Canada Water Act annual report for 2020 to 2021: chapter 8

8 Research and development

8.1 Research on the impacts of climate change on aquatic systems

In 2020-2021, 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:

In addition, ECCC contributed to the editing and publication of the book “Arctic Hydrology, Permafrost and EcosystemsFootnote 4 with 30 chapters by 86 authors from 12 countries. The book provides a comprehensive, up-to-date assessment of the key terrestrial components of the Arctic system (i.e. hydrology, climatology, permafrost, and ecology across the circumpolar regions).

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 4 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 2020-2021 (third year), the focus of the innovation component was establishing new hydrometric test sites, through careful site selection, planning and instrumentation and equipment installations. Despite restrictions due to COVID-19 limiting some access to the field, 35 new test stations were established (across 7 provinces), which exceeded the goal of establishing 20 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 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 2021-2022.

Investments also continue in the use of site cameras for monitoring site conditions, including the ice effected period. The NHP now operates more than 90 transmitting cameras (including predominately satellite cameras and a handful of cell modem cameras), typically transmitting 1 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 login side of 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 94% in 2020.

Through innovative 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. In 2020-2021, 2 camera-based image velocimetry and 5 surface velocity radar test sites were established across Canada.

Developing resiliency in data telemetry is critical, and in 2020-2021, the NHP committed to continue work in 2 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 2 Direct Readout Ground Stations (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.

In 2020-2021, a site characterization survey was completed for all active hydrometric stations in the network (about 2200 stations). This survey has yielded important information to be used to optimize various aspects of the day-to-day operations of the network.

Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) Mission Preparation

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.

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 2020-2021, many activities involving field work were unachievable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, SWOT team members made significant progress on several fronts including model development and hydrodynamic modelling runs at several test sites, the analysis of data collected for the North Saskatchewan River, and analysis of AirSWOT data collected in the Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD) among others.

8.3 Program development

Quality assurance

Improvements to the quality of real-time data have been established through the adoption of new Continuous Data Production procedures. Starting in June 2020, a process involving faster integration of field observations, and a frequent monitoring of data quality and station performance now ensures that users have access to better data faster. 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 2020-2021 in an effort to keep pace with changes in methods and technologies. Investments focused on, and will continue towards procedures for auditing; the estimation of discharge when conditions do not permit the use of the usual hydrometric model; as well as streamlining aspects of data approval to validate data computation conclusions.

Hydrometric science and development

ECCC, through its NHS, continued to collaborate with internal ECCC partners as well as external government and academic partners to improve flow prediction capability under the auspices of its federal obligations related to transboundary water management. In addition, operationalization of hydrodynamic and ecohydraulic models in rivers of federal significance continued through collaborations with university colleagues in Quebec (L'Institut national de la recherche scientifique).

ECCC is working in partnership with provinces and territories to develop and/or improve flow prediction systems. The “Second Annual Canadian Flood Forecasting Forum” was virtually held on February 22-24, 2021 by ECCC, in cooperation with Global Water Futures (GWF). Attendance was exceptional, peaking at 187 concurrent attendees from across Canada, the United States, and Europe on day 1, with over 100 participants remaining connected throughout the forum. The forum continued efforts to foster more communication and collaboration between provincial and territorial governments, ECCC, academia, and their partners nationwide towards the establishment of a “National Flood Forecasting Community of Practice”, for which there was widespread support. Some key findings from the forum included that forecasting is truly a global effort, and that Canada has unique challenges with international and inter-provincial transboundary agreements and complex water systems. There are a wide variety of approaches across the country for dealing with flood forecasting and many elements as well. Many jurisdictions use ECCC products, such as our deterministic numerical forecasts, ensemble forecasts and the Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA) for their forecasting needs.

ECCC continued development of water quantity prediction capacity in 5 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. This capacity allows ECCC to offer different prediction products and services to assist the provinces and territories, and thereby local governments with their flood and/or drought forecasting. The hydrometric data collected by ECCC, through its National Hydrological Service, continues to be of critical importance to any flood or drought forecasting performed by the provinces, territories and local governments.

The Hydrometric Needs Index (HNI) is a tool developed by NHS to represent the spatial gradient of hydrometric monitoring needs across a defined space (such as, Canada or a specific province or territory). Preliminary results of this tool were presented to NHP partners in 2020-2021. The first step for developing the index was to identify the hydrometric monitoring mandates of the NHP partners (federal, provincial, and territorial governments) and represent them through geospatial data sets. Second, these data sets were normalized and used to generate a numerical index score, between 0 and 9, for each sub-sub drainage areas (SSDA) in Canada. Finally, the resulting index score for each SSDA was plotted spatially, representing the sum of monitoring needs in an area. The index score is an indicator for network evaluation and future design. Areas with the highest score have the highest density of monitoring mandate requirements and may require a dense network of hydrometric stations. An example of the index developed for Nova Scotia is provided in Figure 8.

Figure 8: Example of Hydrometeric Needs Index, Nova Scotia

Long description

Figure 8 shows a map of Nova Scotia coloured to mark from high to low, the hydrometric needs in the area.


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. Real-time data is now available via the MSC GeoMet web service on the staging system and it will go operational in 2021-2022.

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

In 2020-2021, 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. Research is continuing so 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. As well, research to examine methods for using a combination of the ECCC Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA) and various NOAA precipitation analyses to replace the currently coordinated precipitation product has begun.

ECCC continues to provide support in verification of flows through the Great Lakes connecting channels in collaboration with USACE and USGS. Binational field verification measurements in the St. Marys, St. Clair, Detroit, Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers were limited due to restrictions on travel across the U.S. – Canada border in 2020-2021, however verification analysis of past measurements continued. ECCC efforts continued to ensure quality assurance and Canada-U.S. coordination of connecting channels hydrometric station measurements. Measurement accuracy of Great Lake connecting channel flows continue to support development of water balance prediction models and accounting for binational water use.

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. An extensive binational field survey that was planned for 2020 was postponed until 2022 due to travel restrictions in place to respond to COVID-19. The update is still anticipated to be completed by 2025.

International rivers

ECCC played a lead role in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study, with the completion in 2020-2021 of a high-resolution 2D hydrodynamic model of Lake Champlain - 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 finalizing and using an integrated modelling tool (ISEE-Integrated Socio-Economic and Environmental system) that allows for a robust quantitative analysis of mitigation solutions for both sides of the US and Canada border. During 2020-2021, multiple flood mitigation measures were developed and analyzed, and ECCC contributed to the flood forecasting and real-time mapping effort of the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study.

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 created and analyzed alternative simulations for reservoir operations to optimize flood control and water supply while also considering the interests of other stakeholders and rights-holders in the basin (e.g. recreation, water quality, fish and wildlife, culture). In 2020-2021, work also continued on the climate change component of the study whereby the impacts of 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 strengthened 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 2020-2021, 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 complete. Planning for the second phase has commenced and a work plan will be developed in 2021-2022. Canada continues to chair and provide secretariat services for the project.


ECCC supported the restructuring of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 2020-2021. NHS reviewed the development of 2 new WMO commissions which have replaced the previous 8 scientific and technical commissions (including the former Hydrologic Commission). In addition, WMO has formed a Hydrological Coordination Panel to better integrate hydrology into WMO activities; and to develop a Vision, Strategy and Action Plan for WMO Hydrology. NHS leads a pan-Canadian, multi-expert working group, including scientists, policy experts, and academia to consider global hydrology issues, the impacts of new WMO initiatives on Canada, and Canada’s role in supporting the global hydrology agenda.

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