Last week I had the great pleasure to attend the Oldman Watershed Council (OWC)’s biennial Science Forum, held at the University of Lethbridge.
The OWC is one of 11 Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) in Alberta, independent organizations that work to understand regional water issues, and develop plans for improved land and water use. Every other year OWC hosts a Science Forum in Lethbridge, to shed light on some important research taking place in the Oldman Watershed. It’s no stuffy, ivory-tower, academic affair: the intended audience is everyday people, and the idea is to give them some new knowledge, new ways to think about their watershed, and maybe some gumption to get involved in shaping a sustainable future. The focus of the 2012 Forum was Headwaters.
Miistakis was accepted to present on our MD Ranchlands Community Conservation Values Mapping Project, and I was thrilled for the opportunity. Partly because this is one of my all-time favourite projects, partly because I’m thrilled that the organizers and the OWC recognize the importance of upland activities to water and watershed health, and partly because I’ve never been to the University of Lethbridge before and it’s a beautiful campus.
I listened to a whole day of fascinating talks. I was inspired by Leroy Little Bear’s introductory remarks – my favourite part was his declaration that we’re mostly water, and if we don’t take care of the Oldman, “we’ll dry up!” I heard about the effects of in-stream conditions on fish populations, and the influences of adjacent land use practices and climate change on these conditions. I learned about the detrimental impacts to native fish populations of the channelization of the Crowsnest River through the Pass, and was excited to hear of an imminent plan to reclaim the natural river bed for part of that reach! There were also presentations on contamination of the watershed by agricultural, industrial, and urban land use.
On the more hopeful side, there was a presentation on the implementation of the first grey water pilot in Alberta, and on how beneficial management practices are being employed to improve water quality in irrigated farmland.
One of the most interesting presentations was from Dr Stefan Kienzle – using 40+ years of daily precipitation and climate data (!) and linking this to historical climate data inferred from tree-ring widths (!!), Dr Kienzle and his partners were able to reconstruct thousands of years of regional climate history. Through this work they have been able to determine that the turn of the 20th century – the time when European settlers first arrived in this part of the world, when the land was settled for agriculture, and when many of our policies related to land and water use were established – was among the driest 30 years of the last millennium! Maybe this indicates a need to revisit some of these policies?
Thanks very much to the OWC for putting together a fascinating day of watershed science, to all the presenters for regaling us with their wisdom, and to all the engaged, friendly, and attentive residents and stewards of the Oldman watershed who came out, shared knowledge, and joined in some great discussion.
Please check the OWC website for proceedings from the Forum, and all kinds of other information.