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Stream Modifications to Enhance Fish Habitat in Arctic Headwater Systems Open Access


Other title
Headwater Streams
Nature-Like Fishpass
Ephemeral Headwater Streams
Habitat Connectivity
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Courtice, Gregory J
Supervisor and department
Zhu, David (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Zhu, David (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Tonn, William (Biological Sciences)
Rajaratnam, Nallamuthu (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Water Resources Engineering
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Disruptions to Canada’s pristine northern regions have been steadily increasing due to industrial activities. Many of these impacts lead to destruction or harmful alteration of aquatic ecosystems. Recently, efforts have been made to reduce and offset aquatic habitat impacts through habitat compensation projects. This thesis investigated two habitat compensation projects in the Barrenlands region of Canada to explore the hydraulic responses to stream modifications and determine the efficacy of constructing these works in remote locations with a limited understanding of site characteristics. First, an investigation was conducted to explore various stream modification efforts to enhance ecosystem connectivity of an isolated system of three small lakes by enhancing system connectivity. The lakes’ ephemeral outlet streams were modified, intending to create conditions favorable for fish passage and thereby promote movement among the lakes and the large lake into which they drain. Variation of lake levels and duration, variability, and depth of stream flow indicated that outlet geometry and lake catchment area should be important considerations when enhancing connectivity for fish in ephemeral systems. A narrow, rectangular outlet cross-section was deemed effective for increasing flow depth while decreasing discharge, resulting in increased duration of flows. Catchment area was an effective indicator of a headwater lake’s potential response to connectivity enhancements. Smaller catchments may provide inadequate runoff to sustain minimum storage requirements for enhanced connectivity. Second, we investigated efforts to enhance spawning habitat and connectivity to a headwater stream. An on-site, field engineering approach at the time of construction was developed for design of these modifications. This approach addressed challenges associated with remote construction and limited information on site characteristics, focusing on communicating to the construction crew the intent of the designs, rather than a detailed design, to facilitate modification and optimization of structures when confronted with unforeseen challenges. Primary design considerations included (1) controlling flows in periods of high and low discharges; (2) minimizing drop heights; (3) improving flow variability for enhanced stream habitat; and (4) salvaging and incorporating vegetation disturbed from construction activities into riparian and in-stream habitat structures. Preliminary observations showed suitable depths for fish passage were present over the entire stream during the study period indicating discharges were controlled effectively at all stream gradients. These findings should advance the knowledge of headwater system hydraulics in the Barrenlands and assist in designing future fish habitat compensation projects on similar Arctic systems.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Courtice et al. 2014: “Stream modifications to enhance system connectivity for fish habitat compensation: a case study in the Barrenlands region of Canada” Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 41(7): 650-659.

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