Saturday, November 14, 2015

Oldman Watershed Council receives $233,000 WRRP grant

Dutch Creek (photos courtesy of Oldman Watershed Council)
Chris Davis

On November 13 Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips announced a total of $2,879,933 new Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP) grants to 12 organizations "that will help improve the flood and drought resiliency of communities across the province". According to the Alberta Government press release, "The grants are issued to organizations that support the program’s aim of protecting communities from flood and drought by improving natural watershed functions through the restoration of degraded areas."  One of the recipient organizations is the Oldman Watershed Council (OWC), which is to receive $233,000 for the " Establishment of a demonstration site to test protocols for land reclamation/restoration and, community outreach and engagement to promote stewardship" in the Dutch Creek watershed and Oldman River basin headwaters.
“Restoring Alberta’s natural flood and drought defences is a critical part of our government’s plan to better protect families, businesses and our economy from increasingly severe natural disasters. Improving the capacity of our natural landscapes to store water through measures like wetland and riverbank restoration is an added line of defence as we invest in major flood control infrastructure.” - Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

"We are beyond thrilled!" said OWC Specialist Anna Garleff after the funding was announced.  "I will be making a bigger comment on the 19th at the SACPA (Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs) talk, but this is hugely empowering."

The WRRP is a three-year, $21-million program. This was the second round of WRRP grants. 11 organizations received a portion of a total $14,631,425 in the first round, announced in March of this year. Among those recipients was the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (ARHMS), known as Cows and Fish, which also works in the Oldman River Basin Headwaters, and was granted $388,250 for 10-15 riparian enhancement projects "expected to enhance 8-12 km of riparian areas" in southern Alberta.

OWC Dutch Creek restoration event volunteers (photos courtesy of OWC)
On October 17 of this year 50 OWC volunteers planted willows, gathered leaves, installed signs and built a barricade to prevent off-road vehicle users from crossing Dutch Creek directly in an area where a bridge was damaged by flooding in 2013.

OWC Communication Intern Riley Sawyer
"If you want to save the world, you've got to get up pretty early." - Riley Sawyer

According to an OWC article by Riley Sawyer about the restoration event "A full sized truck bridge was put in by Spray Lake Sawmills in August, and they also put boulders and rough timber in the ford path the week before we came out. We planted willows and poplars near the edge of the creek. By this time next year, their roots will be deep enough to stop the erosion and they will be tall enough to catch whatever’s falling into the creek."

OWC Engagement Interns Adam Janzen and Rowan Garleff (photo courtesy OWC)
Anna Garleff explained that after the first round of funding "We hired a headwaters consultant to manage the planning and analysis," and two outreach assistants, Adam Janzen and Rowan Garleff, who went into the back country and talked with people. They spent the summer and fall educating recreation vehicle users to develop a better understanding of the concerns, barriers, and opportunities facing OHV riders and random campers.

"They had great conversations and we accepted a pilot project."

"We needed to hear from the OHV community; Why are they going out there, what are their concerns, how can they be a bigger part of the conversation, because they are the ones out there, they are the experts. We found out we had a lot to learn from them."

"Our two outreach assistants were really welcomed. We learned a lot from them. We have a shared love of nature, it's just that they enjoy nature differently."

"There is a history of enjoying the wilderness in this way."

"Most of them (OHV users) are really anxious to cooperate, and want to help protect the watershed."

"How can you tell people to stay out of the stream, if there is no bridge?"

Dutch Creek restoration event (OWC photo)
The OWC is also producing a 15 minute film (see promo trailer below) with a message that "We are
all downstream." The film is intended to be educational for scientists, children, and the general public. The project has the Twitter hashtag ‪#‎oldmangoestohollywood‬ .

 "We are going to be able to move forward with even greater vigor on headwaters education. We represent all voices. As far as the film project goes, we're looking for people who want to get on board with it, and be part of it, and help their organization by being part of the film. Let us showcase your watershed story."

Filming for the Oldman Goes to Hollywood project launched one year ago to the day I interviewed Garleff, November 14. The project has faced a number of challenges so far, including torrential rain, smoke from the extensive wildfires of last summer, drought, ticks, and other obstacles. "The main thing that I learned from all of this process is that the story that is there, waiting to be told is not the story I thought I would be going to be telling. The story that I saw is about climate change."

OWC is looking for collaborative partners for their film efforts.  Garleff said she was excited to announce that the Potato Growers Association has joined the collaboration because "They are one of the biggest users of water in the Oldman."

The film is intended to address some basic questions.  "Where does your water come from? Where does it go? What happens in between?"

"I think the most important thing is not the product. I don't think the film is as important as the conversations we are having in the community we are building up as a result of the project. It's just really cool. It gets them excited, and gets them aware that they're an important part of the story. It's a very empowering thing in the face of so much change."

The Oldman Watershed

Map designed by OWC Communications, cartography by Blair Watke, Alberta Provincial Government

Garleff said a lot of the OWC volunteers are relatively young. "To point fingers at that (age) group is totally wrong. We are really encouraged by the young people who are engaging with us and taking responsibility for finding out, and enjoying the back country in responsible ways."

"Its a small percentage of bad apples who are exercising willful ignorance, and it is a systemic problem because of a lack of infrastructure, or poorly maintained infrastructure with abandoned linear features and so on," explaining that for example some paths may look like an intended trail, but are not.

Our interview also touched on the contributions of user groups Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad and Lethbridge Coulee Cruzers.  "The majority of trail restoration and bridge work is being organized and done by the OHV groups themselves," said Garleff. "We wouldn't have been able to do what we did, if it hadn't have been for them, and their support."

Garleff also explained the sometimes misunderstood mandate of the OWC, an independent not-for-profit organization.  "We are not an environmentalist group, we are not a conversationalist group, we're not granola crunching hippies, our object is to create a forum within which all voices can be heard in order to have more constructive conversations about watershed management and health. So I represent the OHV rider as much as I represent the the bird watcher. That has to be clear. What also is clear is that there are some people up in the headwaters who are causing a disproportionate amount of problems for everyone downstream. Some people are going where they should not be.  We are mandated by the government to provide them with research, science, and advice."

"Any science begins with a baseline. You have to do your baseline."

"The first part of this is actually research called the IWMP (Integrated Watershed Management Plan), and that's a stakeholder driven process that sets watershed scale goals and outlines the actions needed to accomplish them."

Garleff said the initiative is stakeholder driven.  "This is what the community has said that they want for their shared watershed, and one of those goals is headwaters protection. The headwaters is a growing hot spot of land use concerns, and cumulative effects on water integrity, that's why we're focused on it right now."

Examples of watershed wildlife (OWC photos)

(OWC photos)
Issues being addresses include water quality, emerging contaminates, and linear features.  Explained Garleff, "Linear features are anything from roads and seismic lines, to grazing areas, or power lines, clear-cut, culverts, anything that fragments the landscape and therefore impedes habitat. For us, what the problem is, it impedes water quality for everybody downstream. What we are trying to ensure is that everybody has enough water, and they have clean water 50 years down the road."

"If we go on 'business as usual' model, 50 years down the road we are looking at some pretty serious decisions about whether we are going to be able to drink the water from the tap."

Garleff said a large segment of the population has never been to the back country, a situation OWC would like to see reversed. "We want to encourage people to get out there and learn to appreciate the back country, however they chose to do that. You can't protect what you don't love, and you don't love what you don't understand. We need to teach people so they can understand and protect it."

"Round two is establishing a demonstration site out in the headwaters so people can know 'What is bio-engineering?' 'How can I get involved? How can I have a voice in how our back country is used'. It's pretty exciting stuff."

"Watershed problems, and climate problems are not environmental problems. They're social problems. The world, the environment is going to be just fine. We will not."

"We need to have more conscious discussions about how we manage our watershed."

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