Year of Publication: 2008
An example of watershed disturbance activity undertaken to gain access to the oil sands is large scale mining in the Athabasca basin, Alberta, Canada. One of the remedial activities of this disturbance is the reclamation of the disturbed lands. In the process of reclamation, the overburden soil is placed back into the mined pits and reformed with soil covers (alternatively called reconstructed watersheds). In the design process of reclamation, a major concern is hydrological sustainability, which includes the soils ability to store enough moisture for the water requirements of vegetation growth and land-atmospheric moisture fluxes. Typically, the goal of the reclamation is to restore the disturbed watersheds, so that they mimic the natural watersheds in terms of the ecological sustainability. Therefore, a comparative evaluation of the hydrological sustainability of the reconstructed watersheds with natural watersheds is required. The considered reconstructed watershed in this study (the flat top of the South Bison Hill, Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is about 6 years old) constitutes a thin layer of a peat-mineral mix (20 cm thick) overlying an 80 cm thick secondary (glacial till) layer on the shale formation, mimicking the natural soil horizons of undisturbed watersheds. As the reconstructed watershed is located in the boreal forest region, a mature boreal forest (Old Aspen site, about 88 years old) located in the Southern Study Area (SSA), BOREAS, Saskatchewan, Canada, is considered as a representative of natural watershed. The A-horizon with 25 cm of sandy loam texture, the B-horizon with 45 cm-thick sandy clay loam, and the C-horizon with 40 cm of a mixture of sandy clay loam and loam are considered in this study. An existing System Dynamics Watershed (SDW) model (lumped and site-specific) is modified and adapted to model the hydrological processes of the reconstructed and natural watersheds, such as soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and runoff.