Several workshops held in 2010 and 2012, with representation from most of the boards, were held to discuss best practices for modelling at the IJC, focusing on hydraulic, hydrologic, and water quality. The SPARROW model was presented as one of the options and a decision was reached to pilot it with the Red-Assiniboine mapper.

After considering many existing water quality models, the IJC decided to use the SPARROW model, a model previously developed by the USGS. This model was selected because it had already undergone extensive peer review, and was appropriate for the scale and purpose of IJC applications. For example, SPARROW models are good at estimating regional nutrient loading and quantifying sources in large basins. In addition, much effort had already gone into the application of SPARROW in the US portion of the Red-Assiniboine basin.

This project was designated as a strategic priority for the IJC under the International Watersheds Initiative (IWI), a 21st century initiative that uses an ecosystem approach, recognizing that environmental systems, in this case watersheds, function as whole entities and should be managed as such, in order to understand the system as a whole. Their reach is not limited to watersheds located next to and straddling the international boundary between Canada and the U.S. With IWI funding, the IJC assembled and supported a strong scientific team to undertake an application of a SPARROW model in the Red-Assiniboine basin. In partnership with the USGS and the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC), and with active participation from several federal, states and provincial agencies, the work began in 2011.