Preliminary Watershed Hydrology Model for Reclaimed Oil Sands Sites

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  • The main goal of this research project was to take the first steps towards development of an integrated hydrologic and water quality model to support oil sands mine reclamation efforts in Alberta. The model utilized in this study is a modified version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), which has been called SWATBF. This report provides a detailed description of the SWATBF model, a list of the key parameters (and their ranges) utilized in SWATBF and the availability of data sets in the oil sands geographic area to set up and operate SWATBF. Furthermore, an application of the model to five regional watersheds and an industrial reclaimed watershed is described and discussed. Recommendations for further research directions are also provided. Currently there are few high quality data sets available for reclaimed watersheds in the oil sands region that can be used to stringently test the performance of SWATBF or similar models. Although several good quality data sets do exist in the oil sands region, they were not available to the authors of this report for testing purposes. The model was applied to five regional watersheds in the oil sands geographic area for the period 1976 to 1993. The overall performance of the model for predicting the long-term water yield from these regional watersheds was deemed to be satisfactory based upon statistical comparisons of predicted and measured streamflow. The modelling results for the regional watersheds were encouraging and demonstrate that SWATBF has the potential to be utilized as a practical tool for conducting hydrologic assessments in the oil sands geographic area. It may also be suitable for water quality modelling purposes following future data collection. Limited data sets were available from the Wapisiw Lookout reclaimed watershed, which was constructed by Suncor Energy Inc. Using runoff estimates derived from changes in the water level of the Wapisiw wetland, it was possible to test calibrate SWATBF for 2011 and 2012. The results achieved for 2011 were deemed to be good. It is recommended that further testing of the model on reclaimed watersheds be undertaken using high quality data sets. The data that are scheduled to be collected from the Wapisiw Lookout watershed by the Forest Watershed and Riparian Disturbance (FORWARD) Project will be used to further improve the performance of SWATBF and extend its capabilities to chemical transport. However, it will take several years to collect the data sets necessary to further develop SWATBF into a useful management tool to support reclamation efforts in the oil sands. Several proprietary data sets exist in the oil sands that, if made available, may expedite this research effort. The authors have made several recommendations on how future research efforts should proceed to aid and further develop the capabilities of SWATBF for reclaimed watersheds in the oil sands region.

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    Attribution 3.0 International