SEAWA leads in green­ing lo­cal stream banks and lake shores

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Southeast Alberta - BY MAR­ILOU MON­TEMAYOR AND MAG­GIE ROMULD

Peo­ple have al­ways been at­tracted to stream banks and lake shores. While early ex­plor­ers used rivers for trans­porta­tion and com­merce, or as valu­able sources of wa­ter, mod­ern out­door en­thu­si­asts are into wa­ter sports and re­cre­ation, and some just want to re­lax in the shade of an edge-wa­ter for­est or take in the beauty of a river val­ley land­scape.

Both science and law re­fer to wa­teredged zones as “ri­par­ian”, and for plan­ning or study pur­poses they have been for­mally de­fined as “re­lat­ing to, or sit­u­ated or dwelling on, the bank of a river or other body of wa­ter”. In their healthy nat­u­ral state, th­ese strips of land be­tween the wa­ter and up­land ap­pear as green rib­bons along streams, or oddly shaped rings around lakes or reser­voirs. And in the semi-arid cli­mate of south­east­ern Al­berta, th­ese bands of green con­trast vividly with sur­round­ing up­lands, cropped fields, pas­tures, and coulees.

Plants grow along shore­lines in di­rect re­sponse to their prox­im­ity to the edge of the wa­ter and its depth and du­ra­tion. At the wa­ter's edge, com­mon plants in­clude those that pre­fer con­stantly wet soil and stand­ing wa­ter (for ex­am­ple cat­tails and bul­rushes). Far­ther away from the wa­ter's edge are plants that thrive in con­tin­u­ally moist soil, but not in flooded con­di­tions. Th­ese might in­clude sedges and arc­tic rush, and some up­land grasses. Far­ther yet from the shore are zones of woody shrubs and trees.

Ri­par­ian ar­eas pro­vide value above and be­yond their aes­thetic ap­peal. They pro­vide food and habi­tat for a wide va­ri­ety of crea­tures rang­ing from fish, frogs, mud dwellers and tiny or­gan­isms in wa­ter and bot­tom sed­i­ments; to birds, deer, moose and other wildlife. More im­por­tantly, they pro­vide eco­log­i­cal ser­vices that ben­e­fit peo­ple. Veg­e­ta­tion, es­pe­cially woody veg­e­ta­tion (shrubs and trees) pro­vides a nat­u­ral in­fra­struc­ture which helps re­duce the im­pact of rush­ing flood wa­ter by dis­si­pat­ing its en­ergy. Plant roots hold the soil and stream­banks and pre­vent ero­sion.

In lakes, veg­e­ta­tion mod­er­ates the ef­fects of high wa­ter lev­els and wave ac­tion. Ri­par­ian banks also store ex­cess wa­ter dur­ing high wa­ter flow and grad­u­ally dis­charge it dur­ing low flow. In ad­di­tion, veg­e­ta­tion and soil trap sed­i­ments and con­tam­i­nants which helps im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

Un­for­tu­nately, when ri­par­ian ar­eas are close to hu­man set­tle­ments or sub­jected to hu­man in­ter­fer­ence, they of­ten suf­fer from overuse, which can lead to se­vere im­pacts.

Degra­da­tion can re­sult from con­stant tram­pling of veg­e­ta­tion, over-brows­ing of woody shrubs, soil com­paction, or soil ero­sion by wa­ter and wind (of­ten made worse by lack of plants). In pas­tures, tram­pling of veg­e­ta­tion is caused by live­stock, and in ur­ban ar­eas, by pets and peo­ple. Ri­par­ian ar­eas are also wholly lost to di­rect de­vel­op­ment and paved in­fra­struc­ture.

The South East Al­berta Wa­ter­shed Al­liance (SEAWA), in part­ner­ship with pri­vate landown­ers, City of Medicine Hat, and St. Mary River Ir­ri­ga­tion District (SMRID), re­stored and en­hanced 7.7 km of ri­par­ian ar­eas be­tween May 2018 and Jan­uary 2019. Projects in­cluded fenc­ing to pre­vent live­stock ac­cess and in­stalling an off-stream live­stock wa­ter­ing sys­tem, plant­ing 1000 na­tive shrubs and trees, and re­mov­ing a live­stock cor­ral panel from a ri­par­ian area. The projects were im­ple­mented in the City of Medicine Hat, Cy­press County, and the County of Forty Mile; and were funded by the Recre­ational Fish­eries Con­ser­va­tion and Part­ner­ships Pro­gram (RFCPP), Fish­eries and Oceans Canada, and the Wa­ter­shed Re­siliency and Restora­tion Pro­gram (WRRP), Gov­ern­ment of Al­berta.

Fund­ing for the RFCPP pro­gram ends on March 31. WRRP fund­ing con­tin­ues un­til March 2020.

There are well-es­tab­lished meth­ods for the in­stal­la­tion of fenc­ing and off-stream wa­ter­ing equip­ment, and the re­moval of cor­ral pan­els. How­ever, the reveg­e­ta­tion of de­graded ri­par­ian ar­eas was a chal­lenge. There is no one-size-fits-all method for reveg­e­tat­ing de­graded ri­par­ian ar­eas: each site is unique, and prac­tices must be site-spe­cific. Nu­mer­ous fac­tors needed to be con­sid­ered when de­vel­op­ing the 2018 reveg­e­ta­tion meth­ods and tech­niques: the semi-arid cli­mate and a drought year; ex­treme heat warn­ing and wind ad­vi­sories; less snow than av­er­age; and warm spells in the fall and win­ter. It was also im­por­tant to take into con­sid­er­a­tion soil char­ac­ter­is­tics; site slope and as­pect (north, south, east, west); lo­ca­tion on the in­ner vs. outer curve of a stream; wildlife brows­ing; ac­ces­si­bil­ity of the site to ve­hi­cles bring­ing sup­plies, tools and equip­ment; nox­ious and in­va­sive weeds; and the avail­abil­ity of hired labour and vol­un­teers.

Restora­tion meth­ods and field tech­niques were de­vel­oped by Mar­ilou Mon­temayor, SEAWA's Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, who has a broad back­ground in ecosys­tem restora­tion. Mar­ilou was joined in the field by SEAWA staff Natasha Rogers, Brook­lyn Neubeker, Patrick Jablkowski, Cows and Fish Leth­bridge staff; and the 2018 sum­mer stu­dent Se­line So­lis. Shel­don Gill, Nick­o­las Grun­wald, and Travis Auger were hired to help with restora­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in the field. Garry Lentz, SEAWA’s Chair, pro­vided tools and stor­age space, sup­plied sand­bar wil­low stakes, and helped main­tain equip­ment.

Wa­ter in­flu­ences ri­par­ian ar­eas in three direc­tions: flow from up­stream to down­stream (rivers and streams), hor­i­zon­tal flow from the wa­ter body to its bank, and shal­low ground­wa­ter flow from be­low. The pres­ence of plants and char­ac­ter of the soil also in­flu­ence the dy­nam­ics of wa­ter in ri­par­ian ar­eas. There­fore, the man­age­ment of ri­par­ian ar­eas re­quires a whole sys­tems ap­proach – one which con­sid­ers the re­la­tion­ships be­tween wa­ter in three direc­tions, soil and sed­i­ment gain and loss, and veg­e­ta­tion.

Even a mi­nor loss of ri­par­ian ar­eas in south­east­ern Al­berta re­sults in sig­nif­i­cant eco­log­i­cal loss be­cause ri­par­ian ar­eas are few and far be­tween in our semi-arid cli­mate. Reveg­e­ta­tion of de­graded ri­par­ian ar­eas is labour in­ten­sive and costly: sites must be pre­pared and planted, and there is time­con­sum­ing post-plant care (wa­ter­ing, weed­ing, mulching, browse pro­tec­tion, and re­plac­ing plants that did not sur­vive). Post-plant care con­tin­ues for sev­eral years un­til plants are es­tab­lished and plant roots have ac­cess to shal­low ground­wa­ter.

There­fore, it is best for our wa­ter­shed, the over­all en­vi­ron­ment, and the econ­omy, to con­serve and pro­tect ex­ist­ing healthy ri­par­ian ar­eas and pre­vent degra­da­tion from oc­cur­ring.

For more info: ex­ec­u­[email protected], 403580-8980,, fol­low us on Twit­ter (@SEAl­bertawa­ters) and Face­book (Seawa.Wa­ter­shed)

Photo con­trib­uted

SEAWA work­ers were busy with var­i­ous projects a

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