The Bog

The Bog is where thoughts, opinions, discussion pieces, and action converge. Influential thinkers from the water community are invited to share their insights on current or controversial water topics. Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta WaterPortal.

Welcome back to the discussion series Rewilding Our Rivers - a look at natural flood mitigation options for Alberta. This week we turn our attention to the importance of healthy soils and how the building of organic matter can play a significant role in flood mitigation.

Soil is made up of a complex web of life, where a single teaspoon of soil can contain billions of living organisms. Created from the functions of its many parts including bacteria, fungi, minerals, air and water, nurtured by sun making soil a living network from which all plant life sprouts.  

Healthy soil is considered one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. Like all living organisms, soil requires nutrients (food), water, and air. Organic matter is essentially the soil’s food system created from decomposed organic material such as dead plants (carbon) or animal manure (nitrogen).  The decomposition of this matter into the soil system creates a topsoil layer called humus; a dark black living structure. Humus is essentially mature compost that has reached a state of stability, where it needs no further decomposing. Humus, a dense organic matter, significantly increases the soil system’s ability to retain nutrients and moisture.  Thus, healthy soil results in structure that is rich in organic matter enabling it to hold, filter, and purify water[1]

A recent article written in The Guardian by scientist George Monbiot [1]discusses emergent research coming out of the United Kingdom that tells us rivers do not necessarily store the precipitation that falls in their catchments; but rather the majority of the precipitation is stored in the soils of their floodplains  This scientific finding directly questions the value of traditional flood mitigation measures, such as canalizing and dredging rivers, techniques that are now known to increase flow rates to downstream communities.

Some scientists are now pushing for the implementation of softer engineered solutions, such as the rewilding of our rivers. Rewilding rivers, among other elements, requires the redesigning of curves and snags back into the river system along with connecting rivers to uninhabited land designated for flooding. The likelihood for downstream flooding can be greatly reduced by creating a catchment for sediment and rock, ultimately reducing the energy and speed of the river.

Naturalist, hunter and former Banff National Park superintendent Kevin Van Tighem revisits his July 2013 article entitled "Safeguarding the Source”,  

This article, published in the July 2013 edition of Alberta Views magazine, remains no less relevant in the wake of last year's destructive flooding (driven by an exceptional precipitation event but made worse by damaged headwaters landscapes that shed the water too fast) and by the public consultations, which will conclude this month, on a draft land use plan for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

We at the Alberta WaterPortal are pleased to reveal our new website. A driving force behind the redesign of the Alberta WaterPortal was the desire to create a website with more intuitive navigation. Content is now sorted into three major categories: Learn, Work, and Enjoy.

Learn

The “Learn” area acts as a library of knowledge on water to inform users about the origins of Alberta’s water, how water is used, water management in our province, the relationship between water, energy and food, and the impact of water on daily life.

Work

The “Work” area presents projects and research conducted by the Alberta water community, showcases existing groups within the water community, and provides a toolkit of resources for those whose work/volunteering revolves around water. Visitors to the Alberta WaterPortal can learn more about the Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs), Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs), industry organizations, and academic and government institutions focused on water-related issues. We will be adding to the water community section over the coming weeks and if you would like to see your organization included please contact us. 

Enjoy

The “Enjoy” area focuses on personal, primarily recreational, uses of water. Download a water related app for your mobile device, learn about water conservation techniques, or check for weather advisories to ensure that Alberta’s water may be enjoyed responsibly and safely.

What else is new?

The Province of Alberta has been operating under a draft wetland policy for the white zone (the lower third of the Province) for the past 20 years since draft policy was created for white zone wetlands and a discussion paper created for green zone wetlands. Many of us have been patiently waiting for a comprehensive policy that addresses all of the wetlands in Alberta, and on September 10, 2013 our wish was granted by Environment Minister Diana McQueen.

The biggest bombshell in the new comprehensive policy is the removal of the no-net loss provisions and philosophy contained within the previous draft policy. The current policy simply does not allow for an increase in wetland area in the province, nor does it address past losses. The removal is essentially an admission of our failure as a Province to even come close to meeting the objectives of no net loss. And, with losses of up to 70% of our white zone (prairie pothole) wetlands in the south, over 300,000 hectares of wetlands in the oil sands and over 90% loss of wetlands in major urban centres, it is hard to argue with trying to continue to giving lip service to the no net loss principles of avoid, minimize and compensate.