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Watershed News
August 2015

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Southern Alberta

Cypress County declares 2015 an agricultural disaster

By Collin Gallant

Source:Prairie Post Article 

The designation, largely administrative, is essentially the first step toward accessing relief programs should they be created by either the provincial or federal government.

"The government has been telling us to disaster-proof our operations with crop and pasture insurance, agri-stability and other tools" said Garry Lentz, chair of the county's Ag Services Board and Director on the SEAWA Board. "This (declaration) opens the door to other funding."

The Rural Municipality of Maple Creek made a similar declaration this week and is discussing options with the Saskatchewan ministry.

Full article here.

Prairie Post, July 23, 2015


Riparian Restoration Workshops

Source: Sustainability Resources

Sustainability Resources has designed Riparian Restoration Field Workshops to build community capacity for watershed management. Perhaps you, your stewardship group or your organization would be interested. Dates are
August 21, 28 and 29th and lunch is provided.


The workshop will begin by Cows and Fish

leading the group through a Riparian Health Checklist and a fish habitat assessment with Streamworks Environmental. We will experiment 

Participants will then experiment with FlexMSE geotextiles as a substrate for willow propagation along the shoreline. Willow staking techniques will be discussed, along with propagated plugs and mixed seed. Sounds like a great time!


These resources for watershed sustainability are designed to facilitate;

  • capacity building, 
  • professional development, 
  • policy and planning, 
  • and mobilization of best available technologies.

For more information on the August workshops, visit this site.

What do I do with my cattle?

Alberta farmers struggle with near drought 

By Mia Sosiak, Reporter

Farmers in southeastern Alberta say they desperately need rain and areas east and south of Calgary are experiencing the driest season in 50 years.

The conditions have also prompted the province to issue a low flow advisory for the South Saskatchewan River Basin asking users to

reduce their water


This growing season, parts of the province have

received the lowest rainfall

they've seen since the 1960s. Agriculture experts say irrigation farmers should have enough water for their crops, but dryland farmers may be in trouble. About half of Alberta is suffering from a lack of moisture, after El Nino robbed southern Alberta of the heavy rains typical of June.

"That's already setting us up for a terrible situation," said Global News meteorologist Jordan Witzel. "Now we're heading into the dry period of July and August.

Witzel says thunderstorms don't create enough rain to help, but Alberta Agriculture says it's not an actual drought yet, thanks to spotty showers and good subsoil moisture.But the province's agriculture producers disagree.

"Alberta Agriculture is downplaying it...For a lot of [the crops], it's just too late," said Lynn Jacobson with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

Newman's barley and Canola crops are also hurting. He says in three days, his 300 cows will run out of pasture to eat.

"What do I do with my cattle? Do I sell them?" asked Newman. "Everybody else is selling them. Do I downsize?"The dry conditions are likely to keep beef prices high at the grocery store, and Newman isn't getting much sleep.


Global News, July 9, 2015

This Week in Agriculture


Find out what's happening with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development by signing up for the Agri-News this Week newsletter. 

Every Monday, Agri-News will send you an e-mail with the week's top stories and latest updates on 'Ropin' the Web.' In addition to current information, you'll get links to notices that have been revised by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development's specialists. 

The e-newsletter categorizes the information by subject area, and includes a feature section, business, livestock, crops, environment, statistics, research, rural development, jobs in agriculture and coming events; everything you could hope to learn in the

agriculture world. 


SEAWA appreciates the up-to-date information received through this newsletter and encourages you to subscribe to this service.

'Tis the Season


In our area, we are fortunate to have many local growers. Since harvest time is upon us, be sure to check out a greenhouse or grower near you. 


Local Suppliers


For a list of area greenhouses, refer to this Directory of Local Producers for Medicine Hat and area. 


Local Food Benefits
 Source: About Food

Here is an excerpt about the benefits of eating local foods.

  • Local Foods Are Fresher and Taste Better
  • Local Foods Are Seasonal
  • Local Foods Usually Have Less Environmental Impact
  • Local Foods Promote Variety
The  Complete Water Magazine
Source: Water Canada

The Water's Next national awards program honors the achievements and ideas of individuals and companies that successfully work to change water in our country.

There were more than 80 nominations for this year's awards!


Water's Next 2015 winners were presented their awards on June 26, 2015 at a gala dinner in Vancouver.


Click here to see the list of award recipients. 


Nominations for the 2016 Water's Next Awards open October 30, 2015. 

Ways to Beat the Heat

By Melanie Pinola

The scorching summer heat is hard on our bodies, our moods, and our electric bills. Don't let the temperature get you down, though. 

These ten tips will help you keep cool. For example, do you know your body's best cooling points? 

Find out at this link.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!


How Local Irrigators Work Together in Times of Shortage
By LeRon Torrie,SMRID

As everyone here in the Oldman River basin of southern Alberta hos noticed, it has been an unusually hot and dry summer. Some natural questions people may have are: 
  • Do we consider ourselves in a drought?  
  • Is there a water shortage?  
  • Do we need to take steps to conserve our available water?  
  • Are our river and water managers watching the situation? 
  • Are the rivers suffering? 
  • Is the situation comparable to the last major drought which occurred in 2001 when water rationing occurred?

These are all valid questions deserving answers.  

First and foremost, we shoud determine if there is a current water shortage.


Although the temperatures have been above average and the precipitation below average, the Oldman River and its southern tributaries are flowing above the minimum levels required to maintain the health of the rivers, (as determined by Alberta Environment and Parks - AEP.) All the reservoirs are at normal levels for this time of year, so there is no water shortage at this time.  


However, river levels have dropped, so there has been an effect.  It is always important to be careful and use water wisely, both in agricultural irrigation use, and in urban use, like lawn watering. 


AEP has issued a Level 1 River Watch Advisory, which means that water flow in all the rivers, here in the south, are being closely monitored to make sure the minimum in-stream flow needs are being met; and they are.  The government is communicating with all the watershed groups, (such as SEAWA and OWC) on the river flows and suggesting mitigation measures they might feel are needed. 


It is valuable to know what responses would be required, if we were truly in a water shortage, like in 2001.  What was the response then, and what would be the probable response if serious drought occurred again? 


In the 2001 drought, here in southern Alberta, it became apparent early in that year that there would be a water shortage, due to a number of simultaneous factors. It was a 'perfect storm' scenario, though the likelihood of it happening again is very remote.  First, was the occurrence of two successive seasons with extremely low snow-pack levels and below average summer precipitation. The other significant event was that the main St. Mary reservoir required replacement of the main reservoir gates. This necessitated the draining of the reservoir over the winter, leaving the reservoir almost empty.  Normally, spring runoff would have at least partially re-filled the reservoir, but the abnormally low snow-pack did not generate much runoff that spring. The new  gates are estimated to have a life of 50 years, so it is very unlikely that a similar forced draining of the reservoir will occur anytime soon. 


This combination of factors made it apparent that the southern tributaries to the Oldman River, (St. Mary, Waterton and Belly Rivers,) which supply irrigation water and domestic municipal water to almost all communities south of the Oldman River, would not be able to supply all of the licensed water withdrawals from the rivers. 


Under the legal framework that applies to these water use licenses, a system of First In Time, First In Right or FITFER  would normally have applied, whereby the older license holders, (in terms of historical dates,) would have priority on the available water. More junior (or later) water license holders would have use of what water was left over - if any.  Some of the junior license holders were towns and villages in the area, where the water was needed for municipal and personal water needs.   


This was unworkable and unthinkable to the larger and more senior license holders, most of whom are the three largest irrigation Districts in the area: SMRID, Taber Irrigation District and Raymond Irrigation District plus the small mountain irrigation districts. The irrigation districts met early and formed a water-sharing committee which eventually included representatives of all the affected towns, villages and other license holders.  License administrators from Alberta Environment and Parks, and Alberta Agriculture & Forestry (AAFR) were involved, and they provided technical expertise and available water volume calculations to facilitate the water sharing  agreement. The decision was made to share the available water on a 'share and share-alike' manner between all affected water license holders, both municipal and agricultural, regardless of the seniority of the licenses and set aside the strict legal enforcement of FITFER. 


A spirit of sharing for the common good prevailed, as all license holders agreed to co-operate.  All participants voluntarily reduced their water usage that summer in accordance with the agreement and a crisis was averted.  The initial water allotments were about 33% of normal usage but this allotment was gradually increased as the season progressed and final allotments were about 60% of normal usage, due to beneficial rains and slightly higher than anticipated river flows.  As a result, municipalities and people had enough water. Lawns were not as green as usual, and irrigated crops were not as good as usual, on average, but everyone survived and general goodwill prevailed because a precious and scarce resource, water, was shared. A happy ending to the story occurred in the spring of 2002 when unusually heavy June rains filled the St. Mary and other reservoirs in several weeks; thus, ending the water shortage. 


What would happen if we experienced another water shortage?  Would the same spirit of cooperation and sharing prevail? Would domestic and municipal water needs take priority  over agricultural use? In answer to that question, in 2010, all of the Irrigation Districts in Alberta signed a formal Water Sharing Declaration (referenced in this NewsWire article,) stating that in any future water shortage event, human usage and livestock sustenance needs would take priority over agricultural needs and that the irrigation districts, as large license holders, would work to share available water, as had been done in 2001. 


So, even though it is hot and dry, we are not currently experiencing a water shortage here in southern Alberta.  However, we all need to be careful and conserve our available water because it is valuable.


We do not know what the next winter snowfall or next year's rainfall will be.  We all use water either domestically, municipally and/or  agriculturally and have a stake and interest in conserving that water so that it is there when we need it. 


Written by LeRon Torrie, former SMRID Chairman

People swimming in Lake Bonavista.
Crystal Schick/Calgary Herald
Swimmer's Itch Outbreak in Alberta

By Reid Southwick

As Albertans seek respite from blistering summer temperatures in the province's lakes, they are falling victim to what appear to be unusual outbreaks of parasites that cause an irritating skin rash known as swimmer's itch.


Lake Bonavista in south Calgary was among more than a dozen Alberta swimming holes where the condition was reported in late June, the earliest spike in cases in the past three years.


Swimmer's itch is caused by parasites that infect migratory birds, including ducks, and small mammals, such as muskrats.

Those critters release parasitic eggs that hatch in water and infect snails, where the parasites live during their larval stage until they are released as tadpole-like swimmers. It's at this stage that the parasites search for their next host and attempt to infiltrate human skin.


An immune response kills the parasites, which means they can't infect people, but the reaction leaves behind red bumps on skin that can be itchy, cause burning sensations and form blisters.


A group of researchers at the University of Alberta has been tracking outbreaks of swimmer's itch since 2013, through a voluntary survey on its website, SwimmersItch.caOver the long term, the researchers hope to use genetic sequencing to understand the species of parasites behind Alberta outbreaks and ultimately predict where and when they will occur.


Researchers have typically found reports of swimmer's itch spike in mid to late July, but this year there was a big jump in cases in late June, said Patrick Hanington, an assistant professor involved in the project.


This may be due to especially high temperatures in June, given that warmer weather is known to accelerate the development of snails and the parasites inside them, Hanington said.

It could mean that this year's spike in swimmer's itch cases came early, or there may be another round of parasites waiting to afflict human swimmers in late July or early August, when outbreaks typically begin, the researcher surmised.


Calgary Herald, July 9, 2015


How to Steer Clear of Swimmer's Itch

Source: Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Journal has a recent article on how to steer clear of swimmer's itch this summer. Read the article by following this link: Edmonton Journal.


Edmonton Journal, July 28, 2015

Pierre Bolduc's property near Bragg Creek, AB. Photo courtesy of Pierre Bolduc,
Daily Commercial News July 30, 2015


Beaver tales: Alberta homeowner enlists 

local wildlife to engineer a dam 

By Peter Kenter


Pierre Bolduc's background as an aeronautical engineer and Hercules C-130 pilot wasn't enough of a resume to prepare him for the task of constructing a pond next to his Alberta property.He'd made a few attempts to build a dam over several years, but after a downpour washed out his latest earthen structure he turned to nature's expert dam builders, a family of local beavers, to do the job right.

   "There were beavers living further down the valley that had been building dams at a culvert running underneath a dirt road," says Bolduc, who lives on an expansive property near Bragg Creek, about 50 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

"After a beaver-proof culvert had been installed there by the Municipal District of Foothills, I devised a way to lure them onto the desired construction site."

Bolduc reckoned that the gentle lilt of running water played from an outdoor sound system placed above the intended site would attract the animals to the location where he wanted to build the dam. His neighbour, a sound engineer, offered to mix a CD featuring an appropriate aquatic aria.

   "I don't know what the sound of rushing water does to the psyche of a beaver, but based on the results I witnessed, I think it could inspire them to build a dam right in the middle of a sandbox," he says. "They went straight to work."

   Beavers build dams by felling trees with their teeth - poplars are a favourite. The inner bark and soft wood just below the surface bark is considered a choice meal.

Since labour was being provided at no cost, Bolduc provided them with plenty of free food and construction material. He cleared poplars located on his property that might eventually grow to interfere with power lines. He then placed the cut logs to float in the rising water around the dam construction site.

   "I gave them so much wood that they soon developed a 20-beaver condo," he says. "They built an absolutely huge mansion and a powerful dam."

   The dam was completed in the summer of 2014 and Bolduc's pond slowly expanded to a body of water measuring about 175 metres by 200 metres. The pond has since become home to numerous trout and the water has attracted muskrats, nesting loons and moose to the property.

The beaver dam has performed well since, standing up to subsequent heavy rains. "After a recent significant downpour, water levels went up about a foot, but the dam held nicely," says Bolduc.

   "There are new neighbours along the valley and when I want to visit them, I pretty much have to drive the distance to their place," he says.

   "If I place those speakers just right, by next year I should be able to canoe to the neighbour's house."

For the full July 30, 2015, Daily Commercial News article, follow this link.

Also, read more about this topic in the directed study report, by Erin Specht, called Using Beavers as a Watershed Management Tool document found here


Events and News in our Area 


Shoreline Clean-Up, September

Stay tuned for local area clean-ups. Here is a link to explain more about the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.


World Rivers Day Sept 27

World Rivers Day is a global celebration of rivers that occurs on the last Saturday of September. Learn more here.


Visit the St. Mary's Irrigation District News and Events page for information, notices and activities.


The Bow Island website will tell you all about the County of Forty Mile, and the town events, like Market in the Park dates for the month. 


Stay up to date with news and events in Oyen. Like the town FaceBook page to receive updates.

Connect, Strengthen and Expand

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Join the Conversation
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions you have about SEAWA, about land and water issues in the region, or about your personal connection to the watershed.
Shanna Mawer