Applying Physically Representative Watershed Modelling to Assess Peak and Low Flow Response to Timber Harvest: Application for Watershed Assessments

Friday, 19 December 2014
Ryan J MacDonald1, Axel Anderson1, Uldis Silins2 and James R Craig3, (1)Foothills Research Institute, Hinton, AB, Canada, (2)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (3)University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Forest harvesting, insects, disease, wildfire, and other disturbances can combine with climate change to cause unknown changes to the amount and timing of streamflow from critical forested watersheds. Southern Alberta forest and alpine areas provide downstream water supply for agriculture and water utilities that supply approximately two thirds of the Alberta population. This project uses datasets from intensely monitored study watersheds and hydrological model platforms to extend our understanding of how disturbances and climate change may impact various aspects of the streamflow regime that are of importance to downstream users. The objectives are 1) to use the model output of watershed response to disturbances to inform assessments of forested watersheds in the region, and 2) to investigate the use of a new flexible modelling platform as a tool for detailed watershed assessments and hypothesis testing.

Here we applied the RAVEN hydrological modelling framework to quantify changes in key hydrological processes driving peak and low flows in a headwater catchment along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The model was applied to simulate the period from 2006 to 2011 using data from the Star Creek watershed in southwestern Alberta. The representation of relevant hydrological processes was verified using snow survey, meteorological, and vegetation data collected through the Southern Rockies Watershed Project. Timber harvest scenarios were developed to estimate the effects of cut levels ranging from 20 to 100% over a range of elevations, slopes, and aspects. We quantified changes in the timing and magnitude of low flow and high flow events during the 2006 to 2011 period. Future work will assess changes in the probability of low and high flow events using a long-term meteorological record. This modelling framework enables relevant processes at the watershed scale to be accounted in a physically robust and computational efficient manner. Hydrologic response to hypothetical harvest scenarios may later be used to help guide forest development planning decisions where detailed assessments of hydrological risk are necessary.