Red Deer River watershed quality impacted by surrounding land

Covering nearly 100,000 hectares of land from its headwaters near Banff to the Saskatchewan border, the Red Deer River watershed is a vital vein in the surrounding ecosystems.

Covering nearly 100,000 hectares of land from its headwaters near Banff to the Saskatchewan border, the Red Deer River watershed is a vital vein in the surrounding ecosystems.

But there are parts of the watershed where the surrounding land use impacts water quality.

A new report, the second technical background report commissioned by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and researched and written by O2 Planning + Design of Calgary, covers wetlands, riparian areas and land use in the region.

The alliance held workshops on Monday and Tuesday talking with the public and local government officials about the report’s implications.

Tracey Connatty, a planner with Mountain View County, said she was better able to understand the alliance’s goal after attending the meeting.

“What it’s going to do, I hope, is give us some guidelines as to protection of the watershed and give us a baseline for the state of the watershed as it is now,” said Connatty.

“And a move-forward point so we can set some goals for the management of those facilities within the county.”

The alliance is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting a healthy watershed. It receives funding from more than 40 municipalities, the province, as well as industry and agricultural organizations.

Dug Major, integrated watershed management planning steering committee co-chair, said the workshops were a way to get feedback as well as present the content of the extensive report.

“These are the people representing municipalities throughout the watershed that are going to be tasked with implementing the provisions and recommendations of this management plan.”

Among the report’s recommendations were:

l Priorities for improved monitoring and data acquisition for wetlands, riparian areas and land use.

l Research needs to improve knowledge, understanding and management of wetlands, riparian areas and land use.

l Key beneficial management practices for wetlands, riparian areas and land use.

Representatives from the alliance are scheduled to meet with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers today to focus on the industrial sector aspect of the report and answer questions.

“You have this huge area contributing things into both good water quality and areas of lesser quality in the main stem of the Red Deer River,” said Major. “The condition of the main stem is the report card of how well we’re doing as a community. If the water is in good shape and good quantity and quality, then the associated land use can sustain that, then we know we’re doing what we can in terms of good conservation practices.”

Major said the report card right now indicates the head waters by Banff are in good shape, because there is very little development.

“As we go through some of the more populated areas, where there is both industry and residential, there are some areas of concern,” said Major.

“There are some things we might need to focus on, trying to improve the situations.”

The water quality report card could be improved by perhaps adjusting land use practices by ceasing or reducing their contribution of contaminants into the river systems.

“There are, for example, heavy accumulations of nutrients,” said Major. “Phosphorus is a nutrient on everyone’s mind. With rural and urban runoff, that’s an element that can be managed.”

A report on surface water quality was published previously and in early 2013, the alliance will start work on a third, focusing on groundwater and water quantity. The fourth report centres on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity.

“At some point our vision is to get all the different interest groups in one room and say ‘OK guys, collectively what do you see and where do we go?’ ” said Major.