• Jordan d’Almeida

Redberry Lake Region Land and Infrastructure Resilience Assessment (LIRA) Project

Redberry lake, Regional Parks of Saskatchewan

Download PDF • 3.07MB

Executive Summary

This case study examines Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve’s (RLBR) Land and Infrastructure Resiliency Assessment (LIRA) project (2010-2013). This case study is part of a broader body of research focused on understanding best management practices in adaptive management specifically regarding water management in Saskatchewan. The findings of the case rely on a qualitative analysis of primary reports and budget documentation, as well as, on personal interviews conducted with key stakeholders in September 2019.

At the time of the project, LIRA was a methodology being proposed by Agriculture and AgriFood Canada (AAFC), as a pilot project to create a national standard for flood management. LIRA is a technology-based decision-making tool. The assessment uses GIS mapping to connect infrastructure, economic, demographic and environmental data. This data is then used in computer models to project the damage costs to infrastructure from extreme run-off events (floods) in the future. The cost of damage is then compared to the cost of a series of upstream adaptations that, theoretically, limit the damage of the flood scenario. If an adaptation cost less than the damage cost, the adaptation is thought to be worthwhile.

RLBR connected with the LIRA unit of AAFC to create a LIRA pilot project in the prairie pothole region. RLBR served as the intermediary organization to receive funding and connect stakeholders. With technical input from the municipalities in the region and funding from several partners, hi-resolution digital elevation maps were created of a portion of the RLBR. The portion covers the towns of Borden and Radisson and part of the Yellowhead Highway 16. Adaptations were developed that, according to LIRA’s modeling, would limit the negative impacts of an extreme run-off event in the area.

Through the interview and literature review process, several themes emerged from this case that can inform future best practices in water management. Findings can be summarized as such:

  • LIRA’s theoretical maps were verified by a real life ERE: Advanced theoretical modeling can be used to support water management decisions and the decision-making process more broadly.

  • Project Champions overcame institutional silos: Champions are essential for navigating complex partnerships and inter-organizational projects and should be identified and empowered.

Limited Implementation: Barriers to implementation need to be addresses early in a project. These include lack of trust between institutions, communication between stakeholders, project design, and funding arrangements.


This report will document Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve’s (RLBR) Land and Infrastructure Resiliency Assessment (LIRA) Project (2010-2013). The project was spearheaded by the RLBR Association, with support from several Government agencies and private contractors and sought to create a pro-active flood management plan for the region which encompasses several rural municipalities, towns and villages. Unlike traditional flood planning, the RLBR flood plan was created using a decision making methodology called LIRA.

The RLBR LIRA project identified three potential adaptations for flood water mitigation based on 25-year projections. Though the project is theoretical and relies on future forecasting and computer modeling for predicting flood events, the project’s models were confirmed in 2013 when an extreme run-off event in the area proved in practice the program’s theoretical flood map correct. Theoretical flood maps created by the computer models matched the actual floods. The extreme run-off event, increases our confidence in the LIRA methodology and the forecasting precision of the computer models.

Qualitative analysis of the project and interview data from key stakeholders provides insight for best management practices. The champions involved in the project were essential for the project’s success. The champions overcame institutional silos and not only connected key stakeholders from diverse fields but also accessed funding and in-kind support from several agencies. The project produced high level and usable mapping data and a reliable flood prevention plan for a portion of the region. Lessons are also gleaned from the project’s pitfalls. The project had trouble implementing the pro-active flood plan. Interview data points to de-incentivizing funding structures for pro-active management and a lack of trust or “buy in” as potential explanations for the implementation issues.

Key Concepts

  • ERE: Extreme Rain (or Runoff) event is a rain or runoff event with technical definitions in the LIRA report - measured as mm of runoff within a time period.

  • LIDAR: Light Detection and Ranging is a precise, laser based technology, used for mapping land elevations. It is more precise than elevation maps created by radar technology which are more common in Canada. Lidar data is collected by aircraft and lidar maps are data dense. Specialists are required to interpret the data and to create the interface between lidar data points and GIS visual maps.

  • PRAIRIE POTHOLE REGION: A geographic region in the Canadian prairie landscape with complex “fill and spill” hydrology. Many watersheds in the region are closed systems and have limited topographical variance.

  • WDPM: Wetland Digital (Elevation Map) Ponding Model is a computer model developed to predict the flow of water in a closed watershed.


Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve

In January 2000, the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), designated the RLBR as a biosphere reserve, which is an internationally recognized environmentally protected site (UNESCO, 2015). The closed watershed region is one of 18 designated biospheres in Canada. Unlike other lakes in Saskatchewan, Redberry lake is saline and creates unique biodiversity in the Province. The region is also a designated bird sanctuary that protects over 180 species of birds (Prairie Wild Consulting Co, 2010). The area is home to some of the most unique and diverse landscape and wildlife in Saskatchewan, as well as Canada (Prairie Wild Consulting Co, 2010).

The RLBR covers an area of 1122 km², is home to approximately 4,432 inhabitants and includes municipalities, villages, towns and First Nation Reserves (Agriculture and Agri-food Canada [AAFC], 2013). These include the Rural Municipality of Great Bend No. 405, Rural Municipality of Meeting Lake No. 466, Rural Municipality of Douglas No. 436, Town of Hafford, Town of Radisson, Village of Borden, Village of Maymont, Village of Speers and Village of Richard (Map 1) and major highways include Yellowhead Highway 16 (Map2).

Map 1- Redberry Planning District Source- Prarie Wildlife Consulting, 2010)

Map 2- Location Map of Redberry Reserve with various towns and municipalities with Yellowhead Highway 16 Source - Esri ArcGIS, 2021

The population of Redberry has changed from 461 to 342 between 2001 to 2016. Figure 1 shows the population in the Reddbery Lake Region.

Figure 1- Population of Redberry Source- Statscan, 2017

Like many rural regions in Saskatchewan, the RLBR saw a depopulation of 6.8% from 2001 to 2006 (Statistics Canada. 2017). However, after 2006, the Province as a whole experienced greater than usual population growth. As the provincial growth rates continue, the region could expect 2% annual growth rate (Prairie Wild Consulting Co. 2010). The Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve area has seen population decline over the past years, as has been the trend for rural, predominantly agricultural areas. However, due to recent surges of growth in the province and a movement into satellite communities located next to Saskatchewan’s larger cities, the area has started to experience growth once more in population and increase in development – residential and commercial. Despite the modest projections for population growth, the RLBR is an ageing population. The largest population group is between 40 and 69 years of age.

The average household income in the region lies in the 150K bracket (Figure 2).

Figure 2- Household Income Source- StatsCan, 2021

Of the total population in the Redberry Lake Region, 7.4% identified as having an Aboriginal identity on the 2006 Census, a trend that also reflected across the SK where rural areas have low Aboriginal populations as these populations are mostly on reserves. The Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve includes within its area a number of Treaty lands, namely the Lucky Man Cree Nation. In term of language and diversity, RLBR’s 82.4% of the population identified English as their Mother Tongue, 3.7% identified French as their mother tongue and 13.9% said their mother tongue was something other than English of French (Prarie Wild Consulting, 2010).

The population in the Redberry Lake Region of 15 and over totals 3495 residents out of which 2350 (67.2%) are in the labour force. 94.7% of the labour force is employed, which makes the unemployment rate comparable to the Saskatchwewan provincial average of 5.1%. Of all employed labour force members. Figure 3 displays the Redberry Lake Region labour force by industry of employment and shows that agriculture and public administration occupy the highest labor force.

Figure 3- Labor Force by Industry Source-Statscan, 2017

The region’s economic activity revolves around primary industry, especially agriculture and resources. Over 40% of residents are employed in the agriculture and resource sector, 16% in sales and service and 15% in trades, transport and equipment operators. (Prairie Wild Consulting Co. 2010). Agriculture and resources is shown to be the top industry by an overwhelming margin, at 42.4%. The next top industries are business services (9.2%), healthcare and social services (8.6%) and other services (8.2%). This trend matches closely the other municipalities in the North West Enterprise Region.

The top occupations in the Redberry Lake Region were primary industry that includes agriculture and resources at 40.8%, sales and service (15.9%) and trades, transport and equipment operators (15.2%). Considering the population differences between rural and urban centres the only occupation that stands out is the majority of rural residents involved in primary industry (Prairie Consulting 2010).

In 2006, the median family income of some of towns was 38786 (RM of Redberry) and 37027 (Town of Halford) with the RM of Meeting Lake lowest and the Town of Radisson being the highest. while for the province of Saskatchewan was $58563, placing all of the communities in the Redberry Lake Region below the provincial average. The average percentage of residents considered low income after tax in the area was 8.7%, with a range from 0 to 18.8%.

Although the RLBR encompasses several municipalities and agricultural areas. because of cost and time constraints of the project, only a portion of the RLBR was mapped with LIDAR technology for LIRA.

The area around the towns of Radisson and Borden as well as a portion of the Yellowhead Highway 16 was surveyed with high resolution digital imaging.

Land Infrastructure and Resiliency Assesment (LIRA)

LIRA was developed by Dr. Harvey Hill in his role as Manager with the National Agro-climate Information Service, Science and Technology Branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada(Hill, personal correspondence, 2019). The methodology developed out of a need for decision makers to be able to calculate and understand the cost and benefit of long-term investments into pro-active flood management (AAFC, 2013). Mr. Hill was interested in creating a national standard for pro-active flood planning and developed the LIRA model to build resiliency into systems in the face of natural disaster.

Figure 4: Basic comparative process (Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. 2013. P70)

The key innovation of the LIRA model is its computer based economic analysis. LIRA uses computer modeling to compare the cost of the baseline (status quo) with the cost and benefit of adaptations. It can give stakeholders a prioritized matrix of possible adaptations with each adaptation’s cost and benefit over a desired timespan. LIRA gives decision makers a data driven tool to make informed decisions about future risk and an ability to optimize investment levels. LIRA can determine if the cost of an adaptation will be greater or less than the economic benefit of the adaptation (Figure 4). By 2010 there had been at least two LIRA projects conducted in Canada- one in Nova Scotia and the other in Assiniboine River Watershed. Each project identified adaptations based on the specific landscape of the region. The prairie pothole region, however, is a hydrologically unique region (Pomeroy et al., 2013) and required a separate pilot project to prove the effectiveness of LIRA methodology.

Harvey Hill made a presentation to the Saskatchewan Association of Watersheds (SAW) which is Saskatchewan’s regulatory body for water management. He was looking for a pilot project to test LIRA in the Prairie Pothole Region (J. Kindrachuck, personal communication, 2019). John Kindrachuck was present at the SAW meeting as a representative of the North Saskatchewan Watershed. Although no watershed per se was identified at the meeting as a suitable host for a LIRA project, John Kindrachuck, who was also the director of the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve (RLBR) Association identified the biosphere as a potential pilot study location. The RLBR was in the process of conducting regional planning at the time of the meeting and was also a closed watershed. This made the region a prime candidate to host a LIRA project.

Organization and Funding

Funding for the project came from both in-kind contributions and direct financial contributions- $1,227,000.00 over three years of total in-kind and cash funding (Appendix 1). Major financial contributors include, AAFC, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Enterprise Saskatchewan, Federation of Municipalities, and the Saskatchewan Association of Watersheds. From 2010 to 2013, CAD $705,000.00 in direct funding was provided for the project (Appendix 1). The RLBR Association served as the umbrella organization, connecting all the separate funders and stakeholders (Figure 5).

Figure 5: RLBR LIRA Project Funding Flow Chart (Created by author)

AAFC contributed CAD $200,000.00 to the LIRA project though the Community Development Program (Rural Secretariat Funding). Though now expired, the program was designed to help rural communities get access to information, develop expertise and to respond to rural challenges (AAFC. 2019). Western Economic Diversification Canada contributed $250,000.00 based on its mandate to promote the economic development of Western Canada. Enterprise Saskatchewan contributed $200,000.00 and Federation of Municipalities, and the Saskatchewan Association of Watersheds provided the remaining $55,000.00 (Figure 5).

In-kind contributions to the project accounted for $522,000.00 of funding (Appendix 1). Several agencies were involved in in-kind contributions for the project (Table 1).

Table 1: In-kind Contributions Source: Author

A sizeable portion of the project expenses was covered by in-kind contributions, however, major cash expenditures included paying consultants and professional fees. Vemax Management, Prairie Wild Consulting and a LIDAR contractor, were hired to provide expertise to the project. Although the budget document (Appendix 1) reports in gross numbers and does not directly state how much each contractor was paid, interview data from R4 confirmed that major cash expenses were paid to consultants (R4, personal interview, 2019).

The LIRA Methodology is described below (Figure 6).

Figure 6: LIRA Project Steps. (Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, 2013, p.31)

LIRA methodology is based on five steps. Step one defines the baseline. To do this, specialist determine the trajectory of the social, economic, and environmental status quo for the region. Data from municipalities and local associations were compiled along with economic, social and environmental indicators (AAFC, 2013, p.32). AAFC, RLBR and Prairie Wild Consulting Inc. consolidated map data from several sources to create GIS maps of land use, topography, parcel fabric, transportation, residences, and economic data (AAFC, 2013, p. 45). These data-rich maps were used to create a baseline projection. The baseline projection does not only look at environmental changes, but also population changes and economic growth for the region. The baseline forecasted what the region in general would look like in 25 years and the cost to the region due to flood events.

Once the baselines were established, the project moved to phase two. Using data from Environment Canada, baseline water depths were selected and extreme run-off events were defined as 100mm and 300mm events (AAFC, 2013, p.53). One important limitation to the hydrological modeling is that the model did not account for ground moisture levels. The model assumes that no rain or run-off will soak into the ground.

Because of the relatively flat landscape of the RLBR, the precision of the elevation map was a limiting factor for the model’s accuracy. The majority of the RLBR had elevation data from SRTM V3 technology (AAFC, 2013, p.67). This technology is based on radar but had several limitations because of the relatively low resolution of the imaging. LIDAR mapping can create an accurate map with less than 15cm of variance (Webster, 2012). This the higher resolution map gives a more accurate reading of the ground level variance. This is important especially on the prairies, because of the relatively low variance in the landscape and the fill and spill hydrology. LIDAR, however, is expensive. At the time of the project, it cost about $200-$500/ sqkm (Webster, 2012, p.73). Consequently, only a subsection of the biosphere was selected for LIDAR mapping. Radisson and Borden and the Yellowhead Highway 16 were selected for LIDAR mapping and therefore the adaptation options were restricted to that area and not provided for the entire RLBR.

The community engagement was brought in by holding town hall meetings. These meetings were held to verify the baseline flood maps against local knowledge of past floods. The theoretical maps were largely confirmed by local knowledge (R3, personal interview, 2019). Town hall meetings were also used to understand possible adaptations to eliminate the risks of future floods.

Steps three and four has to do with evaluating the cost of the baseline against the cost of adaptations in the occurrence of different levels of ERE . The model calculates the likelihood of several EREs, and the respective damage costs these events would have. The nature of the computer model allows researchers to “roll the dice” and observe the cost of flooding in thousands of scenarios (R5, personal interview, 2019).

Three adaptations were simulated using the Wetland Digital (Elevation Map) Ponding Model with varying results. The first adaptation option (AO1) included building a retention pond, a dyke to divert the flow of floodwaters, and a drainage ditch. The economic outcomes of a matrix of variables were calculated. The matrix includes; 1-in-25 to 1-in-100 years ERE; and the reduction in flooding due to the adaptation option from 50% reduction up to 100% reduction. In some scenarios the cost of AO1 was greater than the baseline and in other cases the opposite.

Adaptation option 2 (AO2) was the most promising and had to do with zoning and future planning. New building plans would not permit high value buildings to be built on high-risk flood zones. The model predicted this scenario to be the most cost effective and showed positive returns for all variable combinations. Finally, adaptation option 3 (AO3) looked at clearing a natural creek to increase the flow of floodwaters. AO3 was demonstrably the most inefficient. It scored a net loss in all variable combinations.

With this data in hand, stakeholders could move onto phase 5 of the LIRA project: reach informed decisions. If the model was right, stakeholders could see what options where the most effective and make better decisions. If the cost of the adaptation was less than the base cost, the adaptation is thought to be worthwhile. If the adaptation is more expensive than the base cost, decision makers should avoid that adaptation.

The RLBR LIRA project required the cooperation and partnership of several stakeholders. Grant monies were used to hire a private contractor to survey the designated area and produce the raw data points for the elevation map. That data was then prepared into a GIS map by inkind work from the Science and Technology Branch of AAFC. Municipalities, Water Security Agency and other local agencies provided local knowledge of possible adaptations and also the RMs provided land use maps for the project. Vemax Management Inc. was responsible for consolidating the map data and running the simulations and analysis. The computer hydrology model was provided by the University of Saskatchewan. Once the simulations had been run the report was given to Prairie Wild Consulting who produced the Final LIRA report for the RLBR (Figure 7).

Figure 7: LIRA Project Flow Chart. (Created by author)

In May 2013, less than a year from the completion of the project. Radisson and Borden suffered an ERE and declared a state of emergency (AAFC, 2013, p. 21). This event proved the accuracy of the GIS mapping as predicted flood maps matched real life flood maps with a high level of accuracy. This confirmation lends a greater degree of confidence in the mapping process and the recommendations of the LIRA project.


The LIRA project was selected as a “success story” for water management by the Implementing Community Citizen Engaged Best Management Practices through Adaptive Management Project research team.Detailed research for this case study started in June 2019 and consisted of reviews of agency reports, technical papers, budget documents, and presentations. Phone call and email correspondence from key project implementers clarified information and filled gaps in the documentation. A series of interviews with government officials, elected officials and private contractors were also conducted. Qualitative evaluation of the interviews and literature are the basis for the conclusions and discussion at the end of this report.

The Research Process

Five interviews were conducted for this case study. The interviews were selected to capture the perspective of major partners in the project. Interview questions were designed to understand the specific roles of each partner and their experience working in the project. The interviews were conducted over the phone in July to September 2019 (Table 2).

Table 2: Interviewees Source: Author