IJC Delivers Final Report to Governments on Souris River Water Supply and Flood Control Recommendations
The International Joint Commission (IJC) has released its final report and recommendations to the Governments of Canada and the United States in response to their joint reference in July 2017 to investigate water supply and flooding issues in the Souris River basin. The IJC was tasked by governments to coordinate the completion of the full scope of the IJC’s 2013 Plan of Study to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the Operating Plan contained in Annex A of the 1989 International Agreement between the Governments of Canada and the United States.
The IJC established the International Souris River Study Board in 2017 to undertake a binational study of water management in the Souris River basin, which is shared by the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the state of North Dakota. The Study Board delivered its final report, “Managing Water Supply and Flood Control in the Souris River Basin,” to the IJC in September 2021 for consideration of its findings and recommendations in preparation for delivery to governments.
Some of the Commission’s key findings from the study (as noted in a Highlights Report) include:
- The 1989 Operating Plan has performed well in providing water supply and flood control benefits. There are no major operational changes that would result in significant improvements in both water supply and flood control benefits across the basin. However, there are minor modifications that could make incremental improvements to the Agreement, which are identified in the Study Board’s report. These findings were yielded through the development of extensive modelling tools which were then used to analyze operating plan performance under various parameters.
- There is language in the existing 1989 Agreement that could benefit from clarification. A plain language review of the Agreement conducted by the Study Board provided clarity in many areas where a common understanding was not reached, but further governmental legal review will be required before some clarifications can be implemented.
- Further analysis of how the current operating plan, and any moderate changes to the plan, may affect water quality and aquatic ecosystem health in the basin is needed.
- Understanding the implications of climate change and artificial drainage in support of agriculture requires further work. An adaptive management approach is needed to ensure outcomes of decisions are reviewed, and that plans are adjusted as necessary.
- There are important gaps in the current system of water data collection and management that need to be addressed, and such data and information should be made widely accessible.
- Continued engagement from the public, basin agencies and Indigenous Nations is critical to the success of future water management in the Souris River basin.
The Commission supports the recommendations made by the Study Board in their final report and makes the following recommendations to governments in response to the study, including some regarding the International Souris River Board (ISRB – the permanent IJC board in the basin):
- That the International Souris River Board (ISRB) use the modelling tools developed in the study to continually assess operational performance of the Agreement through adaptive management studies.
- That governments strike an interagency task team to review the plain language consensus revisions and clarifications recommended by the Study Board.
- That governments consider the proposed operating plan alternatives and the trade-offs in determining whether they should be implemented through an update to the 1989 Agreement. The Commission recommends governments engage the IJC in further discussion to determine the necessity for a process to further evaluate and possibly implement alternatives.
- That the ISRB engage in climate change projects that improve data gathering in the basin, determine how climate change is impacting hydroclimatic conditions in the basin, develop modelling tools to better understand these conditions and pursue adaptive management of the operating plan. The expansion of network gauges in the basin should also be explored, and gaps in precipitation, streamflow, snow, soil moisture and evapotranspiration observations should be identified.
- That the IJC create an adaptive management committee under the ISRB that will assess changes to the basin’s hydrology, monitor the effectiveness of the operating plan, and recommend any changes necessary to the ISRB considering changing conditions in the basin.
- That the ISRB review and finalize the Natural Flow Procedures in the 1989 Agreement using the data and information developed through the study. The Commission recommends that the ISRB continue discussion around minimum flow requirements between North Dakota and Manitoba and that the ISRB investigate the effects of artificial drainage on the hydrology of the basin.
- That governments support the maintenance of existing federal, state and provincial water quality sampling programs and expansion of these programs. Concerning government-issued water quality objectives (WQOs), the IJC encourages governments to also expand their current WQO parameter lists to gain a greater understanding of water quality and ecosystem health conditions. The interconnectivity of water quantity and water quality modelling should also be explored by the ISRB.
- That members of the Study’s Public Advisory Group be appointed to a proposed ISRB Public Advisory and Outreach Committee (PAOC) to foster the continuity and retain the expertise these group members have on public interests in the basin. The ISRB will also work to make rainfall, flood forecasts and flow information more publicly accessible.
- That the IJC establish an Indigenous Advisory Committee to support the ISRB to enhance the awareness of the ISRB to Indigenous Peoples’ interests relating to the ISRB mandate.
“As the Commission seeks to address the recommendations put forward by the Study Board in consultation and dialogue with the governments, local citizens, states, provinces and Indigenous Nations, new or modified organizational options for the Board are being thoroughly explored. This effort is expected to assist the IJC to better address challenges now and in the future in this watershed, and to provide the best and most equitable actions that will benefit both countries," said IJC U.S. Commissioner Lance Yohe.
“Climate change continues to create uncertainty around the hydrology of the Souris River. The recommendations that have stemmed from this study will help bolster transboundary cooperation to continue the joint management of this important watershed. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with governments on moving forward on our findings and recommendations," added IJC Canadian Chair Pierre Béland.
Further details on the Commission’s recommendations can be read in the IJC’s Letter Report to governments on the International Souris River Study. The Commission appreciates the governments’ consideration of the findings and recommendations from the ISRSB as well as recommendations in the Letter Report. The Commission thanks governments for their continued collaboration throughout this study and looks forward to working with them to implement or consider recommendations where appropriate.
The International Joint Commission was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters the two countries share. Its responsibilities include investigating and reporting on issues of concern when asked by the governments of the two countries.