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Keeping an eye on climate change

At a glance
The challenge

Changes to the environment affect resource planning for businesses

The solution

Measurements of water levels in the past to predict the future

The outcome

Canfor is able to predict resource use for future industrial operations

What's next?

Ongoing corporate stewardship through sustainable resource planning

When most people talk about climate change, it’s in terms of generalities or long-term effects. But for businesses that depend on natural resources, changes to the environment can have a very real, imminent effect on the bottom line. Through Mitacs Accelerate, PhD student Sina Abadzadesahraei has given one company a detailed look at what’s been happening to water levels in northern BC in the past, so it can plan for the future.

Sina was beginning his program at the University of Northern BC’s Natural Resources and Environment Studies department when he was given the opportunity to apply his specialized knowledge of watershed management to an Accelerate project for lumber giant Canfor.

“We have a pulp mill in Prince George that draws water from the Nechako River,” says Mike Bradley, Director of Sustainability for Canfor Pulp. “That means the water level and its clarity are very important to us. We were concerned about how changes over time would affect our business.”

Sina researched the Nechako’s levels from 1915 to 2002 and found a definite pattern. “There’s been a steady decrease in water levels — in the last 50 years, the level has gone down by half a metre.”

He noted Canfor only takes one percent of the water from the Nechako for its mill. While other industries like agriculture, oil and gas, and dams draw an unknown quantity from the river, that didn’t account for the bulk of the drop.

Some of it is due to the effect of the mountain pine beetle on the area’s forests,” says Sina, “But the main reason is climate change.”

Mike says it’s valuable information. “The data indicated we wouldn’t need to change our operations for the time being. We had reason to be concerned, but not to panic.”

Sina points out other businesses in the area could benefit from the research. “The area’s dams, local agriculture, all of those operations are affected by water levels and can use this information to plan for the future.”

Mike adds that there are broader benefits to having a better understanding of the water basin.

“When we do a study like this, it lets us answer the question of how our rivers and forests are doing, it lets us know what our company’s water footprint looks like, and it gives us opportunities to be a good corporate citizen. Our clients want to see that we’re practicing good water stewardship, and with this information, we can show them.”

Sina says his Mitacs experience will also have long-term benefits for his research. “Having this background knowledge about northern watersheds will complement my work on similar projects in other parts of the province — it’ll give me a big-picture view of what’s happening in our environment, and how it’s affecting business.”

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program, and the Government of British Columbia for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.