Monitoring and Assessment of Beneficial Management Practices: Insights from the Tobacco Creek Watershed

Principal Investigator - Howard Wheater, Professor and Canada Excellence Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan; Director, G, 2012 - 2014

The risks of flooding and high nutrient runoff remain critical challenges in many regions of the prairies. Although nutrient concentrations are naturally high in much of this region, agricultural activity has led to increases in nutrient export, and to concerns regarding eutrophication.

In the Lake Winnipeg Basin, nutrient pollution is a key management challenge. Problems of excess nutrients are not easily resolved, particularly where non-point source inputs are significant.  Mitigating the effects of agriculture on aquatic ecosystems can be achieved through a variety of management strategies and structures often called Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs).  Despite the widespread use of BMPs, relatively little information on their impacts exists. The existing data suggests that landscape characteristics and climate are critical determinants of BMP success. These characteristics, combined with economic realities and local priorities must be integrated into our understanding of BMP application, and reflected in associated monitoring strategies.

The goal of this project, led by Dr. Howard Wheater, is to design an environmental monitoring network for the Tobacco Creek watershed, and present a conceptual model that is transferrable to other parts of the Red River Valley.  The design of a monitoring program for the assessment of BMPs will require a strong quantitative understanding of expected responses, and a monitoring network capable of detecting these responses at the appropriate spatial and temporal scale.


Researchers will assess existing data from the Tobacco Creek catchment, and work to better understand drivers of spatial and temporal variation in water and nutrient fluxes, and the accuracy of current nutrient budgets. Monitoring objectives and Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) of interest will be discussed with the Tobacco Creek Node to help focus on specific monitoring goals. The team will then use available data, model-based assessment, and these goals to develop a sampling strategy that will detect anticipated BMP outcomes and fill gaps in information. 

The team will sample to fill in key data gaps and examine functional indicators including sediment phosphorus, de-nitrification rates, and ecosystem metabolism. These indicators will be assessed for their utility in characterizing environmental stressors (e.g. nutrients), quantifying effectiveness of specific BMPs, and finally, the ability to inform water quality model parameterization. 

At the end of the project, the team expects to have improved models for application to the Tobacco Creek, designed a monitoring program to detect the multi-scale effects of BMPs, and used model-based numerical experimentation to ensure the monitoring network is capable of detecting BMP impacts. The team will assess functional indicators, to improve the understanding of ecological function and sediment nutrient retention, and evaluate new, sensor-based technology. In the final step, the team will generalize the findings to facilitate broader application across the Red River Valley, assessing the strengths of model and indicator performance in the Tobacco Creek watershed, and informing monitoring program design across larger landscapes.


Anticipated outputs include:

  • Development of models and a monitoring program that will influence monitoring within the Tobacco Creek Model Watershed (TCMW) and beyond into the Red River Valley.
  • Contribution to Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) report entitled ‘Water and Agriculture in Canada: Towards Sustainable Management of Water Resources.’
  • Meetings with TCMW and landowners to report and discuss research findings.

Anticipated outcomes include:

  • Identifying which Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) are most effective, and may ultimately influence the choices of landowners of which BMPs to install on their property, leading to improved water quality.
  • Changes in practice due to the development and use of the models and monitoring program.
  • Potential changes in policy as a result of the CCA report.

research team and partners:

Research Team

Howard Wheater, Professor and Canada Excellence Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan; Director, Global Institute for Water Security
John Pomeroy, Professor, Canada Research Chair, and Director of the Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan
Helen Baulch, Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Environment Canada
Tobacco Creek Model Watershed Partners:
Manitoba Beef Producers
Keystone Agricultural Producers
Manitoba Egg Farmers
Manitoba Pork Council
Environment Canada
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Migal Galilee Technology Center Ltd
Central Eurasia Leadership Academy
Western Michigan University
Manitoba Hydro
Red River Basin Commission
International Institute for Sustainable Development
Ducks Unlimited Canada
Manitoba Water Stewardship
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Thomas Sill Foundation Inc.
Rural Municipality of Dufferin
Rural Municipality of Lorne
Rural Municipality of Roland
Rural Municipality of Thompson