Feature Articles

Encouraging Future River Champions

Written by: C. Lacombe

Students become stewards while out in the wild and water aided by the Elbow River Watershed Partnership (ERWP) Field Study Program operated in affiliation with Alberta Environment & Parks, Kananaskis Region.

Environmental Education Coordinator at Parks, Vicki Perkins, implements the program that boasts taking over 11,000 students on a journey of discovery along the Elbow River in the last decade. Over 1,400 volunteers came along on over 438 program days.

“I can’t think of any other program we offer that is so obvious to kids about how their actions can collectively protect a resource that is essential for all life,” says Perkins.

Field School Kick Box 2015 Elbow River

Here's why students get engrossed by kick box samples.

ERWP Chair, Diane Coleman adds, “The ERWP considers this our flagship program. We are very proud of the way it contributes to environmental education in our watershed.”

On a typical field day, 35–70 students from Calgary and outlying areas come into the Elbow Valley to study the watershed.

“We work with the idea that the river is an expression of the landscape,” explains Perkins

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

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?”

Heading to the Headwaters

Elbow River Watershed Partnership Annual General Meeting and Bus Tour - June 19, 2015

Written by: Diane Coleman,
Chair Elbow River Watershed Partnership

More than 40 enthusiastic people had gathered in the Weaselhead parking lot when the sun broke through – a good omen for ERWP’s 2015 AGM and Bus Tour: Heading to the Headwaters.

At our first stop beside the Elbow River, near the site of the proposed (and controversial) Springbank Off-Stream Storage Reservoir (SR1), two speakers presented their views on the current status of flood mitigation on the Elbow.

Mary Robinson from Don't Damn Springbank, a local rancher whose family has ranched on this land for more than 120 years, described local landowners’ point of view regarding SR1. Megan van Ham from Alberta WaterSMART summarized their December 2014 Room for the River report to the Government of Alberta, including the Room for the River concept and options for water diversion, conveyance and detention. The Alberta Resilience and Mitigation Branch of AESRD, and their SR1 consultants Stantec, were also invited to speak but declined, citing delays due to the recent change in government.

When Conditions Collide

Climate change and land development bind flood and drought to Elbow River basin

By: C. Lacombe

Raise your hand if you wish you had a crystal ball. The brilliant decisions you should make; the prosperous directions you would take and the healthy lifestyle you could adopt all clearly laid out for maximum success.

Sigh… wonderful.

Okay, we don’t have crystal balls and the future will surely throw us curve balls. But, we do have growing aptitude in computer modeling based on existing data and knowledge that are close.

“If the model is built with good data of high quality that truly represents what is happening in the watershed in terms of hydrology, land use and climate change, then we have a tool to run scenarios and see what might happen in the future,” says Dr. Danielle Marceau Schulich Chair in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and Environmental Modeling at University of Calgary. Over the past six years, Dr. Marceau led a study of five climate change scenarios in the Elbow River watershed hydrology and a changing land use study. Then, she led a combined study looking at hydrological changes under climate change and land use change to see how these components might affect Elbow River hydrology.

Check Out Alberta Tomorrow

As it appeared in the July, 2014 Newsletter.

by C. Lacombe

We all suppose that we know the best way forward for ourselves and our families. We may even think we can chart a path for our communities, our province, our country and possibly our planet. But we rarely get to put our ideas to the test. 

For Albertans, there is a place you can go and test your theories. It’s called Alberta Tomorrow and it is an educational tool created by a Foundation of the same name. 

My first plan for the future, I turned Bragg Creek into a city larger than Calgary. I’m not sure how I did that; there is a learning curve to the tool. However, I rather enjoyed playing Environmental Queen for a day.

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