Conservation Society examines regional water issues 0
Joni MacFarlane photo The Crowsnest River is a value and important tributary to southwestern Alberta as a supplier of drinking water and for its recreational and social opportunities.
The Crowsnest River Watershed is a vital resource for area residents and beyond. It is the obvious source of drinking water, supplier of recreation and tourism opportunities, and the home for countless varieties of flora and fauna.
What sometimes gets overlooked is its greater reach and sphere of influence as it flows into the Oldman River and through an arid, southern Alberta, where water is always a hot topic. What happens here in the headwaters is of equal importance to the surrounding area as those downstream, making the information and management of the Crowsnest River and its tributaries a critical activity.
The Crowsnest Conservation Society (CCS) is continuing the conversation in regard to the creation of a local watershed group that will explore a variety of issues that could influence the water and look to manage the human effects.
On Monday, May 7, Norine Ambrose from Cows and Fish and Shannon Frank from the Oldman Watershed Council were at the Crowsnest Pass Public Library where they gave presentations on how their organizations could assist in developing a watershed group.
Ambrose also led an open discussion that looked to establish the issues on many residents' mind as they relate to water.
To start, she had the larger group breakdown into more manageable teams, where they were able to come up with a list of problems, questions and concerns that were on their mind.
Once everyone reassembled, the lists were compiled and a few key topics made their way to the top of the priority chain. Land-use planning was a popular area of concern, largely in regard to the lack of it that is currently going on inside the municipality.
"The land-use planning we have is rudimentary at best. Am I being kind here?" said Bill Paton, a CCS board member.
On the recreation side, off-highway vehicle use and fishing came to the forefront, with good reason. These opportunities are considered some of the biggest tourism draws to the Crowsnest Pass but both are directly tied to the watershed's health.
ATVs and dirt bikes can access amazing places in the backcountry but that ability can also lead them into regions where extensive damage can be done to riparian habitats and natural water courses.
As everyone knows, the Crowsnest is world class fly-fishing destination. However, some recent studies indicate a declining fish population, and along with the invasive species domination over natural ones, there are a host of issues that may need attention in order to maintain that very important claim to fame.
Other items that made it on the list were general education, weeds, timber harvesting, indiscriminate dumping, cattle grazing, industrial reclamation, health of municipality source wells, wastewater treatment and a complete lack of both historical and current data.
There are no shortage of potential concerns but the group agreed that establishing baseline data is a crucial step in discovering where the watershed is at in terms of health indicators like water quality and sedimentation, where it is trending and what items could truly be having the largest impact.
With the CCS organization structure and track record of accessing funds in place, the new watershed group can be created under their umbrella, removing a lot of the administrative barriers that exist for those wanting to start from scratch. This means that given appropriate support, the initiative could begin very quickly.
At the end of the night there was a general tone of positivity and interest in making it all happen. Long time Crowsnest resident, Forester and Quad Squad member, Wade Abeli, was on board and also highlighted the broad range in attendance that would be required to accurately reflect the watershed as a whole.
"I think a watershed group could be quite valuable to this community. I don't think you can solve these problems on our own but we could definitely have an influence on policy makers as well as some on the ground impacts," said Abeli. He added, "There is a pretty good cross section here...I see professionals, industry, government and general interest from the public at large."