Canada Water Act annual report for 2019 to 2020: chapter 8

8 Research and development

8.1 Research on the impacts of climate change on aquatic systems

In 2019-2020, ECCC undertook a number of activities to quantify and predict local, regional, and national sensitivities of hydrological regimes and aquatic ecosystems to climate change, including:

8.2 Technology development

National Hydrological Service’s Renewal Initiative and the Innovation Component

The National Hydrological Service’s Renewal initiative was launched in the summer of 2018. This initiative involves an $89.7M investment in the NHS in four areas or components: forecasting water quantity, infrastructure, rebuilding capacity, and innovation. The broad objective of the innovation component is to enhance monitoring and hydrological services by evaluating and testing innovations in measurement technology and data quality management. This component has $15.5M and 21 full-time equivalent positions invested over 5 years (2018-2023).

In 2019-2020, the focus of the innovation component was mainly on the development of detailed project plans for 9 priority projects, and securing the equipment and technology to carry out the work and establish approximately 20 new test stations in 2020-2021.

Hydrometric instrumentation, data collection and data production

At the operational level, the NHP continued investment in field technologies, including hydroacoustic equipment (which in 2018 represented 85% of all discharge measurement devices) and advanced deployment platforms, such as bank-operated cableway systems and remote control boats, as manned cableways across the country are being decommissioned. Routine instrument quality assurance testing of hydroacoustic devices continues, but a need for a national database or system to track this information is becoming ever more apparent. Defining requirements for tracking such non-station based capital assets will be a priority in 2020-2021.

Investments also continue in the use of site cameras for monitoring site conditions, including the ice effected period. The NHP now operates more than 30 satellite cameras (and a handful of cell modem cameras) at remote stations, typically transmitting one image a day, along with more than 200 time-lapse cameras, from which images are downloaded periodically at the time of a field visit. Images from transmitting cameras are now available in real-time to partners via the Wateroffice website.

The use of electronic Hydrometric Survey Notes (eHSN) to document and upload field visit information and data has become routine, and greatly improves the quality and standardization of how we document and record field visit activities. The percentage of eHSN uploads increased from 26% of all field visits uploaded in 2017 to 59% in 2018 and now 83% in 2019.

Through innovation project work, the NHP is also exploring the possibility of using non-contact technology, such as radars and cameras (using images from both drones and fixed stations cameras), for improved water level and flow monitoring. These new technologies present unique solutions for challenging high water or remote and flashy river conditions, and/or where the availability and timeliness of flow data are critical. Through systematic testing and evaluation of radar and camera hardware and software (and associated algorithms) for optical water level and flow, the NHP is working towards determining whether these new techniques and methods are viable and suitable for operations, and if so, how. This will accelerate our efforts to explore and adapt innovations in hydrometric monitoring, hydrology and hydraulics both in the field and in the office.

Developing resiliency in data telemetry is critical, and in 2019-2020 the NHP committed to continue work in two main areas of focus for telemetry modernization: 1) continue transitioning any remaining land-based telecommunications systems to cellular or satellite services, which will reduce dependency on aging hardware and increasingly unreliable land-lines, and 2) inviting proposals for installing two Direct Readout Ground Stations (or DRGS) for receiving Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) Data collection System (DCS) messages directly from GOES East and West satellites. NHS is currently totally reliant on terrestrial internet links to United States DRGS sites for over 1400 hydrometric stations. This work will diversify means of accessing data and increasing system resilience overall.

A major milestone was achieved in 2019-2020 with the implementation of the upgraded hydrometric workstation time-series software, Aquarius Next Generation. This upgrade modernizes the day-to-day data production experience for hydrometric technologists, and has significantly increased the timeliness of real-time data to the Wateroffice website. In 2019-2020, the MSC Service Standard of publishing hydrometric data on the web within six hours of occurrence was achieved 100% of the time.

Surface Water from Space Project

ECCC continued collaboration on the development of space-based monitoring technologies for hydrological monitoring in Canada with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the University of Sherbrooke, the University of California, Los Angeles and other organizations in the United States. Work focused on the Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) hydrology mission, scheduled for launch by NASA in 2022. ECCC continued hydraulic model development in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as part of the overall strategy in the hydrology plan. We also developed synthetic SWOT images as an operational product for the St. Lawrence River and are looking at data assimilation techniques using SWOT in operational models. ECCC also presented a plenary at the Canadian Remote Sensing Symposium and continued working with the international SWOT team on satellite calibration and validation issues.

This year, ECCC continued to contribute to model development to improve expectations from the SWOT satellite mission in measuring surface water elevations and water extent from space with the goal of enhancing research and monitoring capacity and carrying out the first ever pan-Canadian quantification of wetland and lake storage change over time.

NHS has been working in collaboration with ECCC’s Water Science and Technology Directorate and the University of Saskatchewan, to complete development of a new facility, designed to develop and test new water sensors and drones for improved monitoring of Canadian water resources. In 2019-2020, a test site was established with the University of Saskatchewan on the North Saskatchewan River to test and evaluate new non-contact sonar-based sensors as part of the innovation strategy.

Global Water Futures

In 2019-2020, ECCC continued to be heavily involved with the University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and McMaster University through the Global Water Futures Program. This program explores ways to improve hydrometric program delivery through innovative technology such as drones and cameras. This work also focuses on improved hydrological modelling as we develop a national framework for flow forecasting. This year, a mobile application (The Nutrient App) was developed through a collaboration between ECCC and Global Water Futures, promoting beneficial management practices acceptance through on-farm instantaneous community-based nutrient sampling.

ECCC is currently collecting and processing RADARsat Constellation Mission data over the prairie region for use in ground control of the SWOT mission and is developing methods for public distribution of the water extent products on a national scale. There is currently no systematic way to estimate surface water extent in many important regions of Canada where these extents often dictate the hydrological control. NHS initiated a program with support of the Canadian Space Agency for a Canada-wide assessment of surface water extent. These products will also aid in determining soil moisture in the region with a higher degree of accuracy, which improves national weather forecasting models and management of Canadian water resources.

8.3 Program development

Quality assurance

Improvements to the quality of real-time data have been developed through the Continuous Data Production Project. Pilot results from 2018-2019 were reviewed, and efforts focussed to prepare for implementation of the new procedures across Canada by June 2020. This innovative approach is also a component of the investment in the NHP.

Updating of ECCC’s Water Survey of Canada Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) continued in 2019-2020 in an effort to keep pace with changes in methods and technologies. This year, the modernization of procedures for the Measurement of Stage (measuring of water levels), the Stage Correction (editing or resetting of water level data to improve accuracy) and the Selection of Peaks and Extremes (the annual identification of water level peaks) was completed. Research also continued on methods for Data Estimation (how to compute the data needed when conditions do not permit the use of the usual hydrometric model).

Hydrometric science and development

Collaboration on hydrology modelling to improve the ability of the NHS to predict flows as part of its federal water management obligations continued. ECCC also continued collaborations with university colleagues in Quebec (L'Institut national de la recherche scientifique) in operationalizing hydrodynamic and ecohydraulic models in rivers of federal significance. The prediction component of the hydrometric investments involves developing the capacity to predict water quantity in five of Canada’s major water basins: the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, the Saskatchewan-Nelson River Basin, the Mackenzie River Basin, the Columbia River Basin, and the Churchill River Basin. The NHS is working in partnership with provinces and territories to develop new flow predictions systems. 


NHS supports openness and interoperability of information and data access across various systems. NHS is working with ECCC’s Geospatial Web Service team to make real-time hydrometric data available in Open Geospatial Consortium compliant standards. It is expected to be published next fiscal year.

8.4 Hydrometeorological modelling and studies

For several years, researchers and scientists at ECCC and many partner organizations have used atmospheric and weather data as input for day-to-day operational forecasting models, and hydrologic data collected under the hydrometric agreements as input for hydrologic models. These models demonstrate how regional hydrometeorological modelling can help improve water resources management.

Great Lakes

ECCC collaborates with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey to operationalize various modelling systems for historical analysis of the water balance in the upper Great Lakes.

In 2019-2020, ECCC continued to improve methods for coupled hydrometeorological modelling and prediction under an expanded environmental prediction framework. The model enables an improved understanding of interactions between the atmosphere and land surface, and supports improved water management in the region. After years of development by NOAA, in consultation with ECCC, a statistical model that determines the most likely values for the water balance components is now run every month using input from ECCC‑MSC and other Canadian and U.S. agencies. It is expected that this technique will lead to improved coordinated values of the components of the Great Lakes net basin supply, increase our understanding of the hydrological functions and improve forecasting of Great Lakes water levels.  

Hydrological and atmospheric modelling experts in ECCC continued to develop models to estimate possible scenarios of river flow through ensemble flow forecasting. The operational forecast model is being shared with provincial flood forecasting agencies and initial testing of the model in the Great Lakes continues as researchers strive for a 10-day forecast model. A pilot project was continued in 2019-2020 that provides forecasted flows to Water Survey of Canada staff. The forecasted flows are expected to provide advance information for efficient planning of fieldwork to capture important data for high flow events.

Under the Coordinating Committee on Great Lakes Basic Hydraulic and Hydrologic Data, a comprehensive plan to update the International Great Lakes Datum of 1985 (vertical datum) for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system was developed and the second year of work was completed with the deployment of seasonal gauges by the Canadian Hydrographic Service and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This project will take until 2025 to complete. The Coordinating Committee also updated its methodology for the computation of flow in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers and adopted the index-velocity approach as the official method to determine flows in those channels retroactive to 2009 when acoustic velocity meters were installed in the rivers.  

International rivers

ECCC, in collaboration with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, worked on an Integrated Ecosystem Response Model for the St. Marys River rapids. The bi-dimensional ecohydraulic model is being used to improve the spawning success of several fish species that use the swift water of the rapids for reproduction. This prototype will be extended to the entire St. Marys River.

ECCC played a lead role in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study, examining the cause of and possible mitigation measures to flooding issues in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Basin. During 2019-2020, ECCC built a seamless digital elevation model and a water balance model, which allowed for the quantification of mitigation solutions on lake level and river discharge from net basin supply series. Based on these achievements, ECCC activities in 2019-2020 were concentrated on the development of high-resolution 2D hydrodynamic models of Lake Champlain and for the entire Richelieu River, which includes the integration of the wind effect on the lake level and river discharge, and the development of mitigation solutions with the objective of reducing flood peaks. Major efforts were invested in the development of an integrated modelling tool (ISEE-Integrated Socio-Economic and Environmental system) that will allow a robust quantitative analysis of mitigation solution for both sides of the US and Canada border. This system integrates tools as 2D performance indicators for assessing stage-damage curves for all houses in the flood plain (several thousand), population vulnerability, agricultural damages and several ecosystem indicators.

ECCC continues to play a key role in the Souris River Study to examine potential improvements to the operation of several dams in Saskatchewan and North Dakota for both flood control and water supply purposes. The study utilized data collected in 2018-2019 to develop a HEC-ResSim model of the Souris River Basin and develop performance indicators. Work began on creating and analyzing alternative simulations for reservoir operations to optimize flood control and water supply while also considering the interests of other stakeholders in the basin (e.g., recreation, water quality, fish and wildlife, culture). In 2019-2020, work also began on the climate change component of the study whereby the resilience of a selected alternative to a changing climate was tested through global climate models, and trend and non-stationarity analysis. The study held a number of workshops and meetings with the public, regulatory agencies and First Nations. The study initiated a process with the IJC to develop long-term relationships with First Nations with interests in the basin. Dam safety continues to be a major issue that will complicate the management of the reservoirs as well as the development of recommendation for improved operations going forward.


ECCC leads the Arctic Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HYCOS) initiative, which focuses on assessing freshwater flux into the Arctic Ocean. In 2019-2020, work continued to finalize the public web portal to allow the users to display, filter and download streamflow and other data for all hydrometric stations in the Arctic-HYCOS network, according to extended metadata criteria. The first phase of the Arctic-HYCOS Project is almost complete. The next phase will include making modelling datasets and tools for the cryosphere more widely available, and ensuring cutting edge hydrologic inputs are incorporated into global cryospheric models. Members of Arctic-HYCOS, as well as other ECCC science staff, attended the Arctic Earth System Modelling Workshop in conjunction with the annual Arctic-HYCOS project steering committee meetings this year, hosted by Iceland as part of their tenure as Chair of the Arctic Council from 2019-2021. Their long-term goal is to ensure that people living in the Pan-Arctic receive ‘fit for purpose’ cryospheric, hydrological, meteorological, ocean, and climate services at levels that recognize the importance of the Arctic as a rapidly changing environment.


ECCC contributed internationally as the Canadian hydrological advisor to the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Hydrology. This entails providing input and advice to the Commission on all matters related to hydrometric monitoring and hydro‑meteorology. Specifically, the Department contributed expertise toward the development of techniques for uncertainty analysis in hydrometric measurements and on basic systems.

Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP)

ECCC co-led the CBMP-Freshwater Steering Group (FSG) and completed the first circumpolar assessment of freshwater biodiversity. The assessment produced a novel, open database that includes information on multiple focal ecosystem components (e.g., algae, invertebrates, and fish) for Arctic lakes and rivers (> 9000 sites).

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