Yukon study to look at impacts of climate change on river flow and energy generation

A three-year study being launched in the Yukon will investigate how a changing climate could impact hydro generation in the future.

'There was a concern around what could climate change mean for our hydro potential' says Yukon Energy CEO

Monitoring stations, similar to this one, will be set up in the Mayo and Aishihik river regions. The study will use existing weather and water data as well as information gleaned from new monitoring stations. (Yukon College)

A three-year, $1 million study in the Yukon will investigate how a changing climate could impact future hydro power generation. 

Yukon College's Northern Climate ExChange has partnered with Yukon Energy and a graduate school at the University of Quebec to study the Mayo and Aishihik rivers, both of which have hydro facilities on them. 

"There was a concern around what could climate change mean for our hydro potential," says Andrew Hall, president and CEO of Yukon Energy, noting about 98 per cent of the territory's electricity comes from hydro power.

Hall says Yukon Energy plans ahead 20 years. 

"If the studies were to conclude that we were seeing major changes in our hydro resources we could accommodate or account for those."

Similar study shows river flows are increasing

Researchers will look at how changes in temperature, snow, rain and permafrost may impact each river in the future. 

Brian Horton, project coordinator with Northern Climate ExChange, says computer modelling will be used to understand rivers and the timing of when water will arrive in lakes and rivers. He says the University of Quebec brings that technical experience to the table. 

"Where we know that there are big gaps in past observations, we'll be going out to collect new weather information and merge that all together in the computer modelling environment."

A monitoring station used for the hydrology study carried out in the Southern Lakes area. (Yukon College)

The project is primarily taking place on the traditional territory of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and Champagne Aisihik First Nation. Horton said local input will also be a component of the study. 

A similar study, looking at the amount of snow, rain and glacier melt contributing to the flow of the Yukon River, wrapped up in the spring. It found river flows are increasing, particularly in the fall and winter. 

Horton says it's too early to know what the study of the Mayo and Aishihik basins will yield.

Funding for the project comes from grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada as well as funding and in-kind support from Yukon Energy. 

The study will conclude in late 2019. 

With files from Roch Shannon Fraser