The Fill–Spill Hydrology of Prairie Wetland Complexes during Drought and Deluge


Dean A. Shaw, School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, Room 323, Kirk Hall 117 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 5C8.



The fill–spill of surface depressions (wetlands) results in intermittent surface water connectivity between wetlands in the prairie wetland region of North America. Dynamic connectivity between wetlands results in dynamic contributing areas for runoff. However, the effect of fill–spill and the resultant variable or dynamic basin contributing area has largely been disregarded in the hydrological community.

Long-term field observations recorded at the St. Denis National Wildlife Area, Saskatchewan, allow fill–spill in the basin to be identified and quantified. Along with historical water-level observations dating back to 1968, recent data collected for the basin include snow surveys, surface water survey and production of a light detection and ranging–derived digital elevation model. Data collection for the basin includes both wet and dry antecedent basin conditions during spring runoff events.

A surface water survey at St. Denis in 2006 reveals a disconnected channel network during the spring freshet runoff event. Rather than 100% of the basin contributing runoff to the outlet, which most hydrological models assume, only approximately 39% of the basin contributes to the outlet. Anthropogenic features, such as culverts and roads, were found to influence the extent and spatial distribution of contributing areas in the basin. Historical pond depth records illustrate the effect of antecedent basin conditions on fill–spill and basin contributing area. A large pond at the outlet of the St. Denis basin, which only receives local runoff during dry years when upstream surface storage has not been satisfied, has pond runoff volumes that increase by a factor of 20 or more during wet years when upstream antecedent basin surface storage is satisfied and basin-wide runoff contributes to the pond. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.