Prince George, B.C. – A group of researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia has received $1 million to fund the next five years of continued study and exploration of important issues surrounding the Nechako River basin.
Through a grant, the Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund (NEEF), which was created through an agreement between the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, and Rio Tinto, is providing Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry, Forest Renewal BC Research Chairs in Landscape Ecology Dr. Phil Owens and Dr. Ellen Petticrew, and Canada Research Chair in Health, Ecosystems and Society Dr. Margot Parkes who are part of the Integrated Watershed Research Group, with a $499,950 grant. The remaining $499,950 will be matched by other sources.
“Better understanding of the functions of our ecosystems and watersheds is key to making informed decisions,” said Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson. “I’m pleased that NEEF is able to support this ongoing research.
The four UNBC professors will build on their four-year study in Phase One of their research, in which they examined the impacts of climate change and water security, sediment sources and dynamics, and developed tools to help inform integrated understanding and decision-making in the watershed.
“The ongoing research by the Integrated Watershed Research Group and the collaboration with the communities and the partnerships that have been formed as a result have been instrumental in highlighting solutions directed to ensuring the long-term viability of the watershed,” said UNBC President Dr. Daniel Weeks. “This funding will allow our faculty and students to continue to create local solutions that have global impact.”
“The work of the researchers at UNBC is very important in understanding the issues of the Nechako River basin,” said NEEF Society Chair Shawn Rice. “The NEEF is very proud to help with approval of funding for Phase Two.”
Dr. Déry and his students are studying climate change and water security. During the first research phase, overall means and recent changes in air temperature, precipitation and runoff were compiled for the Nechako River basin and its main tributary sub-basins.
“Our analyses revealed that temperature warmed by approximately 2 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2010 across the watershed but there were few changes in precipitation,” said Dr. Déry. “In Phase Two, we will address the role of observed climate change and flow regulation on streamflow volumes and water temperatures in the Nechako River.”
Drs. Owens and Petticrew studied sediment sources and dynamics and during the first phase determined the main sources of the contemporary fine sediment transported by the Nechako River and how these have changed over the last few decades in response to river management and land use change.
“Our future work will focus on the use of biomarkers and organic tracers to expand our investigation into the effect of land use changes associated with agriculture, forestry and wildfires on sediment sources and sediment quality,” said Dr. Owens.
During the first phase of work, Dr. Parkes and her group developed and refined a web-based spatially-referenced portal tool that brings together different forms of knowledge and provides a platform for watershed partners to share and exchange new and existing information about the Nechako River basin.
“In the second phase of activity, we will work with watershed partners to use the web-based portal to enhance understanding of overlapping environment, community and health issues within the Nechako River basin, and to encourage integrated approaches to learning, monitoring, and decision making about the watershed,” said Dr. Parkes.
The four faculty members involved with IWRG have studied watershed-based issues for several years, with a focus on the Fraser River basin and other watersheds in Northern B.C., including the Nechako River basin.
"Rio Tinto is proud of its investment of $50 million to the NEEF, including this $499,950 grant,” said Gareth Manderson, Rio Tinto's General Manager BC Operations. “I am pleased that our investment in the NEEF will in turn support UNBC to advance our understanding of the Nechako ecosystem, potential climate change impacts, and the greater social context of environment and community health.”
Rio Tinto agreed to establish and contribute on a matching-dollar basis up to $50 million to the NEEF as part of a 1997 agreement between the Province of B.C. and Rio Tinto.
In 2012, the NEEF committed to $1 million towards the study of integrated watershed research over the course of 10 years.