Water’ll we do without it? Finding Nature-Based Solutions to Protect Alberta’s Water Resources

Water has been boiling to the top of people’s mind as the world is faced with more and more water-related issues like flood, drought and water pollution. In Alberta, we continue to find ways to protect our water resources. As World Water Day approaches on March 22, the day’s theme, Nature for Water, couldn’t be more fitting. Finding nature-based solutions to help solve our 21st century world water problems is the key to preserving this resource.

Water blog

While there is certainly not a one-size fits all solution to this problem, Alberta may already be ahead of the game when it comes to nature-based solutions, or actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, thanks to the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP).

WRRP is an essential part of Alberta’s plan to build watersheds and communities that are resilient to the impacts of flood and drought. The goal of the program is to conserve, enhance and restore critical watershed functions that are found in floodplains, riparian areas and wetlands. Riparian areas are often called the ribbon of green along creeks and streams. Those ribbons of green provide important functions for maintaining water quality and critical habitat for plants and animals.

Through greater understanding and awareness of watershed stewardship and better access to up-to-date information, the program strives to improve natural watershed functions and our long-term resiliency to floods and droughts.

WRRP was initiated as a pilot project after the 2013 southern Alberta floods and has been providing critical funding to groups across Alberta to restore degraded stream banks and wetlands, and re-establish native riparian plants in priority areas around the province.

More than 67 projects are underway or nearing completion, with others to begin this spring. Beyond the boots on the ground, many groups are using the funding to help educate Albertans about the importance of healthy riparian areas, urban and agricultural best management practices and the benefits of wetlands.

Iron Creek - WRRP BlogPhoto credit: Battle River Watershed Alliance

The Battle River Watershed Alliance is working with riparian landowners along Iron Creek to mitigate flood and drought events by fencing off riparian areas to prevent cattle from trampling plants and compacting soils.

Restoring natural watershed functions has benefits beyond flood and drought, and may even help prevent the spread of whirling disease– a fish disease that can cause up to 90 per cent mortality in some species of salmonid fish like trout and whitefish.

In rivers downstream of riparian areas degraded from cattle grazing or even gravel mining, there is evidence that more Tubifex tubifex – worms that have the unfortunate role of hosting the parasite responsible for whirling disease. When we find big pockets of Tubifex worms downstream of degraded riparian zones, it’s not surprising we also find evidence that more wild trout in those same spots are also infected with whirling disease.  Let’s keep riparian areas intact and working! Beyond repairing riparian areas, Albertan’s can prevent the spread of whirling disease by ensuring to always Clean, Drain, Dry their gear – or anything that comes in contact with the water!

BNTR_SuspectWDSigns1Photo Credit: Brian Sevick, Mount Royal University

A juvenile brown trout captured from Dogpound Creek near Olds, showing clinical signs of whirling disease.

Alberta’s water partners will be taking to social media all week to share success stories, tips on how you can utilize nature-based solutions in your everyday life and even some of our favorite of Alberta’s beautiful natural water assets. Keep an eye out for #ABWater on all of your social media channels… this is something you will want to keep on tap!

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