By Ann Sullivan
Conservation biologists tend to be a grumpy bunch, according to Dave Mayhood. But with help from stewardship organizations like the Elbow River Watershed Partnership, maybe Mayhood and his colleagues will start feeling positive about changes in Alberta’s water bodies and riparian zones.
Mayhood, an aquatic ecologist and president of FWR Freshwater Research Limited, has been working to bring attention to the state of Alberta’s native Westslope Cutthroat Trout as their population declines and sedimentation of their habitat increases. He is currently researching sediment loading to several streams in the McLean Creek Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ), one of the few remaining areas with genetically pure stocks of Westslope Cutthroat Trout.
One hundred years ago, Westslope Cutthroat Trout were an abundant species in the Upper Bow and Oldman River systems and mostly likely the Milk River too. These days there’s almost nothing left of those pure stocks. It’s a classical conservation issue, says Mayhood: a very small population in a fragmented and highly unproductive habitat. Some of the creeks in which cutthroat are still found are tiny—just several kilometres long and narrow enough to easily jump across. Others, like Silvester Creek in the Elbow River watershed, are loaded with sediment from off-highway vehicle (OHV) traffic, pipeline rights of way and trail and road surface erosion.
Native cutthroat stocks started declining decades ago, through a combination of overfishing and hybridization with introduced trout species. About five year ago, the federal government listed the Westslope Cutthroat Trout as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Mayhood would argue that the species is endangered, not just threatened, and notes that the government has created a recovery strategy for the species but still needs an action plan to save it.
by Ann Sullivan
Rae Glacier melts and the Elbow River runs faster. Stop the flow and the river must stop too, correct? Well, no. Although glacial extent has become smaller due to changes in climate, stream flows in the Elbow have remained similar. To Éowyn Campbell, this means that water in the river is coming not only from glacial melt but from other places as well. Finding those places is the subject of Campbell’s PhD research at the University of Calgary.
Working with supervisor Dr. Cathy Ryan and funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant, Campbell is studying the “role of the river-connected alluvial aquifer (RCAA) of eastern-slopes rivers in storing and releasing water to the open stream.” She hopes her research will allow for a better understanding of river water and water sustainability. For example, how many drought years can the Elbow River sustain? What is the approximate volume of stored water in the RCAA? And is water storage capacity large enough that it will adjust to varying river flow rates? Given that the Elbow supplies water to about one-sixth of Albertans, this is critical information.
So far, Campbell has identified three places where water is likely being stored and released into the main streamflow of the Elbow: alluvial rocks, deep cracks in the mountains and hill-slope soils. “Once I know what proportion is coming from different sources,” she said, “I can estimate the volume of water stored in those sources and how long those sources would last.”
by Ann Sullivan
The Elbow River rages during the 1963 flood.
Over a lifetime of living on the banks of the Elbow, Barbara Teghtmeyer has seen the river in every state, from slow and meandering to full-blown raging. She can reel off a list of flood years: 1932 (“the mother of all floods”), 1948, 1963, ‘67, ‘68 and 1995. In her lifetime, though, the biggest and most destructive flood hit just four years ago, on June 20, 2013.
On the day the Elbow River came crashing through Bragg Creek, Teghtmeyer was up early to open the family-owned Shell gas station in the hamlet. At 5:30 that morning, the river was unusually high and unlike anything she’d seen. “I have never seen the river black, and there were vertical waves,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is bad. This is really bad.’”
The ERWP is celebrating Canada 150 by holding a photo contest in 2017. Our goal is to showcase the best photographs of the Elbow River watershed, including the river itself, wildlife, recreation, natural history, environment, culture and people. Each image should convey something evocative about the watershed and what the watershed means to you.
We require your submitted digital image and completed entry form by October 31, 2017.
After decades of negotiation, the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (SWCRR) is now under construction. Discussion about a ring road around the city began in the 1970s, when the population of Calgary was about 325,000. By 2013 the city’s population had multiplied four times to more than 1.3 million people. And while talks continued about the southwest portion of the road, a 70-kilometre stretch of ring road was completed northwest, northeast and southeast of the city.
In November 2013, the Government of Alberta and the Tsuut’ina Nation signed a land transfer agreement that would allow the SWCRR to be built. This piece of the city’s 100-kilomtre-plus ring road will run from Highway 8 (near Elbow Springs Golf Course) to McLeod Trail SE. The 31-kilometre stretch of six- and eight-lane divided highway will include 47 bridges – including crossings over the Elbow River and Fish Creek – and 14 interchanges. (For more information on the SWCRR, visit http://www.swcrrproject.com/.
Construction partnership Kiewit Graham Ledcor (KGL Constructors) is charged with designing and building the southwest ring road. As part of the project, KGL will work with Golder Associates to realign a 1.4-kilometre stretch of the Elbow River in the Transportation Utility Corridor west of 37 Street SW.