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Upper Bow Basin Cumulative Effects Study

New study offers promise for improved water quality and quantity and fewer floods in the Bow River watershed.

June 17, 2014

Calgary, AB - Continuing with current management practices will lead to further declines in water quality and quantity in the Bow River and increase the likelihood of flooding, shows a study being released today. But improving a variety of land use practices can slow that decline and create opportunities for increasing the health of the watershed.

In the days leading up to June 20, 2013, Alberta experienced extreme rainfall that led to flooding on the Bow River and its associated watershed. Total damage was estimated at $3 to $5 billion.

While catastrophic floods have always been part of life on the river, they also remind us how humans are entirely dependent on natural systems for food, drinking water, electric power, irrigation, sanitation, and much more. On the Bow, as with many other rivers worldwide, the twin pressures of human development and climate change are making it increasingly difficult for those natural systems to fulfill our needs, and those of the surrounding environment.

In recognition that continuing to manage the Bow watershed as we have in the past will lead to further declines in the river’s capacity to produce clean water, absorb pollutants, and regulate water levels, a group of stakeholders has produced the
Upper Bow Basin Cumulative Effects Study.

The study models the influence of a variety of land uses on water quality and quantity, and recommends practices that can slow the decline in indicators of watershed health.

Participants in the Upper Bow Basin Cumulative Effects Study (UBBCES) include the Bow River Basin Council, the Calgary Regional Partnership, Action for Agriculture, the MD of Bighorn,
Alberta Wilderness Association, and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. 

Some of the improved practices that will reduce pressures on the Bow watershed include:

  • Maintain riparian buffers when harvesting timber in headwaters and avoid logging steep slopes
  • Increase the restoration of industrial access roads
  • Increase the number of oil or gas wells per well-pad
  • Prevent OHV’s from travelling through wetlands

UBBCES partners commissioned Science Media Centre of Canada to prepare a backgrounder that uses the Bow as a case study to explore the any interconnected issues that face modern river ecosystems, from water scarcity and quality to ecosystem integrity and the dangers of floods and droughts.

The document is designed to provide an overview that can help journalists, policymakers and the general public quickly get up to speed on the critical issues that will be debated in the coming years and decades, and to provide a sense of the state of scientific knowledge underlying them.