The hydrological functioning of a constructed fen wetland watershed

Scott J. Ketcheson, Jonathan S. Price, Owen Sutton, George Sutherland, Eric Kessel, Richard M. Petrone

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

    43 Citations (Scopus)


    Mine reclamation requires the reconstruction of entire landforms and drainage systems. The hydrological regime of reclaimed landscapes will be a manifestation of the processes operating within the individual landforms that comprise it. Hydrology is the most important process regulating wetland function and development, via strong controls on chemical and biotic processes. Accordingly, this research addresses the growing and immediate need to understand the hydrological processes that operate within reconstructed landscapes following resource extraction. In this study, the function of a constructed fen watershed (the Nikanotee Fen watershed) is evaluated for the first two years following construction (2013–2014) and is assessed and discussed within the context of the construction-level design. The system design was capable of sustaining wet conditions within the Nikanotee Fen during the snow-free period in 2013 and 2014, with persistent ponded water in some areas. Evapotranspiration dominated the water fluxes from the system. These losses were partially offset by groundwater discharge from the upland aquifer, which demonstrated strong hydrologic connectivity with the fen in spite of most construction materials having lower than targeted saturated hydraulic conductivities. However, the variable surface infiltration rates and thick placement of a soil-capping layer constrained recharge to the upland aquifer, which remained below designed water contents in much of the upland. These findings indicate that it is possible to engineer the landscape to accommodate the hydrological functions of a fen peatland following surface oil sands extraction. Future research priorities should include understanding the storage and release of water within coarse-grained reclaimed landforms as well as evaluating the relative importance of external water sources and internal water conservation mechanisms for the viability of fen ecosystems over the longer-term.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)593-605
    Number of pages13
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec. 2017


    • Athabasca oil sands region
    • Catchment hydrology
    • Groundwater modelling
    • Mine reclamation
    • Modflow
    • Peatland


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