WatKAN: CREATING A WATER KNOWLEDGE APPLICATION NETWORK – Final Report

WatKAN is a regional consortium of industry, provincial, territorial and federal government agencies, NGOs, First Nations and other communities and stakeholders who collaborate to improve the understanding of and ability to predict the impacts of permafrost thaw on their shared water resources. The consortium approach is keenly supported by all participants and is fundamental to WatKAN. By contributing knowledge on permafrost thaw impacts to both the BC and NWT water strategies, WatKAN improves the scientific basis of the framework within which all water users of the border region will manage their shared resource, and will reduce the uncertainty of water futures by putting customised science-based tools into the hands of trained end-users that will increase their predictive capacity. Our industrial partners include the Horn River Basin Producers Group (HRBPG) and the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC). Knowledge of permafrost thaw impacts are important to the petroleum industry because 1) permafrost thaw greatly increases infrastructure construction and maintenance costs by causing pipeline rupture, instability of platforms, cracks in foundations from subsidence, and the nearly constant need for road resurfacing. Activities such as drilling wells, creating borrow pits, water storage ponds and linear features such as winter roads, seismic lines and pipelines, all increase thaw rates by disturbing the insulating surface layer of soil. Permafrost thaw and the resulting landcover change adds uncertainty to the question of how much freshwater will be available in the future in the border region. This uncertainty has a negative effect on industry security. Industry requires both improved capacity to predict future water supplies and mitigation strategies to reduce costs resulting from permafrost thaw. WatKAN’s community partners include the Dehcho First Nation (DFN), the Liidlii Kue First Nation (LKFN) and the Jean-Marie River First Nation (JMRFN). Permafrost thaw is of great concern to aboriginal communities, especially with regard to its impact on the long term health of water resources and natural ecosystems. In particular, unconventional gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has increased dramatically in recent years, and is expected to intensify. Fracking requires such large volumes of water that industrial water use in the border region has put pressure on both ecosystems and public water supplies. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the rates, patterns and impacts of permafrost thaw, and how these factors may change when considering natural feedbacks in the environment. This has prevented researchers from being able to accurately predict the impacts of permafrost thaw on water resources in the future. As a result industry, communities and governments lack the knowledge and predictive tools needed for rigorous, science-based decision making on water resource and ecosystem planning and management, water and land permit approval and environmental impact assessment. This project also partners with the BC and NWT governments. Both are in the early stages of implementing their water strategies – the Water Sustainability Act in BC and the Water Stewardship Strategy in the NWT. Both governments are committed to consulting with industry, communities and researchers prior to implementing their water strategies. The WatKAN team already meets regularly with both governments and will continue with this method of engagement as a means of mobilising water knowledge to those that use it to make decisions, support planning and policy development and create operational procedures, for the benefit of both industry and communities.

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