SWEEP – The Slave Watershed Environmental Effects Program – Paul Jones

Principal Investigator - Paul Jones, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan

Cumulative effects are often individually minor but become collectively significant if accumulated over space and time.  It is these actions that are putting the Slave River watershed under stress today.  The watershed issues related to the Slave River Delta of the Northwest Territories are varied; the challenges are associated with resource development, man-made changes in hydrology in the head waters and global climate change.  The repeated prolonged and diverse impacts on the river have eroded First Nations belief in the quality of the river’s waters and related biota.

The Slave River Delta is essential to surrounding First Nations communities economically, socially, and culturally.  Key community concerns include: water quality, hydrology, sediment load, wildlife, air, climate, vegetation, fish, and insects.  Aboriginal communities, whose waters and lands are impacted, need a means to assess the current situation, monitor future changes, and acquire information to inform management decisions. 

The project team, led by Dr. Paul Jones, will focus on the development of capabilities within communities to provide data that will be used to establish a watershed monitoring program for the Slave River Delta.


This project seeks to develop a community-based program that will empower communities to collect, interpret, and use a system of aquatic environmental indicators to address key concerns and priorities in the Slave River and Delta watershed.  Indicators will focus on cumulative effects and potential contributions from different stressors.   This project will develop two types of indicators.   Type 1 indicators will be measured by the community; they may be a direct biological measurement, or they may include observations based on local and traditional knowledge.  Traditional knowledge will be respectfully gathered through both sharing circles and one-to-one interviews.  In the past, information gathered through sharing circles has informed First Nation communities themselves, as well as policy makers provincially, territorially, and nationally.  Type 2 indicators will be based on mainstream science, and will provide a baseline assessment of the condition of the river system.  Type 2 indicators include measures of water quality, bottom-dwellers, hydrology, and fish health. 

This project intends to unify both type 1 and 2 indicators through a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN).  BBN’s can integrate qualitative and quantitative information, and can be used to identify where uncertainty is greatest and if more data is required. 


Anticipated outputs include:

  • Presentations to larger communities as well as meetings with smaller communities to share research processes and actionable results.
  • SWEEP will partner with Aurora College and the Deninu School to provide physical hubs for the community based monitoring programs.  Faculty of these institutions are facilitating the engagement of western scientists with students and the wider community. 
  • To facilitate their involvement SWEEP will provide the necessary equipment and training for staff to incorporate suitable monitoring activities into their science and math curricula.  This will also be facilitated by the presence of western scientists in the communities for the two years of the development project.

Anticipated Outcomes Include:

  • Development of a sustainable community-based monitoring program.  The program will incorporate relevant existing data, traditional knowledge, and western science and will develop a system to integrate, interpret and explain that data to communities.
  • The project is a collaborative effort among researchers and the community, and thus the community will experience the project outcomes.  Bringing together community members to exchange knowledge will provide a mechanism for youth and elder engagement. 
  • Addressing the unique social and environmental issues and developing community based environmental indicators will provide tools and procedures significant to water governance across Canada.  In particular, development of relevant community-based bioindicators, based on a variety of environmental stressors of relevance to the north, will assist in the establishment of similar programs across the north.

research team and partners:

Research Team

Paul Jones, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Tim Jardine, Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Lalita Bharadwaj, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Lorne Doig, Resident Scientist, University of Saskatchewan
Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt, Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan


Deninu School, Fort Resolution
Aurora College / Aurora Research Institute, Fort Smith
Slave River Delta Partnership
Smith’s Landing First Nation
Northwest Territories Métis Nation
Fort Resolution Métis
Deninu K’ue First Nation
Salt River First Nation
Government of the Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources
Land and Water Division
Government of the Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources – South Slave Region
Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development Canada
Water Resources
Environment Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Yellowknife Territory
Wood Buffalo National Park
Aurora College
Aurora Research Institute

(5-page report)

CWN EN SlaveRiver 2016