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New Online Tool Helps Predict Pond Drying Patterns in BC’s Rangelands

Each year, as average temperatures rise and snowfall levels slowly decline, concerns over water security are building throughout British Columbia, as well as elsewhere in Canada. Of the numerous communities effected by drought conditions, ranchers in BC, whose closed-basin ponds are drying up due to changes in the climate, tend to feel the impact particularly hard. Access to sustainable and reliable water sources like these ponds is integral to providing nourishment for their animals, not simply as a drinking source, but also in maintaining the grasslands that feed the livestock.

Aaron Coelho, Water Resources Consultant
Aaron Coelho, a Water Resources Consultant from our Kamloops office, became aware of this challenge through his Masters Thesis research at Thompson Rivers University.

“I evaluated the extent of water loss in BC’s semi-arid rangelands and found that there was an over 50% decline in surface water from the early 1990s to the early 2010s. When presenting this information to the ranching community, they often asked, ‘What can we do about it?’” Coelho explained. “This is a tough question because the problem is climate driven and there are no easy solutions. When it comes to changes in climate the best thing we can do is adapt.”

Dr. Tom Pypker – Thompson Rivers University
Coelho’s innovative research earned him the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, one of the highest awards offered to Canadian graduate students. Determined to turn his findings into something that could have an impact, in May of 2016, together with Dr. Tom Pypker, Associate Professor at TRU and Coelho’s thesis supervisor, he began developing a tool to help assess the given risks of individual ranchers.

The result of their work is the Climate Change Impact Risk Assessment Tool, a web-based tool that the team is using to predict the risk of decline of ponds on rangelands throughout the province. It combines BC’s rangeland Geograhpic Information System (GIS) climate model with information provided by individual ranchers such as pond location, depth, seasonal fluctuations, surface run-off and surrounding vegetation, to provide an assessment of the potential for decline of the identified pond, at either a high, moderate or low risk.

Recently, Coelho and Pypker met with the Kamloops Stockmen’s Association, where members had the opportunity to test out the first phase of the tool and provide feedback on its functionality. Overall, the response was positive, with ranchers emphasizing the value of having the evidence of the water shortages to back up what they have been observing for some time now.

“We plan to work closely with ranchers and other end-users of the tool to identify whether it is asking the right questions of ranchers and if the information provided by the tool is in a format that they can easily use.” stated Coelho.

After reviewing the feedback they have received, Coelho and Pypker will develop a tool prototype, which they aim to complete by the end of March, 2017. They are also currently seeking alternative funding to work on making the tool available to general use, including ranchers throughout BC.

Coelho stated that he hopes this tool will integral in gathering regionwide data that helps to support the individual observations ranchers have been making for years. This could be the key to providing scientific evidence to support ranchers with at-risk grasslands as they apply for funding to implement water management tools and strategies to better prepare for drought-like conditions.

He is optimistic about how the project will assist ranchers throughout the province. “When the tool is completed, the intent will be to provide ranchers with information about their water sources that will help them plan and adapt to future conditions.”

End Note: Funding for this project to date has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. It has also received in-kind support from Thompson Rivers University, the BC Ministry of Agriculture and the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.

Listen to Aaron discuss the Climate Change Impact Assessment Tool on CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops:

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