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A New Tool for Watershed Protection

Posted July 11, 2019 by LSC

The Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS), a 2018 Watershed Stewardship Grant recipient, has created a tool that enables users to designate high priority areas for watershed conservation and management within the Bow River Basin. Learn more about this project that will assist and advance watershed stewardship efforts in Southern Alberta.

In 2018, SALTS received support from the Watershed Stewardship Grant (WSG) that supported their efforts to identify and spatially define parts of the landscape within the Bow River watershed that are most important for watershed health.

“More specifically, the project investigated and maps which parts of the landscape, if we keep them from being disturbed and developed, will provide the most value in terms of water storage, filtration, flood and drought mitigation,” explains Justin Thompson, Executive Director of SALTS.

The maps, developed by SALTS in partnership with Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the Bow River Basin Council (BRBC), will provide landowners and a number of organizations including conservation groups, watershed groups, land managers and municipalities, with a tool by which to identify and prioritize parts of the watershed. Organizations can then use these maps to determine which areas should receive higher consideration for protection or best management practices in order to preserve watershed health and water resources.

“Believe it or not, those of us working in watershed protection haven’t had anything like this to date,” says Justin.

While the benefits of immediate riparian areas are well understood, there haven’t been any efforts to map the hydrological value of the non-riparian areas which remain an important factor to overall watershed health. The collaborative, science-based and applied approach to mapping the priority areas in the watershed has been very successful, and a number of tools were produced by SALTS including a map book showing priority areas in every sub watershed of the Bow basin as well as a map of priority areas across the whole watershed. SALTS continues to work with NCC and BRBC on the development of a website that will host the maps.

The funding SALTS received from the WSG was used to develop the GIS data layer and support overall map development by a consultant. WSG funds also supported project coordination and made the project truly collaborative by bringing together several land trusts and the Bow River Basin Council.

“There are very few other sources of funding which support this type of work,” Justin states. “By its nature, watershed conservation is complex and has to be collaborative in order to include the numerous key players that influence watershed health.” Justin goes on to share that successful watershed protection can only happen with the buy-in from the community and by empowering those on the ground who live and work in the watershed.

Empowering community stewards in their critical work is a goal that the WSG has been accomplishing since inception in 2006. Learn more about the WSG (funded by Alberta Environment and Parks), browse past recipients and consider applying for future rounds (next grant round is January, 2020).

Some comments...

  • Cathy Ryan says:

    Looks like a great project outcome!
    I’m curious to know if you considered the hydrological functioning of the watershed. For example, defining which parts have river flow generation (> 95% of flow is generated in the foothills and alpine) and, conversely, which parts of the watershed are effectively non-contributing to flow.

    A third area is the river-connected alluvial aquifer, where groundwater -surface water mixing occurs and land use can affect river water quality.

    Happy to discuss if you’re interested!

  • Hugh Pepper says:

    My compliments on your focussed and useful work. I'm especially appreciative of your recognition that community buy-in is necessary for the stewardship programs to be successful. The Ghost Community Association has managed a successful program focussed on protecting our watershed from excessive clearcutting and related damaging actions in the forestry efforts conducted by Spray Lakes Sawmill. We look on our actions as Round One in a continuing struggle.

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