The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway route will cross numerous streams and waterways, and pass by many lakes. It is therefore important study these water bodies to ensure the ITH project does not have negative effects on the water, terrain and habitat for fish and other creatures provided by these bodies of water.

The region of the ITH project includes three separate drainage areas within two watersheds. The majority drains into the Husky Lakes, while less than 10 percent drains into the Mackenzie River (primarily the area around Inuvik). The most northerly portion drains into Kugmallit Bay and Tuktoyaktuk Harbour.

The surface water in the region is influenced by long cold winters, short cool summers and relatively low precipitation. The low-lying terrain also influences the hydrology, causing a diffuse system of drainage patterns. The many shallow lakes and ponds, as well as deeper larger lakes such as Husky Lakes, Parsons, Noell and Jimmy lakes, are usually connected through small creeks.

Because permafrost lies between 30 to 150 centimetres below the surface, the amount of drainage below the surface is limited. Most spring runoff drains into nearby wetland and lake systems. In peat or interhummock channel areas, though, runoff tends to go into streams as well. Most of the smaller shallow lakes, ponds, and streams freeze to, or near to the bottom during the winter period. Larger streams such as Zed Creek and Hans Creek may not freeze to the bottom and maintain running water throughout the year. Chlorine and sodium, resulting from the nearby salt water Beaufort Sea, are the dominant ions found in the region’s lakes.

Total metal concentrations in the Lower Mackenzie sub-basin are typically lower than guideline levels for aquatic health and drinking water but seasonally high levels can occur with increased discharge and suspended sediment loads as occurs during spring run-off.