sides of the border, First Nations and Tribal organizations.
A report summarizes the key points made by panelists and audience members at the forum. In synthesizing deliberations of the 2015 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum, the report identified the following themes to guide future action
• Partnerships are fundamental to protecting and enhancing health of our shared waters.
• Intentional, strategic and proactive action needs to be taken.
• Integrate the social, cultural and political with the scientific.
• Adaptive management requires flexibility and compromise.
The report also assesses progress made from the 2007 and 2011 forums, and provides recommendations for future actions.
Columbia River Board of Control
Documentary explaining water-management issues and practices in the Okanagan/Okanogan River system
The Washington State Department of Ecology, the operator of Zosel Dam on the Okanogan River (U.S. spelling) at the outlet of Osoyoos Lake, will create a 20-30 minute educational documentary that explains how Canadian and U.S. water managers coordinate with each other and fisheries experts to assure that Osoyoos Lake levels remain within the range specified by international agreement to meet multiple human objectives while also maintaining aquatic habitat conditions favorable to salmonids. Osoyoos Lake crosses the international border and is one of several lakes in the Okanagan River (Canadian spelling) system, a tributary of the Columbia River.
The documentary audience will be the general public. The documentary will educate Canadian and U.S. citizens about water-management issues and practices in the watershed in which they live, and create awareness of the successful collaboration among both countries, and Native Americans and First Nations. The project will emphasize the natural and human history of the area and the complexity of managing the system so it meets the needs of multiple interests that vary seasonally.
The documentary will be posted on Washington state and IJC websites and also made available to local libraries and public schools, local TV stations, tourist visitor centers, and other venues. This project is expected to be completed in 2017.