• drought;
  • paleohydrology;
  • dendrochronology;
  • tree rings;
  • streamflow;
  • climate change;
  • Saskatchewan River system;
  • Canadian Prairies

ABSTRACT: Information regarding long term hydrological variability is critical for the effective management of surface water resources. In the Canadian Prairie region, growing dependence on major river systems for irrigation and other consumptive uses has resulted in an increasing vulnerability to hydrological drought and growing interprovincial tension. This study presents the first dendrochronological records of streamflow for Canadian Prairie rivers. We present 1,113-year, 522-year, and 325-year reconstructions of total water year (October to September) streamflow for the North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Rivers, respectively. The reconstructions indicate relatively high flows during the 20th Century and provide evidence of past prolonged droughts. Low flows during the 1840s correspond with aridity that extended over much of the western United States. Similarly, an exceptional period of prolonged low flow conditions, approximately 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D., is coincident with evidence of sustained drought across central and western North America. The 16th Century megadrought of the western United States and Mexico, however, does not appear to have had a major impact on the Canadian rivers. The dendrohydrological records illustrate the risks involved if future water policy and infrastructure development in the Canadian Prairies are based solely on records of streamflow variability over the historical record.