- Created: Monday, 06 July 2015 16:18
Landscape Health Protects Us All
Written by C. Lacombe
Protecting the Elbow River and the people who live by it, drink it and enjoy playing in and around it requires a slightly different focus, according to a life-long lover of the Eastern Slopes of Alberta’s Rockies.
“I find one of our great ironies is that when we talk about water management, we focus on our rivers and lakes. When in fact, by the time water is in rivers and lakes, most of the important water management decisions have been made because they are land use decisions,” says Kevin Van Tighem, author and former Park Superintendent, Banff National Park.
Kevin Van Tighem addresses ERWP AGM tour participants June 19. Photo: Mike Murray
He asserts that all the land west of Calgary is “a giant green, living reservoir.” Most of the water that ends up in our streams, rivers and lakes comes from the mountains and foothills of the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rockies. He compares the region to a giant sponge. He says over 80 percent of the water that comes down the Elbow River originates as snow. When we change the landscape’s condition, we change the way the land receives, retains and releases snow over the seasons.
For example, when logging clears large patches of land, it accumulates more snow because snow doesn’t get caught up in trees to blow away or evaporate. On the upside, this stores more water during the winter, but that water comes all at once during the short spring melt period and, potentially, as a flood.
Conversely, if forestry took small patches of forest, snow would accumulate in the exposed areas, but still have some shade to slow its melt. The water would infiltrate the ground in the spring, find its way to aquifers and to the rivers later in the summer when we need it.
A change in forestry practices can have a large effect on the amount and timing of water and water movement.
So Van Tighem asks, “Do we want to pay for services and help forestry be viable and improve our water supply? Or do we want the status quo; which means we’ll be bailing out our basements more frequently than we would otherwise?”