Will we have to boil water AGAIN?

From OWC's Executive Director, Shannon Frank: 

The recent boil water advisory in Lethbridge has brought into focus two things: how dependent we all are on upstream users to do a good job  - and how connected we are in a watershed. A watershed is the area of land that drains into a water body – as seen in the map, all that land drains into the Oldman River. And you can also see that Lethbridge is a little ways downstream.

The water quality problems in the river are complicated and there is not one obvious source, that if cleaned up, would ensure Lethbridge a clean water supply for the long term. What we have is a whole range of land uses that all contribute different types of contaminants – sediment, nutrients, pesticides, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, etc.

Recently in Lethbridge, the main problem was sediment overload, basically mud clogging filters at the water treatment plant. But where did all this mud come from?

Recreational use and forest harvesting in our mountain headwaters certainly contribute sediment, as does agriculture, oil and gas and urban communities that change the landscape. Every decision has a trade-off and many of the decisions we make create sediment and allow it to run off into our streams.

In the past, healthy wetlands and riparian zones (green zones along the water’s edge) had an important job - capture and filter run-off before it reached a creek or river. But we’ve removed wetlands and degraded riparian zones to the point where they can no longer do their job. So we try to replace that job with water treatment plants and that comes at an ever-increasing cost.

Having learned this lesson, there is a quiet push to put wetlands back, reclaim riparian zones and be more careful about what we put next to our rivers. Many landowners and local governments are leading this charge but it is yet to become a "mainstream" priority.

OWC and many other groups are working to change that. We are all contributing to the problem and can also all be part of the solution. That is what the OWC is all about – working together to find practical solutions to big challenges like water quality.

So will we have to boil water AGAIN? Most certainly. 

We can't expect to continue to do what we're doing - and even expand land uses - and maintain water quality. There will be consequences. 

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Whether you are a social media fan, a gardener or an outdoor enthusiast, the OWC needs your voice and hands. Several exciting initiatives are happening  - we'd love you to be part of them.

All best wishes,
Shannon Frank