Canadian Environment Week


June 5-11, 2022

Get the whole family involved in Canadian Environment Week with this free, printable colouring page.

Since 2018, Alberta has invested more than $30 million in the Caribou Habitat Recovery Program to help an important species.

The woodland caribou is a threatened species in Alberta and needs our protection! The province’s recovery plan seeks to help keep herds healthy, increase the population and protect the habitat of the majestic wild woodland caribou herds for years to come.

Read more about the Caribou Habitat Recovery Program.

Read more about Environment Week and Alberta’s environmental achievements in this statement from Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon.

Alberta’s Designated River Forecasting Team


By Franco Alo, Alberta Environment and Parks

Alberta is home to the Rocky Mountains as well as some major river systems, including Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca River, at ~1,300 km. With Alberta rivers being part of the landscape and co-existing with cities and towns, like the North Saskatchewan in Edmonton or the Peace River in Peace River, it is important to monitor these systems in order to keep Albertans safe.

Monitoring rivers in Alberta
“Alberta is unique because we have a dedicated ice team in the River Forecast Center, which means we have a team on call twenty-four seven all winter long,” says Jennifer Nafziger, River Hydraulics and Ice Engineer at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

This team monitors Alberta’s rivers using a variety of equipment both digital (e.g., satellite imagery) and in the field (e.g., drone). Using information from a variety of sources, river forecasters are able to run computer models that can help predict the behavior of rivers due to a heavy rainfall or river ice jam flooding.

With the information gathered and processed in near real-time, it can then be used to inform emergency managers about potential flooding events that may affect a nearby community. Emergency managers play a critical role, making decisions and taking action to mitigate any catastrophic risk to Albertans and their property as a result of a predicted flooding event.

Despite all the science and modern technological advancements today, the biggest challenge with river ice forecasting remains how quickly river ice conditions can change.  

The River Ice Forecasting team send their drone into the air to monitor the movement of ice in the Athabasca River, by Fort McMurray.

How technology has changed the face of river ice forecasting over time
Back when river ice forecasting was a new science, there were no remote gauges, remote cameras, satellite imagery or drones. There were people and paper maps.

It was common to have a cabin upstream of a major river, like the Athabasca, with a person stationed there watching the ice melt. This could last for up to a month, and the specialists observations became the data that was assessed. You can imagine on a cold winter day how that must have felt!

Today, monitoring rivers can be performed more comfortably. It still requires on the ground operations to install technology like remote gauges, and flying a drone to better understand how ice is moving in real time or how a major rainfall is affecting river discharge. Complimentary to the ground operations, river ice forecasters back in their offices use this information to get a better sense of the changes in river movements and patterns.

It is the combination of information acquired from the ground and through digital means that has grown river ice forecasting into the sophisticated machine it is today. One which relies on the expertise of many people: river forecasters, monitoring network service providers, data facilitators and the river hazard team.

April 21, 2022. The AEP River Ice Forecasting team deploy a drone to monitor ice build up by a bridge in Fort McMurray.

Learn More

Six Principles to Advance Citizen Science across Alberta

By Justine Kummer and Jeannine Goehing, Alberta Environment and Parks

From reporting grizzly bear sightings to listening to amphibian calls and assessing water quality, many Albertans are engaged in scientific research and monitoring across the province. Through citizen science, Albertans have the opportunity to help answer questions on Alberta’s environment, contribute to data and information gaps, and inform decision-making.

“Citizen science offers an approach that can enhance the way scientific data and information are collected and shared, improving accessibility, transparency, and credibility in monitoring and science. As participatory science continues to grow, it is important to consider how Albertans can support it and make it more effective in the long run,” says Dr. Jonathan Thompson, Chief Scientist at Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society, collecting a water sample from Ethel Lake in east Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Alberta’s growing network of citizen science programs
Contributing to scientific research is only one benefit of citizen science; other benefits include learning about the scientific method and process, collaborating with volunteers and scientists, and building a better understanding about Alberta’s environment. With these common elements in mind, Alberta-based organizations have developed citizen science programs such as NatureLynx, the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program (AVAMP) and Wildlife Xing.

Alberta Environment and Parks is part of this growing citizen science network, recognizing the role of citizen science in addressing a growing challenge to meet environmental data and information needs. AEP supports or leads several citizen science programs in collaboration with organizations across the province covering diverse environmental topics from local to provincial scales.

LakeWatch is one example that enlists citizen scientists across the province to provide data on lake water quality. Since 1996, the Alberta Lake Management Society in collaboration with AEP, has engaged Albertans interested in collecting information about their local lakes to help fill knowledge gaps in Alberta’s lake monitoring network.

A volunteer citizen scientist collecting data while ice fishing at Spring Lake in central Alberta (photo: Alberta Lake Management Society).

Over the years, LakeWatch has created a network of engaged and informed volunteers who ask questions and learn about their local environment, often over multiple years. These citizens collect and summarize environmental data to assess long-term trends and improve the health of the environment, including development of water management plans (for example, the Pigeon Lake Watershed Management Plan 2018) and state of the aquatic ecosystem reports. Through this engagement, the LakeWatch program aims to ensure a sustainable future for healthy lakes and aquatic ecosystems.

“I encourage anyone to get involved! Citizen science can help expand your understanding, and open your eyes to the world around you,” says Bradley Peter, Executive Director at the Alberta Lake Management Society.

GrizzTracker is another example of a citizen science program that engages the public in reporting grizzly bear observations via a smartphone app, helping fill grizzly bear knowledge gaps and management needs while creating engagement and education opportunities for specific land users and the general public. To learn more about the app and the team behind it, read the GrizzTracker story on the AEP Blog.

Advancing citizen science in Alberta
To further understand the state of citizen science in Alberta and its potential in advancing environmental monitoring and science, Alberta Environment and Parks worked with the Miistakis Institute to identify and document the network of citizen science activities in Alberta, as well as challenges that must be overcome to further advance citizen science in the province.

Based on the findings of this work, the Citizen Science Principles of Good Practice were developed to provide clarity on how citizen science can provide credible data and information to Alberta’s environmental monitoring and science programs.

Together, the six principles will guide good practice in the planning and delivery of scientifically credible and relevant citizen science initiatives that seek to answer questions on environmental issues.

Learn More

How do surface water quality management frameworks protect our water?

Over the past 20 years, Alberta has experienced tremendous growth. Statistics show that not only has our population increased  from around 3.1 million in 2002 to more than 4.4 million in 2021,  Alberta’s economy has also grown significantly. But positive opportunities also come with challenges, specifically, an increased pressure and need to access a valuable and limited resource—water.

So, how do we make sure clean, high quality water is available to promote healthy communities and a strong economy?  That’s where surface water quality management frameworks come into place.

These frameworks establish clear regional objectives for water quality. These objectives have to strike the right balance and are reached in collaboration with stakeholders, Indigenous communities, municipalities and the public. Frameworks are developed for our rivers to ensure these resources can support water needs for the community, aquatic habitat and industrial use in the region into the future.

In Alberta, there are two comprehensive regional surface water quality management frameworks. One is for the South Saskatchewan region and the other is for the lower Athabasca region. Each framework describes a long-term vision, or regional objective, and collects water quality information based on the needs and resources in the area. The frameworks inform government decisions to respond to changes in water quality as a result of human activities in the watershed.

In southern Alberta, the South Saskatchewan region surface water quality management framework includes the Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman and Milk rivers. This area, known for its hot, dry climate, experiences a wide range of land uses and every drop of water is in high demand. In northeastern Alberta, an area with a heavy concentration of industrial activity, the framework helps effectively manage water quality.

Bow Watershed, South Saskatchewan Region

Regular water monitoring, evaluation and reporting on ambient surface water quality conditions ensure the objectives of the framework are being met. Ongoing monitoring of key water quality indicators such as nutrients, metals, sediment, bacteria and major ions ensure stressors affecting water quality are closely monitored.

If one or more of the 20+ water quality indicators are triggered, Alberta Environment and Parks will get the early warning signal to act. Based on stringent water quality guidelines, the frameworks also include more specific water quality limits to make sure water is suitable for aquatic life, recreation, irrigation, livestock watering and source water for household use.

If an exceedance of a trigger or limit is found, actions are taken. Depending on the cause and effect, responses can vary in severity. It may mean a non-regulatory approach is developed, such as education and awareness initiatives, or the use of strong regulatory tools. Depending on the situation, these responses are acted upon in collaboration with industry, communities and stakeholders. Tools include changes to regulations or mandatory new approval conditions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Whichever the response, the goal is always to protect the environment and support continuous improvement.

Surface water quality management frameworks have proven to be very valuable tools for monitoring and managing long-term, cumulative changes in water quality since being put in place in the lower Athabasca region in 2012 and the South Saskatchewan region in 2014.

Athabasca River, Lower Athabasca Region

Albertans place a high value on our province’s water resources and want to ensure our water quality is protected. With water resources in other areas of the province under similar pressure, the use of surface water quality management frameworks is a proven way to help manage water quality across a region.

Alberta will continue to grow, and surface water management frameworks will help us keep pace and address the water needs for communities and industry opportunities.

The Challenging Visitation Increase to Kananaskis in 2020

Did you know that last year Kananaskis experienced the highest visitation rate in history?

In 2020, visitation to Kananaskis was the highest ever recorded in history for the area, with more than five million visitors—higher than annual average visitation rate in Banff National Park, which is typically just over 4 million.

Consistently increasing over the years, visitation numbers skyrocketed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kananaskis is a large draw for visitors from the area’s large urban centres, such as Calgary.

The make-up of visitors last year was also more varied than before, with a “new to the outdoors” group heading out. Many of these users were discovering outdoor recreation activities, like hiking, for the first time.  

“Social media played a large role in drawing additional visitors to the area, with many blogs and social media postings inspiring visitation to Kananaskis for its renowned activities, trails and experiences,” said Debbie Mucha, Kananaskis West Area Manager, Alberta Environment and Parks.

The extremely high and consistent volume of visitors, and in some cases their inexperience with the outdoors, presented several new challenges and compounded existing ones, including:

Garbage, waste, and litter

Visitors left the highest amounts of garbage, litter and waste ever observed in Kananaskis. Litter was not properly disposed, and it was often tossed in front or around bins, or simply left on trails, day use areas and around other facilities. Bins could not be serviced quickly enough to keep up with the high volume of garbage. Dog poop/waste bags (filled) littered the trails in high densities as did paper coffee cups, masks, wipes, tampons and numerous other items.

“The amount of garbage and disregard for parks facilities were a large issue. Despite our best efforts, visitors seemed to be unaware of leave no trace principles related to going to the washroom in the woods or in some cases in outhouse facilities. Toilet paper was everywhere, including at day use areas and off/on trails. When garbage isn’t disposed of properly, it can attract and endanger wildlife,” added Debbie.

Large amounts of garbage left on trails, day use areas and around other facilities.

Wildlife concerns

High numbers of visitors meant more impacts to sensitive environments, landscapes and wildlife. Conservation Officers, bear management technicians and volunteers spent a lot more time collecting garbage so wildlife would not be attracted to areas where people were recreating.

Many visitors were not familiar with wildlife etiquette and best practices, including bear safety recommendations—like effectively carrying bear spray, knowing how to use and store it—not feeding wildlife, properly disposing of garbage and keeping dogs on leash. Dogs off leash can stress wildlife, so keeping your dog on leash and under control can help keep your dog, you and wildlife safe.

 “We encourage visitors to actively discover, explore and experience nature; but at the same time to be safe and respectful around wildlife. Remember to be cautious whenever there’s wildlife present and give them space, never leave food or attractants out, properly dispose of garbage; respect area, site and trail closures, and stay on sanctioned trails where possible. We all have a role in keeping wildlife wild,” said Debbie.

 Stay in sanctioned trails and respect area, site and trail closures and restrictions

Too many visitors concentrated in one area or location and going off trails can have a detrimental impact on sensitive habitats. We encourage visitors to always stay on designated trails and respect area, site and trail closures and restrictions. Developing new “unofficial” routes and trails is not allowed, as this can cause damage to the environment and present hazards to other visitors. People should always be prepared to adjust travel plans if necessary. If a trail or site is full, we encourage visitors to have alternate plans, such as visiting another area, going earlier or later in the day, or during days or seasons that are less busy.

 “We had very high visitation to Highwood Pass, leading to significant damages to alpine and sub-alpine environment, and severe impacts to delicate flora and fauna which were being crushed or decimated in sensitive areas. We encourage everyone to always stay on sanctioned trails. These have been designed to take you to beautiful locations while at the same time keeping you safe from hazards, and protecting the environment and other visitors alike,” expressed Debbie.

Enforcement Resources

There was an increase in calls for enforcement last year, with a steep increase in calls regarding illegal camping and people with dogs off-leash. In addition, the area experienced an increase in “city like” crime, such as vehicle break-ins and vandalism, like graffiti.

The other side of this problem was that Conservation Officers had a difficult time in responding to the increased enforcement issues because much of their time was spent on public safety incidents, wildlife response, parking issues, and cleaning up garbage.

Some of the graffiti found at Ha-Ling. 

Traffic congestion, illegal parking and excessive speed

Congested parking lots and vehicles parking on the highway shoulder, roadway and ditch parking were also an issue, particularly because they limited the access of emergency vehicles to sites as well as reduced pedestrian safety.

This also degraded roadside vegetation due to vehicles parking off-road sometimes two vehicles deep. Excessive speeds from some drivers and the sheer numbers of vehicles also increased the risk for the public and wildlife.

“Probably due to the underlying stress of the pandemic, visitors were behaving in a more aggressive way with staff and contractors. We had contractors being called certain names and the public arguing if they said a parking lot was full. We received reports of negative behaviours and attitudes from the public towards campground operators and staff,” added Debbie.

Improper parking and traffic issues.

Operational Expenses

Operational expenses in the Kananaskis increased exponentially and exceeded budget allotment for summer 2020. Some of these expenses included additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and associated Occupational Health and Safety requirements, high volume of washroom use, maintenance and clean-up, firewood supply, increased helicopter budget for rescues, among others.

“We saw a high increase in costs of emptying and cleaning toilets, garbage collection, providing supplies including the cost of hand sanitizer and PPE to keep both the public and staff safe. When day use areas and washrooms were closed, visitors defecated beside washrooms and even in front of visitor information centres. A considerable amount of funds had to be spent on a contractor to clean this mess up,” expressed Debbie.

You are now in Mother Nature’s home, so be a good guest!

If you were a guest in someone’s home, would you behave in a disruptive manner? Likely not. Remember that when you head into the outdoors you become a guest in Mother Nature’s home.

Albertans are encouraged to do their part and reduce the pressure on the landscape, wildlife, and the staff that helps keep Kananaskis beautiful, healthy and safe.

Visitors who may lack experience are encouraged to learn more about best practices and proper outdoor etiquettes, by taking a course, learning from others, hiring an expert guide, or doing some reading and research prior to heading out.

“When you visit a park, come prepared and do your research in advance. For example, arrive early and have alternative options in mind if parking lots and trails are full, and think of other times seasons that may not be that busy in the area you plan to visit,” said Debbie.  

Visitors should also avoid playing loud music, dispose garbage and doggy bags properly, not do graffiti, and not park on highway shoulders. These actions will increase your chances for a safe and happy visit that does not have any negative impacts on the landscapes, wildlife and other people.

“We’re currently looking at the impact that high visitation has put on wildlife and sensitive landscapes, and at ways to minimize these impacts. After all, don’t we all want to see places like Kananaskis exist and flourish in the long term and far into the future so they can be enjoyed?,” concluded Debbie.

A Typical Day Isn’t Typical For Alberta Government Wildlife Biologist

By Jeannine Goehing, AEP Office of the Chief Scientist

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, senior wildlife biologist Dr. Anne Hubbs shares her experience working with Fish and Wildlife at Alberta Environment and Parks for over 20 years.

Dr. Anne Hubbs was surrounded by three humpback whales, each one the size of a standard school bus. The professional wildlife biologist was in her sea kayak exploring Antarctica with her husband during a three-week trip that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of her life.

“I’ll never forget the moment when I saw one of the whales’ heads go underwater right beside my kayak,” she recalls, adding she has been fascinated with whales since childhood. 

Anne has had special wildlife encounters throughout her career, including one with a black wolf in the Yukon and a face to face encounter with a moose suffering from Chronic Wasting Disease. In Alberta, she has worked with harlequin ducks, goshawks, caribou and bighorn sheep among many other species, and it’s where her passion lies.

“I believe that most Albertans are interested in wildlife, and see their intrinsic value and that of natural ecosystems,” she explains. For instance, when talking to the general public or hunting community about their motivations, she often finds a common appreciation. “They like to be out in nature and they appreciate that pristine, isolated environment.”

As a wildlife biologist, a lot of her work touches on those environments and species that so many Albertans value.

“We’re working to protect ecosystems and maintain healthy wildlife populations for Albertans, whether they want to view wildlife on public land, in provincial or national parks, or whether they are hunters or general recreationists,” Anne explains. “What we do on provincial lands may affect populations in adjacent national parks or bordering provinces and states, and we’re trying to minimize any potential negative impacts from human or industrial development on wildlife.”

Dr. Anne Hubbs kayaking in search of western grebes.
Photo credit: Brendan McGlynn

Anne’s passion for the world around her and her dedication to conservation and species recovery started at a very young age.

Ants in the kitchen

Anne has been interested in science as long as she can remember, and she grew up exploring nature and wildlife whenever possible.

“My dad and I used to go out looking for crayfish or collecting ant farms that invariably escaped in the house – much to my mom’s shock,” she recalls with a smile. “My dad instilled a love of nature in me.”

That interest in the world around her also led to an admiration with some of the biggest names in the conservation world: “I was hooked on French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and English primatologist Jane Goodall from a very young age.”

Growing up in Toronto, Anne followed her passion and enrolled in an undergraduate degree studying biology at the University of Toronto and taking field courses on monkeys in Hong Kong and tundra wildlife in the Canadian Arctic. She also worked as a zookeeper at the Toronto Zoo, marine biologist off the coast of Ireland, and a primatologist in Germany.

“I really enjoyed studying a variety of species and seeing different environments. It broadened my perspective and got me hooked,” she explains.

She followed up with a Master of Science in Zoology at the University of Toronto where her interest in ecology only deepened during fieldwork in Kluane National Park in the Yukon, which led to her PhD in Ecology at the University of Western Ontario. It was her PhD fieldwork that led her to Alberta, and ultimately to her position with the Government of Alberta.

When she arrived at Alberta Fish and Wildlife, things looked very different than they do today.

“When I started out there were less than half a dozen female colleagues across the province, but the dynamics have shifted so much that it’s about fifty-fifty now,” she says. “Women can bring a different vision or perspective to the position – part of this is potentially more of an emphasis on relationship building and also a feeling that they need to work harder than their male colleagues to be the best candidate.” 

For Anne, the key was always learning and innovation.

Quest for learning

Anne has most valued and enjoyed learning, engagement and collaboration throughout her career. As a biologist working in the department, she has had unique opportunities to tap into a province-wide network of biologists, scientists from universities, and experts from other jurisdictions.

“Everybody has different skillsets that they bring to the table and when I work with somebody, I try to learn from them,” she explains. For one of her current projects on bighorn sheep management, she learned a new tool that has also proved helpful for personal life decisions.

“A colleague, Wendy Aupers, introduced me to Structured Decision Making, which is a step-by-step process that combines values from stakeholders or agencies with scientific information. We’re using it to develop a bighorn sheep management plan in collaboration with Cornell University,” she explains. “It can be useful for personal life decisions as well – whether it’s deciding where to go for dinner or how to choose our next holiday destination.”

Anne’s openness to learning also led to her current role as co-chair of the Alberta steering committee for a large collaborative project called WildCam – Wildlife Cameras for Adaptive Management.

“Remote cameras are non-invasive and can collect information on multiple species at the same time, such as lynx, moose and deer,” she says. “It’s a very innovative method and we’re trying to develop guidelines and tools to support its use across Alberta and British Columbia.”

Developing new approaches like these have helped her throughout her career, and keep her engaged with her work.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate and partner, particularly on large-scale projects – whether it’s with researchers, stakeholders or other jurisdictions across North America. It’s very rewarding.”

Unique opportunities

Anne’s career with Alberta Environment and Parks has spanned over 20 years and four locations including Hinton, Athabasca, Rocky Mountain House and a secondment with the Wildlife Policy Branch in Edmonton as the province’s big game specialist. Each of those posts provided her with unique opportunities –– the sort of opportunities she recommends every aspiring biologist to seek out.

Dr. Anne Hubbs collaring elk with researchers at Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, Alberta.
Photo credit: Julia Wachowski

“Think of things that make you stand out at the end of the day,” she advises. “Take on unique opportunities, either through volunteering or international travel, and develop special skillsets that showcase your passion.”

But she believes there’s more to those opportunities than just developing technical skills like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or modeling.

“As biologists, we need those technical skills, but we also need the soft skills such as effective communication,” she asserts. “We’re lucky to have unique experiences with nature in our work. Knowing how to effectively tell those stories and engage with people in a meaningful way is key.”

When it comes to developing these abilities, Anne advises young scientists to seek out mentors familiar with the unique challenges and complexities of working in the public service.

“When you’re fresh out of graduate school, the speed at which government works can be surprising,” she explains with a laugh. “For somebody from outside government, it may seem like a long time to move a policy forward, and it absolutely does. But I don’t think some people understand the complexities and number of different divisions, outside agencies and stakeholders who are often involved in the process. It’s not all fieldwork, but also partnerships, and working with stakeholders and industry.”

The diversity and complexity of the work is one of the things Anne most appreciates about her role as a biologist in the department. It also informs the advice she shares with aspiring scientists considering a career path like her own.

“If an opportunity for new learning or leadership role comes up, it’s well worth doing,” she says, before sharing one of her favorite quotes from Albert Einstein “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

It’s this philosophy that led Anne into a kayak beside humpback whales off Antarctica. “Challenge yourself, and don’t be afraid to push the limits.”

Interested in resources and networks supporting women in environmental sciences, technology, and conservation? Please find more information below:

  • WiSER (Women in Science, Engineering & Research): Founded in 2008 as a sub-community of University of Alberta’s WISEST aiming at serving the needs of graduate students and early-career professionals. The community is comprised of individuals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the academia, government, and industry.
  • Women in Nature Network: Founded in 2013 to promote women’s leadership and participation in the sustainable management of natural resources and their conservation; an Associate Group of Global Wildlife Conservation.

  • Women Entrepreneurs-in-STEM (WESTEM) Program: Program for women entrepreneurs offering training, networking, mentorship and access to current and emerging technologies created by Economic Development Lethbridge and Tecconnect with funding from the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.
  • Cybermentor: Encouraging young people interested in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) to pursue post-secondary education through online mentorship and outreach programs.

International Women & Girls in Science Day: Alberta’s Changing Climate and What It Means For Our Water Resources

By Dr. Brandi Newton, Alberta Environment and Parks

To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, Dr. Brandi Newton from Alberta Environment and Parks shares her experience working as a hydroclimatologist in the department.

Alberta’s winter climate with its plentiful snow is ideal for outdoor recreational activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and fat-tire biking, and we take advantage of it. The snow that accumulates in the mountains also serves as an important source of fresh water during spring and early summer for traditional uses such as river navigation, for aquatic and riparian ecosystem health, drinking and household use, agricultural irrigation, industrial needs, and snowmelt fills reservoirs used in hydroelectricity generation.

Alberta also serves as the source region for several major river basins in Canada making us stewards of a resource essential to both Albertans and numerous downstream users.

We know that climate is changing across the world and here at home in Alberta. Climate models indicate average global temperatures will increase by 1.0°C to 3.7°C above the 1985-2005 global average temperature by the end of this century (IPCC 2013). We also know that higher latitudes and land surfaces are warming at a faster rate and that the biggest temperature changes occur during winter, which will significantly impact when and how much water is available to us through the amount of snow that accumulates each winter and the timing of snowmelt.

Brandi at the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River. During the summer, Rocky Mountain rivers are fed by glacier melt and high elevation snowmelt.
Photo by Dr. Thomas Edwards.

Knowing what the changes to our winter climate will look like is critical to managing Alberta’s water resources. As part of our stewardship work, we have started to examine how climate has changed in Alberta to better understand future risks to water resource availability.

Alberta’s Changing Winter: Early Results

Our goal is to determine which regions of the province are most at risk for annual or seasonal shifts in water supply when it comes to winter climate change. This is particularly important because snow is not evenly distributed across the province, with much greater snowpack in the mountains compared to lower-elevation areas.

One of my favorite parts of being a research scientist is solving complex scientific questions involving water and climate, and more specifically, understanding how a changing climate will influence an uneven distribution of winter snowpack and associated water availability from spring and summer melt.

It all starts with Alberta’s networks of meteorological and hydrometric monitoring stations, and passionate staff who conduct field measurements and maintain equipment to measure snow depth and distribution. This data is critical to provide the best available information to decision-makers.

One of the results of our ongoing study to analyze this data shows that winters appear to get shorter. For example, spring temperatures have been rising above freezing significantly earlier in the last ten to 15 years over the period 1950 to 2017. This trend is more pronounced in the Prairie region of southern Alberta where spring temperatures are occurring two to three weeks earlier.

Historically, Alberta’s southern prairies have experienced the greatest climatic variability – meaning there could be very high temperatures and precipitation one year and very low the next. As a result, the prairies rely heavily upon water management strategies, primarily for agricultural purposes.

High elevation snowpack remains in early July 2019 in Banff National Park. We rely on high elevation snowmelt for summer water resource availability. Photo by Dr. Brandi Newton.

The next steps in this work are to compare our results with future climate scenarios to determine if spring will continue to arrive earlier, further shortening the duration of winter and time for snow to accumulate. Future projections are based on medium- and high emissions scenarios, similar to the 1.5°C and 3.5°C global warming scenarios.

Knowing how Alberta’s winter climate and snowpack may change under these scenarios is important for managing water resources, and foreseeing potential risks.

For example, the amount of winter snowpack and the timing of spring melt will not only affect water availability, but also may affect spring flooding. When snowmelt is combined with spring rainfall and river ice break-up jams, it can cause severe flooding, such as the 2013 flood in southern Alberta and the recent ice jam flooding in Fort McMurray in May 2020.

Conducting routine snow surveys in Banff National Park with an Alberta Environment and Parks monitoring team. Snow surveys are a critical source of information for flood forecasting.
Photo by Dr. Brandi Newton

Ongoing Research

Understanding these factors is to the benefit of all Albertans and the economy and, not surprisingly, generates a lot of interest. Most recently, there’s been a lot of attention on the impact of climate change on glaciers and the possible consequences for communities that rely on glacial meltwater for part of their water supply.  

At Alberta Environment and Parks, we aim to look at all the drivers influencing climate and water availability, including glacier loss and changes to winter precipitation. From a water supply perspective, glacial meltwater reductions are of particular concern in late summer, during drier years, and for communities in closer proximity to glaciers.

For most municipalities in Alberta, glacier melt contributes a small fraction of the overall water supply, particularly during the summer when contributions are the highest. Seasonal and year-over-year variability of precipitation has a major impact on water supply across Alberta.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on water supply requires us to understand many factors and how they interact with each other, so ongoing research is crucial.

Beyond new scientific knowledge, our research will inform Alberta’s water policy and management decisions and help inform community resilience to ensure Albertans have access to water now and in the future.

Dr. Brandi Newton is a hydroclimatologist with Alberta Environment and Parks. She studies climate and hydrology in Alberta to better understand relationships and changes in climate, streamflow, and the drivers of extreme hydrological events such as floods. This helps inform environmental monitoring, management and policy decisions, and public understanding of environmental conditions in Alberta. Brandi has previously worked on projects including the atmospheric role in the Arctic freshwater system, the climatic redistribution of western Canadian water resources, mid-winter river ice break-up, and other winter extreme climate events in western Canada and Alaska.

Learn More

For more details on historic and projected climate change globally and in Canada, see the following reports:

AEP’s Wetlands Replacement Program restores nearly 160 hectares of wetland in Alberta

Wetlands in Alberta

Several municipalities across Alberta are the stewards of new or restored wetland ecosystems within their communities. Funded through Alberta Environment and Parks’ (AEP) Wetland Replacement Program (WRP), the program provides financial support for wetland restoration and construction initiatives that reverse the trend of wetland loss and ultimately enhance and enrich communities throughout Alberta. To date, the program has funded seven projects across the province equating to $3.7 million, and resulted in the restoration and or construction of 158.23 ha of wetland – truly a significant accomplishment.

Wetlands sustain life in many ways and are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are rich with an abundance of diverse plants and animals, are a source of substantial biodiversity and provide a host of important benefits to society such as for fish and wildlife habitats, natural water quality improvement, flood storage, shoreline erosion protection and a myriad of opportunities for tourism, boating, bird watching, nature photography, hunting, fishing and other activities.

They are a vital part of Alberta’s ecological landscape and necessary for a sustainable economy and healthy communities. Protecting wetlands can, in turn, protect our health and safety by reducing flood damage and preserving water quality.

Since the establishment of the province more than 100 years ago, land development, urbanization and settlement has resulted in a significant reduction of wetlands. These natural areas continue to be under direct and indirect pressures from a variety of sources including dredging, draining, and/or filling wetland areas for conversion to agricultural, industrial or residential lands. Thus, careful management and restoration of wetland ecosystems are important tools in reversing those impacts and the resultant loss of ecosystem goods and services.

In Alberta, the province’s wetland policy plays an important part in both recognizing the value of wetlands and retaining them on our landscapes.

In 2019, AEP began the design and development of its Wetland Replacement Program – a program that aims to re-establish wetlands in partnership with Albertans by providing resources for collaborative replacement projects across the province.

Since January 2020, AEP began extensive engagements with municipalities throughout Alberta, alongside Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and to date, through a series of virtual meetings and presentations, they have engaged with over 15 municipalities and DUC on the program.

They have also signed memorandums of understanding to work together with nine municipalities to establish wetland replacement projects – municipalities including the City of Leduc, City of Red Deer, County of Grande Prairie, County of Leduc, Lac La Biche County, Municipal District of Greenview, Parkland County, Strathcona County and Sturgeon County as well as with DUC.

This is how it works. AEP works with participants of the program – any non-profit organization or municipality, to identify potential wetland replacement projects. Once the projects have been assessed and approved, replacement projects are funded by the WRP which can include financial compensation for private landowners hosting wetland replacement projects on their private lands.

Another positive outcome of the program is the impact it has on a range of employment opportunities for Albertans. Private consultants – in the areas of environmental, construction operators, equipment rentals, and vegetation nurseries – can participate in the program through contracts with the municipality, resulting in job creation and community growth.

Having the program operate through AEP provides financial oversight and accountability of the revenues and expenditures of the money collected through the program.

In addition, the WRP also supports Alberta’s Wetland Policy (AWP) priority policy outcomes in the following ways: a) Wetlands and their benefits to the environment and society are conserved and restored in areas where losses have been high. b) Wetlands are managed by avoiding and minimizing negative impacts, and where necessary, by replacing lost wetland value.

Matthew Wilson, wetlands team lead with AEP, attributes much of the success of the program to collaboration, particularly through the high level of participation from DUC and their ability to restore hundreds of hectares of wetlands annually, as well as through the commitment by municipal stakeholders to deliver wetland replacement projects.

“It has been a great experience developing new relationships with municipalities and working with DUC, who has so much experience in wetland restoration. Working together fulfills a policy commitment by AEP that municipalities play a key role in planning and prioritizing wetland restoration and conservation within their jurisdiction. The program delivers on AEP’s Wetland Policy outcomes to restore and replace wetlands in areas of high historical loss and in areas where recent wetland losses could not be avoided,” he says.

The WRP is currently focused on funding projects in wetland restoration and wetland construction.

Wetland restoration can be defined as the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of returning natural / historic functions to a former or degraded wetland. Examples of wetland restoration include, but are not limited to, installing a ditch plug in a drained wetland, or a partially drained wetland or the removal of tile drainage.

Wetland construction is the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of creating a wetland on a site location that was historically non-wetland. This results in a gain of wetland area and function. AEP is also considering the expanding existing wetlands, by broadening the scope of the wetland area into upland areas or deep water sites.

Red Tape Reduction

Other progression in wetland policy includes a new Code of Practice (COP) for Wetland Replacement Works (WRW) that has been approved for Wetland Replacement Projects that meet the requirements of the code.

The new COP will be for low risk restoration and construction activities. For projects that do not qualify for the new COP, proponents will still have to obtain an approval. What this means is that people will be able to get started on the project more quickly, reduce burden on approvals staff and enable AEP to spend the WRP money to get people back to work.

Wetland Replacement Projects

Location: County of Grande Prairie

Number of wetland hectares restored: 0.5 ha

Participants: In association with private landowners

Location: County of Grande Prairie

Number of wetland hectare restoration and construction: 2.0

Participants: In association with private landowners

Wetland benefit: Both projects in Grand Prairie will contribute to better water quality in Saskatoon Lake.

Location: Municipal District of Greenview

Number of wetland hectares of construction: 0.5.

Wetland benefit: This project will address water quality issues in Victor Lake, which is the primary source of drinking water for Grande Cache.

Location: City of Leduc

Number of wetland hectares of construction: 0.38

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to improved water quality in the adjacent Telford Lake and provide additional habitat for wildlife and an educational opportunity for residents as it is adjacent to the city’s existing nature trail that extends around Telford Lake.

The City of Leduc successfully restored 0.38 hectares of wetland at the Telford Lake site. All of the earthwork was completed in November 2020 that included installation of snags and coarse wood debris as habitat features and to create structure. Seeding occurred immediately and the planting of aquatic species will be completed in Spring 2021.

 “We are pleased to have worked with the Province on the wetlands restoration project at Telford Lake,” says City of Leduc Councillor Lars Hansen. “Once complete, it will bring many ecological benefits to the area and provide unique opportunities for community education and engagement among local residents.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada Projects

Willow Creek

Number of wetland hectares restored: 13.74

Location: Municipal District of Willow Creek, in partnership with private landowners

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat.  

Silver Sage

Number of wetland hectares restored: 29.39

Location: County of Forty Mile, in partnership with the Alberta Conservation Association (their land).

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat.

Lochend Lake

Number of wetland hectares restored: 111.72

Location: Rocky View County, in partnership with private landowners

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat. The project is located within the headwaters of the Big Hills Springs Creek, which then flows into the Bow River System upstream of Calgary.

In 2021, the Wetlands Replacement Program will continue to engage with municipalities and other non-profits to participate in the program and get more projects on the ground!

Controlling Aquatic Invasive Species with new Technology

A first-of-its-kind machine in the country is in Alberta to help seek out in controlling Aquatic Invasive Species

In the fall of 2019, while walking the shoreline of Lake McGregor, a diligent Albertan reported coming across some unusual looking shells. Lake McGregor, located within the Lake McGregor Provincial Recreation Area, is situated 100km southeast of Calgary in the Vulcan County. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) staff investigated the report and discovered these shells meant a presence of the Chinese Mystery Snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis). To date, this is the first and only documented location of the snail in the province.

The Chinese Mystery Snail, discovered for the first time in the province in the fall of 2019.

Native to Eastern Asia and known to alter water quality and disrupt food chains, the Chinese Mystery Snail is one of the 52 prohibited species under the Fisheries (Alberta) Act. As a prohibited species, it is illegal to possess, import, sell or transport the snail into our province.

 “Research shows the Chinese Mystery Snail can pose both an economic and ecological threat to freshwater ecosystems. The snail is known to have the ability to host multiple human parasites and diseases, and pollute beaches with shells that can injure beach users, outcompete native species, and clog infrastructure,” said Nicole Kimmel, Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist with AEP.

Populations of the snail abound across the country. They are typically found in British Columbia, Quebec, southern Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

With limited information on effective eradication methods, AEP has focused on helping people identify these snails to stop further spread of this invasive species to other water bodies in the province. To do this, the government helped install a CD3 machine at Lake McGregor last September, which made Alberta the first jurisdiction in Canada to have a machine of this kind.

“We’re proud that Alberta is leading the way in the use of modern technology to control invasive species in Canada. These machines have previously been used in a number of US states and have had very successful results,” added Kimmel.

CD3 machine at Lake McGregor.

The CD3 machine is used as a tool to help boaters clean, drain and dry their watercraft and equipment at the Lake McGregor Recreational Area boat launch.  In addition to being powered by solar energy, the unit is a waterless, free-of-charge cleaning equipment that includes an array of tools to clean, drain and dry watercraft as they exit Lake McGregor. The machine is equipped with a wet/dry vacuum, blower system, tethered hands tools and lights.

“The machine is easy to use by boat users with instructions displayed on the unit that walk them through on how to use all the various tools provided. The state-of-the art CD3 machine is also equipped with technology that logs tool use, provides automatic reports, and maintenance alerts,” said Kimmel.  

A person using the CD3 machine to clean their boat.

Getting this modern machine to Alberta required many partners working together. AEP collaborated with the Invasive Species Centre and the Bow River Irrigation District to ensure this machine arrived to Alberta.

“Getting the CD3 machine here in Alberta was truly a national collaborative effort. The Invasive Species Centre initially purchased the unit, with funds from the Canada Nature Fund provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to be installed in the prairies region. The Bow River Irrigation District is helping us store and properly maintain the unit, while Alberta Parks provided the location for public use,” expressed Kimmel.

Preventing the spread of invasive species while protecting species at risk is a share goal for each of the partners. The machine is also monitored, well cared for and stored appropriately year-round as a collaborative effort. 

The installation of the CD3 machine is one example of how collaboration can help us maintain the health of Alberta’s lakes and continue to allow for memories to be made. But remember that we still need your help! If you spot any invasive species in an Alberta waterbody, please report them promptly, either through the AIS hotline at 1-855-336-BOAT (2628) or on EDDMapS Alberta.

Ensuring the Protection of Alberta’s Environment – the 2020 Compliance Assurance Annual Report

The compliance team within Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is responsible for responding to known or potential environmental emergencies or complaints from the public.

“We deal with everything from the release of toxic substances into a waterbody to the unauthorized use of public lands in the province,” says Owen Butz, AEP Compliance Manager.

Responding to environmental emergencies

The compliance team tracks every complaint or report received and its related response. This action not only tracks trends over time but also ensures that compliance work is open and accessible.

All the compliance activities conducted over the last year by AEP are listed in the publicly-released Compliance Assurance Annual Report, providing documented statistics that show how each reported incident is acted upon.

“We take every report, complaint and call very seriously – we’re all stewards of the environment,” adds Owen.

The Compliance Assurance Annual Report includes the work of the department’s Support and Emergency Response Team (ASERT). This team – as the name implies – is responsible for responding to environmental emergencies.  A key part of that work is to ensure preparedness and coordination of response with other agencies, partners, and provincial or federal governments.

The ASERT team continually seeks out new technologies or best practices to improve Alberta’s emergency preparedness and response. For example, last year they used drone flights to document the appearance of an aquatic invasive species in Alberta. Drones have also been used to assess the extent of environmental contamination in the event of a collision, and to identify spills and their extent.

“Drones have made safe and affordable to access difficult-to-access or unsafe locations. In the past, it would have been very costly to get aerial image or video because you would need a plane or a helicopter,” expressed Owen.

Compliance isn’t just about responding to emergencies, though – a significant part of the compliance team’s work involves education and prevention to promote compliance long-term. If education and prevention efforts aren’t enough, the team is equipped with a diverse enforcement toolkit to track and reverse non-compliance, and if required, punish offenders. 

“We want to be as proactive as possible and use education to increase awareness and compliance,” says Owen. “Regulatory requirements are in place to protect our environment – and Albertans.  Most people want to do the right thing. However, we do have tools in place to ensure enforcement and we will use them if necessary.”

Enforcement measures include the use of creative sentencing in the court process, such as taking the funds from paid fines and diverting them to environmental improvement projects.

For example, the Edmonton Native Plant Society received creative sentencing funds to re-establish natural vegetation in two former farmers’ fields that are part of the Wagner Natural Area near Spruce Grove.

Creative funds were also diverted to the Telus World of Science following an air pollution incident in Hinton. The funds are being used to increase air quality awareness and knowledge among Alberta students, teachers and the public. The funds will create a classroom-teaching unit on air quality, a hands-on monitoring tool to allow students to take real time air quality measurements. More examples of creative sentencing projects are listed in the annual report.

To learn more about environmental response and preparedness, while ensuring the accomplishments of Alberta’s compliance team are accessible to everyone, visit:  Compliance Assurance Annual Report.

Quick stats about the 2020 Compliance Assurance Annual Report

From April 2019 to March 2020, Alberta Environment and Parks:

  • Received almost 10,000 environmental emergencies or complaint calls – every complaint and report is followed-up
  • Completed more than 2,000 inspections
  • Sent 130 warning letters
  • Issued 36 orders to either prevent and/or correct damages, compel parties to prevent environmental harm, properly manage water or vacate public land.
  • Issued 16 administrative penalties
  • Completed nearly 200 surface material lease royalty audits
  • Charged one company, seven individuals and three municipalities for offences under legislation administered by the department.
  • Concluded four prosecutions