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Project Summary

Projecting future water availability is one of the main challenges of water management. The main objective of this research project is to provide long-term data on the spatial patterns in water availability within the Winnipeg River Drainage Basin (WRDB) in northwestern Ontario over the last ~2000 years. This project will determine the susceptibility of the WRDB to synchronous droughts in the northern and southern portions of the WRDB (see study lakes), and hence the sensitivity in water flow that currently accounts for ~40% of the energy generated by Manitoba Hydro. This research is important to determine if extreme drought events from past centuries in the Winnipeg River basin may have exceeded droughts experienced over the past 100 years, and specifically the drought of the 1930s. This data can then be used by water managers at Manitoba Hydro to more effectively predict and plan for changes in water availability in the future.                                                                                                                                                          
Although many regions of Canada are projected to have increased precipitation under increasing CO2 conditions, there is great uncertainty in both the temporal and spatial distribution of future precipitation based on model projections. Empirical data from the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in the WRDB suggests that without a substantial increase in precipitation lake levels, stream flows and groundwater levels will all decline under a warmer climate. Our recent findings from the ELA (see publications), suggests that water availability has been at much lower extremes during the past two millennia than any seen during the 20th century.

This research project will provide an estimate of the spatial patterns of drought in the WRDB by identifying, and developing new sites to reconstruct changes in lake level. The selected network of lakes are located in the southern sub-watersheds of Winnipeg River and Lake of the Woods, and in the northern sub-watersheds of English River and Lac Seul. This network of lakes, which form a transect from west to east across the central WRDB (see study lakes), will allow the assessment of both within and between sub-watershed variability; thereby providing a clearer picture of the variability of lake-level declines across the WRDB. This empirically-based study of past water availability within the WRDB (see CRD proposal)  will provide information for Manitoba Hydro and other companies highly dependent upon water resources to more effectively plan for the future based on records that will encompass the full range of extremes pertinent to human society.