Understanding Watershed Functioning and Vulnerability in an Intensively Managed Agricultural Landscape

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University of Guelph


Changes in temperature as well as precipitation patterns are anticipated to have a profound influence on important water cycle processes, such as stream flow and groundwater elevations. To improve the understanding of these potential impacts and the influence of concurrent stressors, such as land use change, comprehensive investigations including both field- and model-based activities are essential. This research aims to examine watershed vulnerability in a rural setting to provide an enhanced understanding of watershed function and response to changing stimuli. Specific objectives are to: (1) Examine changes in watershed behaviour under diverse mid-century, future climate projections using a 3D integrated hydrologic model; (2) Evaluate changing watershed conditions in the assessment of future groundwater contamination risk; and (3) Illustrate the utility of the routine incorporation of stable water isotopes and 222Rn in monthly watershed monitoring. The Upper Parkhill watershed in southwestern Ontario, which has been previously identified as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, serves as the focal point for this investigation. Insight is presented pertaining to meteorological forcing practices for large scale integrated models; the incorporation of agricultural land management and future cropping scenarios in groundwater contamination risk assessment; and the value of isotopic tracers as a complement to traditional water quality monitoring variables. Results may inform strategies for climate change studies in the Great Lakes Basin to support water cycle modelling, monitoring, and groundwater contamination risk assessment. The outcomes are important for water managers and rural well users given the implications for ensuring sustainable water quantity and quality, especially in the time of a climate emergency.



watershed-scale study, climate change, land use change, integrated modelling, contamination risk assessment, isotopes, groundwater, groundwater-surface water interactions


Persaud E, Levison J, MacRitchie S, Berg SJ, Erler AR, Parker B, Sudicky E. 2020. Integrated modelling to assess climate change impacts on groundwater and surface water in the Great Lakes Basin using diverse climate forcing. J Hydrol (Amst). 584:124682. Doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.124682.
Persaud E, Levison J. 2021. Impacts of changing watershed conditions in the assessment of future groundwater contamination risk. J Hydrol (Amst). 603:127142. Doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2021.127142.
Persaud E, Levison J, Ali G, Robinson C. 2023. Using isotopic tracers to enhance routine watershed monitoring �?? Insights from an intensively managed agricultural catchment. J Environ Manage. 344:118364. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.118364.