St. Albert residents could have a comprehensive action plan to restore the Sturgeon River as early as next year, says the head of a regional watershed group.
About a hundred water experts and local leaders from throughout the Sturgeon River watershed were at Strathcona County’s Festival Place Thursday for a conference on municipalities and watersheds organized by the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance.
Municipalities are almost the de facto managers of water as they control the lands around lakes and rivers, said St. Albert’s Ken Crutchfield, president of the NSWA. That makes it vital for leaders to understand how they can affect the quality and quantity of water.
David Trew, the NSWA’s executive director, said he was quite optimistic about the current state of the North Saskatchewan. Total pollutant levels in it have plummeted since the 1990s due in part to massive improvements in wastewater treatment.
“What we haven’t done effectively is manage the land surface,” he continued.
Communities such as Edmonton have cleared vast swaths of forest over the last century, which has caused significant change to local hydrological flows, Trew said.
Plan for the Sturgeon?
The Sturgeon River watershed covers some 3,301 square kilometres, including St. Albert and Sturgeon County, and has a population of about 200,000, the conference heard. One of the many tributaries to the North Saskatchewan, the Sturgeon has poor water quality and low flows throughout its length, and has seen general declines in flows over the last two decades.
The Sturgeon region is seeing considerable pressure from farms, livestock, climate change, gravel mines, water withdrawals, invasive species and concentrated population growth, said Parkland County Coun. AnnLisa Jensen, chair of the Sturgeon River Watershed Alliance, a municipally supported watershed stewardship group for the Sturgeon.
“The Sturgeon has a lot of challenges. It’s not in great shape.”
St. Albert did a state of the watershed report on the Sturgeon in 2012, but found many gaps in the knowledge needed to build a watershed management plan. The Sturgeon watershed group has spent the last several years doing some $500,000 in studies to fill those gaps.
Jensen said those studies, which examine water quality, quantity, and hydrology, as well as gravel extraction, ecosystem health, and policy gaps, should be out within a few months and would help convince governments to work together on managing the Sturgeon.
“It’s happening finally!” she said, noting that it’s taken about five years to reach this point.
“We can finally get to work on what we can do, on concrete ways to restore and prioritize the preservation and enhancement of the Sturgeon River.”
Once the studies are released, the alliance can draw up a draft plan to manage the Sturgeon, Jensen said. This plan will give municipalities priorities for restoration opportunities in the Sturgeon and concrete actions they can take to protect water quality and quantity.
“It should be every resident’s concern, and that will be the framework that provides us with solutions,” Jensen said.
Jensen said the draft plan would likely be ready by spring 2019, and would involve extensive public consultation.
Local governments are already taking action to protect the Sturgeon. City of St. Albert environment director Leah Kongsrude spoke to the conference on St. Albert’s use of grit interceptors to reduce sediment loads to the Sturgeon, for example, while Jensen talked about how Parkland County was writing a water management plan for Lake Isle.
“This isn’t rocket science, these solutions,” Jensen said of the latter.
“We have to reduce the amount of pollutants going into lakes.”
Jensen said that there was a dynamic, committed group of experts and leaders behind the Sturgeon watershed alliance, and that she was eager to get to work on a watershed plan.
“It’s time. I want to get to action!”