When it comes to our collective future in relation to the watershed we live in as valley residents, Albertans and Canadians – a lack of leadership and fulsome understanding of what the future holds for the Bow River is glaring us all in the face.
Our glaciers and seemingly abundant source of some of the best drinking water in the world may be creating a false impression that we residents of the Bow Valley are at a low risk when it comes to the future of water availability locally.
But it would be a mistake to presume a future that could see the City of Calgary reach its water withdrawal limits of the Bow River by 2036 doesn’t affect us here. That unabated water use by residents and visitors can continue into the future without consequence.
It would be foolish to think that the Bow and Oldman river watersheds which feed eastward across two provinces with layers of agricultural, municipal, industrial and recreational uses for the water coming from the Canadian Rockies does not have implications for how we use water locally.
Our relationship with water, as citizens in the headwaters, and as human beings residing on a planet undergoing serious climatic upheavals and extreme weather, is now more important than ever. Even more so is the need for leadership from elected officials at the provincial level.
Take for example the Bow River flood risk hazard mapping project that began in earnest in the 2014 after southern Alberta flooded the year before and exceeding $5 billion worth of property damage.
While the Bow Valley saw the river levels rise, it was in fact mountain creeks that caused significant erosion and loss of property in this particular region. But everyone had that river on their radar watching how high the levels reached relative to the mitigation placed along it in Canmore in the 1970s.
Six years later and we as Albertans still remain without an updated flood risk map for the entire 220-km length of the Bow River. An update in January from the message control centre of the provincial government indicated that even if the final maps were not publicly available by spring, municipalities and
First Nations would be provided the most up to date information before spring runoff season begins – including inundation maps.
Despite the cooler weather of late, we’re pretty sure it is spring and Albertans who live within the Bow River watershed remain without updated flood maps. Regardless of the complexity of this project, six years is an unacceptable amount of time to wait for updated information on public safety.
While we hold our breaths waiting for the maps, it is also important to point out that up until 2013, no jurisdiction reported publicly on the snowpack levels and potential impacts to mountain creeks. The Town of Canmore has taken on that responsibility, sharing creek flows and groundwater levels in relation to the
Bow River this time of year through its website. It is great that leadership is being displayed at the local level, but is mountain creek hazard monitoring in the mountains really the responsibility of municipalities?
But there is a water risk for us as residents of the valley we have yet to come to fully comprehend – the risk of continuing to use our water resources without considering the future of climate change.
Our water conservation efforts locally will become more and more important into the future the less water there is in the Bow River for downstream users across Alberta and Saskatchewan.
We should begin to understand what our future water use might look like now and to do that takes leadership. Yet our newly elected provincial government is focused on its first act in the Legislature to repeal the Carbon Tax. With concerns around how everyday Albertans can afford to pay for pollution makes being cited by our new Premier Jason Kenney, we wonder if those same regular folks will appreciate abandoning efforts to deal with climate change when they suffering through repeated droughts or water shortages in the future.