Central Alberta anglers fear a proposed gravel operation north of Caroline will threaten the water quality of a world-famous brown trout fishing stream.
Thousand of outdoors lovers from across the globe come to the banks of North Raven River each year to cast their lines into its clear waters.
But Kelsey Kure, an Alberta Fish and Game Association member, believes millions of conservation dollars and countless hours spent improving fish habitat along this waterway could be wasted if a gravel mine disturbs the flow of groundwater that flows into the spring-fed Raven River.
Kure and other conservationists are concerned Border Paving’s proposal to excavate below the water line could have a negative impact on fish and water quality by limiting the underground flow that feeds the river and by silting up trout habitat.
Border Paving’s co-owner Kate Walls said her Red Deer company wouldn’t propose something that harms the environment or wildlife, as she wants her grandchildren to have plenty of angling opportunities.
“We don’t want to wreck anything,” added Walls, who noted Border Paving is applying to Clearwater County to create a new wet gravel pit adjacent to a previously used dry gravel pit, in order to extract more materials over the long term for various building projects.
Border Paving hired geologists and biologists to study the groundwater and fishery, and their results will be shared with the public at a 5 to 8 p.m. open house Nov. 28 at the Butte Community Hall.
Walls encourages anyone with questions or concerns to attend.
Bobbi Modin, safety and environment officer for Border Paving, said it might surprise some people to learn that studies show groundwater doesn’t flow toward the Raven River, as many area residents thought.
The proposed gravel operation would, therefore, “not intercept the flow of the main headwaters,” she added.
Border Paving wants to extract gravel from two quarter-sections across the road from the Raven River. The McQuiston land, owned by the company, has never been mined.
The adjacent Keim property has been leased for regular gravel extraction — but now Border Paving wants to do wet mining of gravel in areas with a higher water table.
Modin said the excavations would have “very minimal” effect on groundwater because Border Paving intends to use a dredging, and not de-watering, method of extraction.
The company also pledges to track the water temperature to ensure it doesn’t not get too warm for the fish, she added.
But conservationists don’t believe all their fears will be allayed by these studies.
Imagine how much water will evaporate into the atmosphere over years of an open-pit wet mining operation, said Kure, who feels that, alone, could be enough to tip the fine balance needed to maintain the upper Raven River as a special natural resource.
Mike Short, who runs the Let’s Go Outdoors website, said brown trout have to lay their eggs on clean gravel, so excessive silt build up — whether from excavation, truck traffic or wind-driven soil erosion — could deprive eggs of oxygen.
This could ruin a “blue-ribbon” stream that produces the most brown trout per kilometre in Alberta, he added.
Kevin Gardiner, central regional manager for the Alberta Conservation Association, noted that three conservation companies worked together about two decades ago to purchase and protect the properties where most of the spring are located.
The effort made in restoring the North Raven River is arguably “Alberta’s greatest conservation achievement,” he added, so any possible disturbance “is indeed concerning.”