Bragg Creek & Redwood Meadows Will Lead
by C. Lacombe
Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows residents can show the rest of the province how to manage a river community through a process that is called The Elbow Riverlands Project.
In view of the catastrophic consequences for many people in June 2013, the Alberta government organized a pilot project where they brought Dutch experts to Calgary and sat them at a table with Alberta experts.
Jerry Brunen, Executive Director, Western Sky Land Trust
“They brought together the who’s who of the water management world within the Bow Basin,” says Jerry Brunen, Executive Director, Western Sky Land Trust (Western Sky). The Dutch developed the Room for the River concept; this makes sense as Holland is below sea level and at the mouth of one of Europe’s biggest rivers. Also, Europe has a very long history of human development close to rivers and lakes. Many European cities now have rivers channelled through them with very little room for them to fluctuate.
With a critical eye and diverse perspective, the group brought together for the Bow Basin examined alternatives for flood mitigation from engineered solutions to natural landscape features that hold back water. They debated what might work for the Bow River watershed.
The idea behind Room for the River is to ensure the river has places to go when it experiences high volume flows. In The Netherlands, the projects had to work with and around established communities and farms. Alberta is fortunate in that much of its headwaters are currently undeveloped, but community engagement needs to take place, to help in recovering from the flood and to best adapt to the future. In Holland, they are building floodways, removing obstacles, deepening riverbeds and creating offstream storage areas. Here in Alberta it may be possible to let nature do a lot of the work.
For example, downstream from Calgary, Western Sky contacted about 70 landowners to talk about conserving land along the Bow River and its large tributaries to give the river room to take its natural course. Brunen says this led to four land conservation projects and five riparian health assessments (in which the health of the landscape immediately adjacent to the river is assessed). He adds that Western Sky plans to contact 400 landowners on the Bow upstream of Calgary, the Highwood and Sheep Rivers and hopes to get similar results.
The pilot project produced a report for the government outlining some of the ways it could move forward. A key recommendation of that report identified Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows engagement as a priority to find solutions customized and tailored by residents.
Through generous support from the Calgary Foundation and the Rick Butler Leadership Fund, the process will start by going to the community. Information and local forums will be provided, allowing a dialogue to occur about ways to increase watershed resiliency for whatever flood, drought and climate change throws at it.
“So, really, it’s from the ground level up,” Brunen says, “taking ownership within your community to understand better how to move forward for the best long term solutions.”
Brunen stresses that this is not a provincial government-led initiative, although it supports this process. It is much more a process to engage locals to “take control of their destiny. It’s crucial that the community drive this process.” “It has potential for real results too. Alberta Environment and Parks recently announced $33 million for flood mitigation measures for Bragg Creek with more to be determined for Redwood Meadows,” Brunen says. Rocky View County will manage the funds for Bragg Creek.
“The term conservation means to protect, to restore and to enhance,” explains Brunen. “Our mandate is land conservation of vital watershed features including river valleys, riparian areas and floodplains.”
Much scientific evidence identifies these landscape features as flood and drought attenuators. Rivers are generally much larger than they look from the surface, akin to icebergs – what you see is the smallest part of the actual structure of the watercourse.
Riparian areas, wetlands, beaver ponds, plant communities and gravel beds all serve some purpose in the health of the river, whether acting as reservoirs or filters.
“Conserving lands key to watershed health provide huge socio-economic value,” Brunen contends. “Land conservation is good for biodiversity, watershed resiliency, water supplies and a host of other ecological goods and services.”
He mentions that The City of Calgary takes drinking water source protection seriously. Both the Bow and Elbow Rivers provide drinking water for the city and their tributaries would also factor into source protection.
“You can only go so far with regulation. You also need private, voluntary land conservation,” he adds.
Western Sky Land Trust
The Netherlands Room for the River