Connie's blog

(Editor's note: This is a really special blog posting, with insights into the OWC's focus on the headwaters, written by Connie Simmons, OWC Planning Manager. She was inspired to write the blog upon hearing the news that the OWC is the recipient of an  RBC Blue Water grant. The grant has been earmarked for the Headwaters Action Plan, which Connie steers. I'll let her tell you all about it, below) ....

I am passionate about the Oldman headwaters.   I live here, and the water I drink is straight out of an artesian well, gravity fed to our tap.   The little catchment up behind our home is forested with big windswept firs, spruce and aspen, and picturesque rocky outcrops criss-crossed with game trails.  It percolates rain and snow melt-water through the ground to our spring, coming to us clear, cold and delicious.   Are we fortunate?  You bet!  There isn’t a day that goes by without deep gratitude!   And this realization is what maintains my commitment to healthy and safe drinking water for all downstream - every hamlet, village, town and city - and the myriad other life forms that call this watershed home.

We have a lot to celebrate in our work for the Oldman headwaters.  Most importantly, we are grateful for committed stakeholders, volunteers, a caring public, and funding support for our work.   When we have the backing of the greater watershed community, it appears the funding follows!   This week, we are celebrating significant support from the Royal Bank of Canada Blue Water Project - who recently approved a grant for $57,880.00 to implement key priority actions of the OWC’s Headwaters Action Plan 2013-14!  Thank you RBC!

We are so excited to have this funding for this important work! The OWC is committed to working with the greater watershed community, and this funding provides a solid step forward to keep our commitment to a diverse group of stakeholders (Partnership Advisory Network; PAN) and the public who participated in good faith and provided significant contributions to create the Headwaters Action Plan 2013-14, with the expectation that positive work for the headwaters health will be put on the ground.   To begin this work, the Headwaters Action Team has just been formed - a great bunch of people from diverse sectors who stepped forward from the Partnership Advisory Network to begin working on our priority actions.  
So what actions are we starting on? 

Connie's beautiful view of the Gladstone Valley in the Oldman watershed

Classifying linear features is an important first step.   When the PAN reviewed the scientific assessment of headwaters pressures and risks - the amount of linear features was at moderate to high risk to 77% of the headwaters sub-watersheds.   That means every seismic line, cutline, road, railroad, pipeline, powerline and quad trail adds up to risk to key headwaters values.   

Sure, we need many of these linear features, but there are many that can either mitigated to safeguard headwaters health, or reclaimed so that we reduce the pressure and risk to important headwaters values and functions.  These include surface water quality, retention and control of water levels and flows (e.g. during floods), and taking care of biodiversity values - like habitat for threatened bull-trout and Westslope cutthroat trout.  

But first, we need to have a method of assessing which linear features to keep, which need mitigation work to lessen impacts on water sources, which ones should be prioritized for rollback and reclamation.   This requires a solid effort of collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and public users to understand the way we are classifying linear features, and take the necessary steps to begin the job of remediating negative effects on headwaters health. 

We are also looking at a recreation education program to help recreation users in urban and rural communities to understand how their actions impact headwaters values.  Recreation education related to sustaining water and watershed health is focused on ensuring that recreation activities are mindful of impacts on water quality and the sustainability of healthy aquatic ecosystems.   This is a big one for the Oldman headwaters - we are in jeopardy of loving the place to bits and losing key values that make it so incredibly beautiful and special!   

And speaking of special - First Nations have had a special spiritual connection to this place for millennia.   We would like to honour and learn from this connection.  With the participation of First Nations community members, we are working towards hosting a First Nations Youth and Elder Water Day - where Elders share their traditional knowledge about water and spirit of water with Youth, and where we can also find links to western watershed science. 

We have a lot to do!   And are moving things forward as I speak!  We sincerely thank RBC Blue Water for this significant support of the Headwaters Action Plan, and to the urban and rural communities that rely on a healthy Oldman headwaters as a critical water tower in southern Alberta. 

If you would like to learn more or would like to contribute to our efforts - please contact us:
Connie Simmons
Planning Manager
Oldman Watershed Council