Federal Government Declares Proposed Mine Site To Be Critical Habitat

Last week, the federal government declared that dozens of streams and rivers in southwestern Alberta are critical habitat for endangered trout species.

On December 2nd, the Alberta Wilderness Association said that it would drop a lawsuit against Ottawa which sought to force the federal government to issue the order. Under law, critical habitat for native cutthroat trout was supposed to have been declared more than a year ago under the previous Conservative government.

“We’re happy that we likely do not have to follow through with it,” said Brittany Verbeek, the association’s conservation director.

Verbeek said the order lends protection to the creeks, streams and tributaries draining into the Oldman and Crowsnest rivers that are home to the trout. The fish were already protected under the Fisheries Act; now their home is protected under the Species At Risk Act.

“It just means that the area surrounding where the fish live has that increased protection.”

Changes to the stream, such as increasing its sediment load, are now forbidden.

The Alberta government is considering an application from a subsidiary of an Australian company to build a coal mine on a mountaintop in the protected habitat. Benga Mining proposes to turn 12 square kilometres on the top of Grassy Mountain near Blairmore into a terraced site.

At the same time, the province’s energy regulator is investigating the company for a release of coal into Gold Creek, one of the streams included in the critical habitat declaration.

A recent survey by a fisheries biologist found virtually all southern Alberta streams that spawn native trout are threatened by industrial development or overuse.

Lorne Fitch studied 54 small rivers and streams that flow into the Oldman River and which hold bull and cutthroat trout, largely in the area now considered critical habitat. He found nearly all of them face damage from logging roads, energy development and off-highway vehicle trails.

Scientists suggest land that contains trout streams shouldn’t have more than just over half a kilometre of trail, cutline or road per square kilometre. The disturbance density in parts of the Oldman watershed is nearly 10 times that.

Cutthroat populations are estimated at five per cent of historic levels.

 

From Bob Weber – The Canadian Press

Source: http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/feds-say-proposed-alberta-coal-mine-site-a-key-fish-habitat-1.2684688

Photo credit: Robert Berdan

 

 

The Best and Worst Beaches of 2015

As swimmable water season comes to a close here in Alberta, North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper and Swim Guide are taking a look back at some of the best and worst beaches from the summer of 2015.

The top 5 beaches of 2015 were:

All five of these beaches remained safe for swimming throughout the entire 2015 sampling season, with zero days of unsafe swimming.

On the other end of the spectrum, 2015’s worst beaches were:

While these four beaches suffered the highest closure rates, they were far from the only ones to experience extended closures during the 2015 season. Without question, the most common cause for beach closures in Alberta this summer was contamination from blue-green algae blooms.

Blue-green algae is a cyanobacteria present in all Alberta lakes. It grows best in still or slow-moving water when the weather is warm, which is part of why we saw so many blooms during the hot and dry summer of 2015. Add nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to the mix, and the bacteria will reproduce even more rapidly.

You can help to reduce beach closures due to blue-green algae contamination. Here are a few simple actions you can take to limit the flow of nutrients into Alberta’s streams, ponds and lakes:

  • Don’t use more lawn fertilizers than the recommended amount, and keep fertilizers out of storm drains and off driveways and sidewalks.
  • Maintain or plant native plants around shorelines and streams. Native plants don’t require fertilizers and they help filter water.
  • Properly care for and maintain your septic system.
  • Do not allow livestock to drink or defecate in streams or lakes. Don’t overfeed waterfowl.
  • Avoid clearing riparian vegetation to help prevent soil erosion.

Keeping informed about the water quality at our favourite beaches is an important step toward protecting public health and preventing the spread of waterborne illnesses. Make sure that you’re ready for 2016’s swimmable water season. Download Swim Guide today!

Sources:

Cyanobacteria / Blue-Green Algae – Facts & Information. (2015). Vermont Department of Health. Retrieved from: http://www.healthvermont.gov/enviro/bg_algae/bgalgae_fact.aspx#do

Swim Guide. (2015). http://www.theswimguide.org/

What does a “State of Agriculture Disaster” mean for Alberta (and the rest of our country)?

Posted in: Climate Change | 0

Over the last few months, we’ve watched Alberta counties and municipal districts declare local states of agriculture emergency. On Friday, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier approved the decision to declare Alberta in a state of agricultural disaster.

A warm winter coupled with intense drought and hail have been at the heart of many of individual counties’ decisions, and largely the reason for the provincial declaration. The Weather Network, which developed this map, says that parts of the province have “experienced 1-in-50 and 1-in-100 year drought conditions” so far this summer. It’s a similar story in Saskatchewan, where our easterly neighbours are suffering dry conditions that have lasted several weeks to months.

 

But what does it mean?

 

When a county or municipal district declares agricultural disaster, the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation pays out money to support farmers around the province. However, crop insurance isn’t enough this year, where the hardship has included not only drought, but also grasshopper infestations.

Producers are worrying they’ll have to reduce their herds of livestock, both due to the cost as well as lack of availability of food. Producers might not have enough hay to sustain their herds throughout the winter1.

So far, the Alberta government has cut rental fees to help farmers pump water to fill their dams and dugouts, and is actively working to identify more lands for public grazing2.

But the reaches of the drought go much farther than individual farmers.

Crop yields are expected to be about a quarter of the five-year average. Retail beef prices are expected to continue to climb into next year, and could cause Canada to start importing more beef. It’s the same story with pork.

 

As climate change increases the likelihood and prevalence of extreme weather, it will be increasingly important for Alberta to be prepared. One study has shown the importance of investing in irrigation, which could generate three dollars for every 1 dollar invested to fight extreme droughts.

 

What do you think about investing in irrigation? Or do you think there are other solutions for being prepared for drought in the future?

 

Resources

 

Mertz, E. (July 15, 2015). Several Alberta counties consider declaring states of agricultural disaster. Retrieved from http://globalnews.ca/news/2109660/dry-weather-causes-state-of-agricultural-disaster-in-parkland-county/.

 

The Canadian Press. (August 22, 2015). Alberta declares agricultural losses from extreme weather a ‘disaster’. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/alberta-declares-agricultural-losses-from-extreme-weather-a-disaster-1.2529087.

 

Martins, D. (August 23, 2015). Agricultural disaster declared in Alberta. Here’s why. Retrieved from http://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/disaster-declared-as-albertas-drought-continues/56076/.

 

 

Sturgeon Hole Reach

Posted in: Uncategorized | 0

We prepared and submitted our letter of appeal in opposition of the approved permit application for a gravel pit in the Sturgeon Hole Reach Environmentally Significant Area of Parkland County (p.198). The lake sturgeon is an amazing fish and this project is adjacent to an important North Saskatchewan River sturgeon spawning area (hence the name “Sturgeon Hole Reach”). The appeal board hearing was postponed from Dec. 2 to Jan. 19/2015. We will be presenting our appeal reasons then.

NSRK Fall 2014 Update

Posted in: News | 0

The NSRK Fall 2014 Update is posted here.

Check it out and see what we have been up to. 

Briefly, we have been responding to a number of citizen/community concerns and looking for solutions.

The Swim Guide for Alberta and Saskatchewan had an amazing summer guiding people away from posted beaches and to cleaner beaches. We have had over 94,000 views in 2014 to date.

We were promoting and participating in a number of “on the water” events getting people connected to their waters over the summer.

Finally, we continue represent our water and aquatic species when consulting and making recommendations to government and multi-stakeholder processes such as the North SK Regional Plan.

“Stand Up for The River” on Saturday, August 16

Posted in: Case Studies | 0

Saturday morning, August 16, is your chance to join the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper and “Stand Up for the River”.

Come check out the Easy Rider Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) race and tour from Hawrelak/Laurier Park bridge or other viewing points along the the North SK River down to Rafter’s Landing. Other good spots include the LRT bridge and the trail west of Groat Bridge in MacKinnon Ravine Park.

There are few things that capture our connection to our North Saskatchewan River like a regatta of Stand Up Paddleboarders cruising down the water in unison. Come check out the recreational and aesthetic value of our river and paddleboarding.

The paddleboarders can be viewed from Hawrelak/Laurier Bridge around 10AM.  May vary depending on river flow status that day.

If you are an experienced river paddleboarder and are interested in entering the 7th Annual Easy Rider SUP Cup, click here for the race and touring details.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, August 16!

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