A pitch to preserve central Alberta’s world-famous trout stream by restricting below-groundwater development was made to Clearwater County by the Alberta Fish and Game Association.
The association is asking for a zoning change for 33 quarter-sections of agricultural land at the headwaters of the “ecologically unique,” spring-fed Raven River.
Thousands of outdoor lovers from across the globe have come to the banks of the North Raven River, near Caroline, to cast their lines annually.
The Fish and Game Association is concerned future excavations could disturb the aquifer threatening water quality and this special fishery.
The organization suggested Clearwater County create a new zoning designation for these 33 quarter-sections to prevent any developments from digging below the water table.
The group’s environmental chair, Victor Benz, said surface gravel mining would still be allowed, as this area is known for having plenty of accessible gravel.
The Fish and Game Association wants to prevent any operations that would excavate gravel from below the waterline.
Border Paving considered a wet gravel pit development, but has not submitted an official application to Clearwater County. An open house on the proposed development alarmed many Alberta environmentalists, anglers and outdoors people, however.
In reaction, Benz, an engineer, co-authored a report called The Raven River — a World-Class Treasure in Clearwater County, with geologist and water specialist Dr. Jon Fennell. It was presented to county councillors at a meeting in December.
The report concludes that five decades of rehabilitation efforts that have gone into protecting the North Raven River and Clear Creek water system would be jeopardized by any digging operation that creates a large pond or pit.
According to the report, a created pond “will oxygenate the groundwater,” allowing trace elements in the sediments (such as chromium) to “mobilize” and move into the Raven River. Benz said this could contaminate the sensitive aquatic environment needed by trout species.
It could also warm the environment for brook trout, which need cool water for spawning.
The report calls for the creation of a 1.8 km buffer zone surrounding the headwaters of the North Raven River and Clear Creek. It also asks for an inventory of underground springs that feed the river and creek north of Secondary Hwy 761, and to include these in the buffer zone.
Benz said landowners were consulted about the rezoning proposal and were largely supportive. “They have options,” he added, as the rezoning would not limit developments above the water table.
The group also consulted with Border Paving, which previously stated it has no intention of doing anything harmful to the environment.
“They were upfront with us about their concerns,” said Benz, and some wording in the proposal was changed.
Benz believes Clearwater County council was receptive to the report, but decided to table the rezoning decision.
As there’s no hydro-geological expert on municipal staff, the county is forwarding the report to Alberta Environment for feedback before making a decision, said Jose Reyes, the county’s director of planning and development.