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Community environmental stewardship in Alberta

Community environmental stewardship in Alberta

In discussion with the Battle River Watershed Alliance

Originally published in the Maskwacis Drum magazine September 2018 issue.

The Battle River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) is a stewardship group that aims to preserve and protect both the Sounding Creek and Battle River areas covering 30,000 square kilometres of Alberta territory.

Since 2011, Nathalie Olson has been part of the BRWA as the Education Outreach Coordinator. The Drum sat down with Olson to discuss the importance of watersheds and the work of the BRWA.  

How did the alliance start?

BRWA started as a community stewardship group that wanted to help take care of the river and the surrounding land. In 2006, we got involved with the Government of Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy. When the Alberta government was developing the strategy, they wanted to have local groups be the watershed managers for the different regions. That’s when we became an official Watershed Planning and Advisory Council (WPAC). With the Water For Life Strategy, the BRWA had three primary goals; healthy aquatic ecosystems; water quality and quantity for a healthy economy; and quality drinking water.

What are the main elements of the BRWA?

The BRWA works primarily on educational and outreach programming, supporting other watershed stewardship groups, and watershed management planning. Our watershed management planning has twelve components that we’ve been working on including water quality and quantity, point source pollution, drought management, and wetland and riparian areas.

What are some of the challenges the Battle River Watershed faces?

We don’t have a lot of long-term monitoring in the Battle River Watershed itself, so the data that we have is sometimes not the most up to date. Water quality and quantity are both issues. On the water quantity side, because it is a prairie fed watershed, the water that we have in the river is solely dependent on run-off, so we have a limited water supply. The quality concern is mostly regarding the health of the river. The water quality is quite poor. It has high nutrient levels, which can come from agricultural runoff and we also have a lot of municipal wastewater that goes back into the river.

Why are watersheds important?

I think of watersheds as a holistic way to talk about our water, and our land. We can’t talk about water without talking about what’s happening on the land. The water cycle, the upstream and downstream, are not isolated systems. I like to think of watersheds as a community. Everything relies on water, and everyone within the Battle River system relies on that same source of water. We’re all interconnected.

What steps can we take to help the Battle River Watershed?

It depends on what people do and how they interact with the land. For example, landowners are encouraged to keep a natural green space between their crop or livestock and the bodies of water. This will improve water quality and filter out pollutants. For people in cities, stormwater is the focus. Any water that’s running from their driveway or grass into a storm sewer isn’t treated. It’s essential to ensure runoff is clean.  Don’t wash your car in the driveway and only use a small amount of fertilizer, if any.

There are lots of actions people can take depending on their location. Participating in BRWA events, getting involved, or organizing something in your community is always helpful. Another component of our work is stewardship based programs, so if people want to do work with invasive species pulling or litter picking, we support them. There are so many initiatives that we’re working on right now to plan for watershed sustainability, and there’s a lot of behind the scenes work happening to know where we’re at and where we want to be in the future.

To learn more or get involved, follow the BRWA on their social media channels @BattleRiverWatershed or check out


Originally published in the Maskwacis Drum magazine September 2018 issue.

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