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article imageStewardship groups discuss issues in Athabasca River Basin Special

By Kyle Ashmead     Jan 30, 2011 in Environment
People from the Athabasca River Basin meet with stewardship groups, to share their environmental concerns. The Athabasca River Basin is heavily impacted by industrial development.
On January 28th and 29th the Tawatinaw Watershed Stewards (TWS) in conjunction with the Athabasca Watershed Council, Watershed Planning and Advisory Council (AWC-WPAC) held a Watershed Stewards conference in the town of Athabasca. Some of the speakers during the two day conference were from the AWC-WPAC, the Alberta Stewardship Network (ASN), Cows and Fish and the Alberta Water Council (AWC).
Stewardship groups, from the length of the Athabasca River basin shared information on mountain top removal coal mining in the headwaters, gravel extraction from the river floodplains mid-river, blue-green algae problems in Lac la Nonne Lake, a proposed channel realignment of the Tawatinaw River at Athabasca and the potential loss of Heritage River Status for the Clearwater River from oil development pressure in the Ft. McMurray region. Interested public and municipal politicians were in attendance from both the Westlock and Athabasca County.
The Friday 28th conference focused on the beauty and relatively unspoiled condition in the Tawatinaw River Watershed which was shared in pictures by TWS board members. On Friday there was also a Lower Tawatinaw / Little Pine Watershed Assessment which was completed and presented by Mark Spafford a local fisheries biologist. The assessment found the found the Tawatinaw River watershed to be in relatively good shape with trouble areas needing addressed.
Riding quads and dirt bikes in the streambed, towns dumping their lagoons into the Tawatinaw River, cattle grazing floodplains without grazing management regimes designed for floodplain grazing in evidence and cattle watering directly out of the Tawatinaw River and its tributaries were some of the problems acknowledged and addressed. Chemical use by agriculture and home owners in the Tawatinaw Watershed and poorly designed old bridges contributing to siltation were also discussed.
There are about 150 active environmental stewardship groups in Alberta, these groups are spread throughout the province. When people are concerned with environmental impacts stewardship groups are often created, as a way for citizens to become involved in environmental problem solving.
Stewardship groups form for a variety for reasons, but most are focused on education and hands on work in the watershed. These are the groups you see in the field doing environmental educational workshops and teaching people about their watersheds. Stewardship groups also take part in cleaning up watersheds and restoration projects. All Albertans and all Canadians are part of a watershed and therefore contribute to impacts on the watershed where they are located.
The Athabasca River basin is considered to be one of the most troubled river systems in Canada; the Athabasca River basin faces stresses from agriculture, forestry, recreation, residential development, golf courses, mountain top removal coal mining, gravel mining, conventional oil and gas, as well as oilsands mining and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).
Terry Sly explained how AWC provides a forum for discussion and resolution of water issues in Alberta, but need to define how to get watershed stewards to the table. They are currently working on how riparian setback is managed in Alberta. Michelle Riopel of ASN spoke of ASN’s role in building partnerships, and providing services and resources. Kerri O’Shaughnessy spoke of Cows and Fish’s programs for youth education, riparian and wetland health assessments, how they partner on projects and provide feedback.
Overall participants felt there was value in meeting and working together and that the AWC WPAC could consider providing help with watershed stewards groups by providing coordination for further gatherings, developing regional support networks and website information on stewards groups in the basin.
There is an AWC WPAC municipal forum coming up in February. Watershed stewards thought there would be value in a future forum with municipal and watershed stewards meeting together with the AWC WPAC.
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