Feature Articles

Wetlands – Bigger is not Necessarily Better

By Ann Sullivan

To the person who wants to hike without getting wet feet, or the developer who wants solid ground on which to build, wetlands are a nuisance – soggy areas that seem little more than breeding grounds for mosquitoes. But to the habitat and organisms they support – including us humans! – wetlands are crucial players in the ecosystem. They work hard in their unassuming way, protecting land from both flood and drought, purifying water, creating habitat and recharging groundwater. Sadly, they’re often in danger of being destroyed in favour of development and “progress.” 

 

New App Allows Citizen Scientists to Create Inventory of Watercourse Crossings

by Ann Sullivan

Picture the vast Alberta wilderness – seemingly endless hectares of rolling plains, gentle foothills and steep mountains, each area braided by creeks, streams and rivers that change with the seasons and the years. Now picture the thousands of natural and built crossings: the bridges, culverts and fords that allow access to both sides of a waterway. What if you were take inventory of all the watercourse crossings in Alberta? It’s an ambitious project, but one that the provincial government has set in motion with the creation of a user-friendly app.

If all goes according to plan, the Alberta Watercourse Crossing Inventory (ABWCI) app, developed by Alberta Environment and Parks and launched in February 2020, will eventually document all stream crossings in Alberta. The information gathered will help further the goals of the province’s Watercourse Crossing Program (WCP), which aims to address threats to fish survival from poorly maintained and constructed crossings.

The beauty of the ABWCI app, according to Lesley Peterson, an Alberta provincial biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada, is that it’s accessible and simple to use. “This is something that can be used by anybody on any crossing,” Peterson said. “There’s just so many roads and trails out there,” she added. “Incorporating a citizen scientist component is such a good idea.” 

Flood Mitigation Measures Take Shape in Bragg Creek

by Ann Sullivan

The Elbow River and its banks have undergone millennia of change, shaped and sculpted by geological forces and the water’s flow. More recently, the flood of 2013 dramatically changed the river’s path through Bragg Creek. Now the area is being reshaped once again, this time by flood mitigation measures that include berms and retaining walls along a four-kilometre stretch of the river in Bragg Creek.

While some local residents welcome the new structures and the added protection they may bring, not everyone is happy to see the current work being done. The term “ecological grief” describes how some people feel about the loss of their connection to the Elbow and the possible harm to local species, from trout to deer to trees. 

Audubon Program Guides Glencoe’s Environmental Practices

by Ann Sullivan

Not every golf course close to a major city can boast elk, bears, moose, bobcats and coyotes as regular visitors. The Glencoe Golf and Country Club (GGCC), situated just west of Calgary, certainly can. Canada’s biggest golf course, the Glencoe is a 45-hole course built into the forest and the floodplain adjacent to the Elbow River. It was the 12th golf course in Alberta to be certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf, which might account, at least in part, for its abundance of wildlife.

Glencoe Riparian Slopes sm

Being certified with Audubon International means the Glencoe must meet a list of criteria in six key areas every year, including environmental planning, water conservation and chemical use reduction and safety. (See sidebar below for more information about the ASCP for Golf certification program.) These criteria have led the Glencoe to adopt responsible environmental practices year round, which is especially good news for the Elbow River, a major source of drinking water for Calgarians. 

Elbow River Flood Mitigation - An Update on Proposed Springbank Off-stream Reservoir Project

by Ann Sullivan

In 2014, one year after the largest flood since 1897, the Government of Alberta under leader Jim Prentice decided to move forward with the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir Project (SR1) as a way to mitigate future flooding. When complete, the dry reservoir, in conjunction with the Glenmore Reservoir, would be able to handle the same volume of water as in the flood of 2013.

The project is now seeking regulatory approval from the provincial Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) and the federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAA), formerly called the Canadian Environmental Approval Agency (CEAA). The length of this process and its outcome are both unknown at present. Following approval, the Province will need to acquire land for the project, only 20 percent of which has been acquired so far.  Remaining landowners, some of whom strongly oppose SR1, could require expropriation.

“The regulatory process is unpredictable,” Matthew Hebert, executive director, transportation policy with Alberta Transportation, noted in a letter to the ERWP, “and setting definitive timelines is challenging as a result.” Once the project receives final approval, the project will take an estimated three years to construct. 

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