If the people who rely on the Bow River and its tributaries for water want to ensure everyone has enough water well into the future, the river system needs a completely different and cooperative management regime.
This is the major finding of The Bow River Project initiated by the Alberta Water Research Institute in May 2010 involving almost all the major water users of the system.
Mike Kelly, Bow River Basin Council (BRBC) Chair, took part in the project and said each major river water user manages its use of the river by focusing on its needs, responsibilities and applicable regulations.
The Bow River Project shows that if the various water users cooperate to manage the river system, the river could gain water supply, recreational opportunities and environmental health.
A large part of any new management system requires asking TransAlta to change when it releases water from its mountain reservoirs.
“There’s going to be a certain cost to TransAlta. It’s not insignificant to the company, but quite small in comparison to many of the public and private benefits that could be created. For example, it was certainly the view of the people in the room that the alternative cost of having TransAlta manage the reservoirs differently is less costly than trying to build new reservoirs,” Kelly said.
The people referred to include representatives from the Alberta Water Research Institute, WaterSmart, BRBC, the City of Calgary, the Calgary Regional Partnership, County of Newell, Rocky View County, the three big Bow River irrigation districts, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism and Parks, Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Environment.
The modeling program they used is a proven hydrological management model developed by Hydrologics from Baltimore, Maryland. The model allows for the inclusion of economic and environmental values or issues. With the cooperation of many organizations and government departments, the Bow River Project loaded up 67 consecutive years of southern Alberta data.
“What you can do is sit around a table with a group of very knowledgeable Bow Basin water managers and say what if we did X or what if we did Y. The model will show you the results on all of the rest of the system. We really wanted this interactive model to determine how we can manage the river differently and what the consequences would be of doing so.
“Because like all systems, when you push on one area of the Bow River system something else will pop up in another area,” says Kelly.
“One of our goals was to reduce or eliminate unintended consequences. We need to look at this more but it certainly looks like this could be a much less expensive option in terms of providing water for the basin’s projected population growth, recreational use and water demand.”
To learn more about the Bow River and BRBC, visit www.brbc.ab.ca
C. Lacombe is with the Bow River Basin Council.