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Keywords:

  • water withdrawal;
  • ice roads;
  • water level fluctuations;
  • ice;
  • lakes;
  • northern resource development;
  • water use;
  • winterkill;
  • aquatic biota

Abstract:  The effects of water level fluctuations on fish and other aquatic biota, with an emphasis on winter water withdrawal in northern regions is reviewed. Water demands for population growth and development are adding pressure on water reserves, particularly when coupled with changing climatic conditions. Water level fluctuations can have adverse effects on the environment, most notably to hydrologic and biotic processes ranging in magnitude from the micro-scale to landscape level. Water level management of lakes and reservoirs can affect all forms of aquatic biota. The severity of effect is dependant on the magnitude, duration and timing of the fluctuation, and the species exposed. In northwestern Canada and northern Alaska, water is withdrawn from water bodies to construct ice-roads and other winter based developments. Biota in small, isolated water bodies are particularly sensitive to reductions in winter water levels. Water withdrawals can reduce the oxygen available to overwintering fish, while reduced water levels can reduce habitat for fish and furbearers, and freeze littoral areas killing plants, invertebrates, and fish eggs. Regulatory winter water withdrawal thresholds have been developed in the Northwest Territories and Alaska and continue to be refined as new data becomes available. The use of thresholds can help minimize or avoid negative impacts to the environment, particularly fish, from winter water withdrawal activities. Many different factors may influence the effect that winter water withdrawal has on a water body, such as basin shape, substrate and location. More research is warranted to better understand the linkages between anthropogenic and natural water level fluctuations and their combined effect on aquatic ecosystems. A general decision support system is proposed for minimizing risk to aquatic life from winter water withdrawal activities.