We compared median runoff (R) and precipitation (P) relationships over 25 years from 20 mesoscale (50 to 5,000 km2) catchments on the
Boreal Plains, Alberta, Canada, to understand controls on water sink and source dynamics in water‐limited, low‐relief northern environments.
Long‐term catchment R and runoff efficiency (RP−1) were low and varied spatially by over an order of magnitude (3 to 119 mm/year, 1 to 27%).
Intercatchment differences were not associated with small variations in climate. The partitioning of P into evapotranspiration (ET) and R instead
reflected the interplay between underlying glacial deposit texture, overlying soil‐vegetation land cover, and regional slope. Correlation and
principal component analyses results show that peatland‐swamp wetlands were the major source areas of water. The lowest estimates of
median annual catchment ET (321 to 395 mm) and greatest R (60 to 119 mm, 13 to 27% of P) were observed in low‐relief, peatland‐swamp
dominated catchments, within both fine‐textured clay‐plain and coarse‐textured glacial deposits. In contrast, open‐water wetlands and deciduous‐
mixedwood forest land covers acted as water sinks, and less catchment R was observed with increases in proportional coverage of these
land covers. In catchments dominated by hummocky moraines, long‐term runoff was restricted to 10 mm/year, or 2% of P. This reflects the
poor surface‐drainage networks and slightly greater regional slope of the fine‐textured glacial deposit, coupled with the large soil‐water and
depression storage and higher actual ET of associated shallow open‐water marsh wetland and deciduous‐forest land covers. This
intercatchment study enhances current conceptual frameworks for predicting water yield in the Boreal Plains based on the sink and source
functions of glacial landforms and soil‐vegetation land covers. It offers the capability within this hydro‐geoclimatic region to design reclaimed
catchments with desired hydrological functionality and associated tolerances to climate or land‐use changes and inform land management decisions
based on effective catchment‐scale conceptual understanding.
Boreal Plains, catchment evapotranspiration, glacial landforms, intercatchment comparison, land cover, regional runoff