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.

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Join the Alberta WaterPortal at one of three interactive exhibits with games and activities about water quality in the Bow River. Test your knowledge of water misconceptions, learn about water treatment in your communities, and try out water testing to learn about what’s impacting your water. 

Family friendly and complimentary food and drinks will be available. 

Three exhibit dates and venues:

  • Calgary event, January 25th at the Alberta Wilderness Association
  • Canmore event, February 1st at Elevation Place
  • Strathmore event, February 8th at the Strathmore Civic Centre

To sign up for the free event visit the Eventbrite page here.

Stop by anytime between 5:30pm and 8:30pm for some fun activities for all ages.

For inquires please contact the Alberta WaterPortal

These events are made possible through the partnership and generous support of:

  calgaryfoundation small        rbc small        wid       BRBC logo small

 

By Therese Baluyot

 

On July 31, the Alberta WaterPortal held a workshop entitled “The Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Which way? Right way?”. The workshop brought together stakeholders from academia, water management, food, energy and other sectors to stimulate the engagement and discussion on how to educate and inform Albertans about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (the “Nexus”). The Nexus is the intricate link between producing enough food, meeting growing energy needs, and ensuring there is sufficient water for people. In recent years, the Nexus concept has been acknowledged in the domain of environmental science and natural resource governance. It has become the defining term for understanding the interconnections between water, energy, and food. [1] The anticipated outcome of the workshop was to gather ideas and feedback for the development and application of the Nexus concept in Alberta. 

The workshop was structured around the following activities:

Nexus System Map

Draw The NexusParticipants were provided with poster boards, markers, and printed graphic materials to create a system map of their conceptualization of the Nexus. A representative from each table presented their Nexus system map and how their team understood it.

Reflections on Water for Life 

By Amy Spark 

This post is the final installment of a six-part interview series conducted and written by Project Blue Thumb.

Project Blue Thumb is a multi-stakeholder social lab co-convened by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and Alberta Ecotrust Foundation that takes a whole system approach to protecting water quality in the Red Deer River watershed. Building on the work of our current members, the PBT organizing team reached out to 13 multi-sector practitioners to hear their thoughts about the future of water in Alberta and potential directions. This post provides a snapshot from a few of our interviews relating to the Water for Life strategy. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to 2003. It was a big year for water in Canada, especially along our three coasts: the largest ice shelf in the Artic fractured, hurricane Juan terrorized Halifax, and Canada’s first Marine Protected Area was declared off the coast of B.C. But what was happening in Alberta far away from these saltwater events? The provincial Water for Life (WFL) strategy was introduced by Alberta Environment. It may not have made national headlines to the same degree, but for those working in the water world of Alberta, it was a first of its kind.

The Water for Life strategy was designed to balance water quality and quantity needs with environmental concerns. The overarching goals of the framework incorporate social, economic, and environmental aspects of water issues:

1.       Safe, secure drinking water supply

2.       Healthy aquatic ecosystems

3.       Reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy

(Alberta Environment 2003, p.7)

Municipalities 

by Amy Spark

This post is part five of a six-part interview series conducted and written by Project Blue Thumb.

Project Blue Thumb is a multi-stakeholder social lab co-convened by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance and Alberta Ecotrust Foundation that takes a whole system approach to protecting water quality in the Red Deer River watershed. Building on the work of our current members, the PBT organizing team reached out to 13 multi-sector practitioners to hear their thoughts about the future of water in Alberta and potential directions. This post provides a snapshot from a few of our interviews relating to the role of municipalities in the water system. 

My morning walk to work along the Bow River epitomizes the dual nature of cities. On my right, geese honk, beavers chew, and ice jams ebb and flow. To my left, rush hour traffic speeds by and the Calgary LRT glides along the Blue Line. Cyclists and runners whiz by in both directions. I’m caught in the beautiful crossfire of nature-in-the-city and city-in-the-watershed.

Cities have a storied reputation. They have been described as thriving ecosystems1, sanctuaries2, and hubs of innovation3,4. However, they are also the cause of much of our environmental distress due to high populations and strained infrastructure. Large municipal centres rely on significant amounts of water from rivers, make significant land-use decisions, and impact downstream waters through nutrients, sediment, and even pharmaceuticals5,6. Yet cities also house universities, research labs, non-profits, and others thinking about these problems and striving for solutions. They are simultaneously sources of tradition and innovation; deterioration and opportunity.

By Glenn McGillivray

This piece was originally published in The Globe and Mail on 7 May 2017.

Once again, homes located alongside a Canadian river have flooded, affected homeowners are shocked, the local government is wringing its hands, the respective provincial government is ramping up to provide taxpayer-funded disaster assistance and the feds are deploying the Armed Forces.

In Canada, it is the plot of the movie Groundhog Day, or the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

At least in the movie, Bill Murray’s character learns from his mistakes. This can’t seem to be said of how we manage flood in this country.

In recent years, we have seen the cycle played out in such places as the Richelieu Valley after the spring 2011 flooding, and southern Alberta after the June 2013 deluge.

First, a homeowner locates next to the river, oftentimes because of the view (meaning a personal choice is being made). Many of these homes are of high value.

Then the snow melts, the ice jams or the rain falls and the flood comes. Often, as is the case now, the rain is characterized by the media as being incredible, far outside the norm. Then a scientific or engineering analysis later shows that what happened was not very exceptional.

These events are not caused by the rain, they are caused by poor land-use decisions, among other public-policy foibles. This is what is meant when some say there are no such things as natural catastrophes, only man-made disasters.

Finally, the province steps in with disaster assistance then seeks reimbursement from the federal government through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. In any case, whether provincial or federal, taxpayers are left holding the bag.

In some instances, attempts are made to prevent or lessen the risk of a recurrence through the construction of mitigation infrastructure, like dams, levees, bypasses and the like. These can have the unintended and surprising result of angering property owners (many homeowners in High River, Alta. were upset when a three-metre berm constructed after the June 2013 flood “ruined their view”).

In some cases, property buyouts for high-risk homes are offered. Back in the day, after Hurricane Hazel ravaged parts of Southern Ontario, killing more than 80 people, homeowners on flood plains were bought out at fair market value and their neighbourhoods were converted into parkland. Today, these parks flood from time to time, but no private property is damaged and no one dies. The program is still viewed as a best practice in how to run a mandatory flood buyout program.

The voluntary buyouts offered by the Alberta government after the 2013 event, conversely, are viewed by many as a failure. Only 94 homeowners of a possible 254 accepted the offer.

With all this being said, buyout/relocation programs are a rarity. We normally just put things back the way they were and hope that the event never happens again. But just as the boreal forest is “designed to burn,” rivers are designed to flood; it’s what they do.

Sometimes the powers that be give us the chance not to repeat the mistakes from the past, but we seldom take them up on the offer, then it’s deja vu all over again.

So what is the root of the problem? Though complex problems have complex causes and complex solutions, one of the causes is that the party making the initial decision to allow construction (usually the local government) is not the party left holding the bag when the flood comes.

Just as homeowners have skin in the game through insurance deductibles and other measures, local governments need a financial disincentive to act in a risky manner. At present, municipalities face far more upside risk than downside risk when it comes to approving building in high-risk hazard zones. When the bailout comes from elsewhere, there is no incentive to make the right decision – the lure of an increased tax base and the desire not to anger local voters is all too great.

Reducing natural disaster losses in Canada means breaking the cycle – taking a link out of the chain of events that leads to losses.

Local governments eager for growth and the tax revenue that goes with it need to hold some significant portion of the downside risk in order to give them pause for thought. Enough, at least, so they may think twice about making risky decisions that put people and property directly at risk.

To borrow the title of another movie, something’s gotta give.

Glenn is the Managing Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.