April 11th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 15
In a ring, while we sing, of the joys of spring
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Dear Editor,

As snow continues to fall, and society loosens its grip on last summer’s rekindled white-knuckle fear of wildfire, winter-weary Albertans are screaming for signs of spring. They want to see wildflowers, and frolic next to flowing water.

Uh-oh. Be very careful what you ask for.

This winter’s daunting snowpack, coupled with cold weather’s long and tenacious grip on the land, have set the stage for a high likelihood of above-average spring stream flows. How much above-average depends on a flood of variables, not the least of which is the weather’s fickle ability to throw monkey-wrenches into any envisioned scenario.

But the stage is set. A heavy blanket of snow cloaks the headwaters of the Oldman (including the Castle, Crowsnest, and upper Oldman rivers). How fast the snow melts and to what degree it will be amplified and moved by additional precipitation remain unknown.

In addition to the natural variables that influence runoff, society has added a heavy footprint. We’ve had more than a century to monitor our negative impact on the watershed, and witness our stunning inability to keep businesses, homes, and roads out of floodplains.
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What have we learned and, more importantly, done to correct past wrongs? I suggest that what we’ve achieved runs parallel to my summary of the Crowsnest Pass’ 2003—on-the-edge-of-inferno—hot-flashes with wildfire. I refer to this smoldering chapter in our history as “lessons burned in the Lost Creek Fire.”

But, let’s back away from wind-whipped flames and step into floodwater. Let’s look at the knowledge we’ve gained by living on submerged streets.
Here’s a snippet of what we know with respect to floods in the Crowsnest River valley: The logging, rampant wildfires and clearing of the land that began in the late 1800s removed the vast bulk of the pre-settlement forest from the Crowsnest River's headwaters landscape. This wholesale denuding of the countryside robbed the land of its ability to function as a natural buffer against rapid snowmelt and heavy rainfall.

The result: dramatic increases in runoff and erosion.

The devastating floods of 1902, 1923, and 1942—all of which, based on photographs, appear to have been far worse than the subsequent flooding experienced in 1995, 2005, and 2013—were amplified and powered by a "missing" forest.

Where has recent logging occurred, and what impact will it have on this spring’s runoff? What other industrial or recreational impacts might be reviewed?
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I suggest we drag our chairs to river’s edge. We should do this on the shore of every single one of the Oldman watershed’s tributary streams. And there, from our strategic observation posts, we should take hourly pictures during peak flows, and at low flows.

Our stream-team should include fisheries biologists, hydrologists, and technical staff.

Our job: take water samples and record, qualitatively, quantitatively, and chemically, a defining fingerprint of the Oldman’s flow.

We need to initiate stream-side triage, and restore watershed health.
Water is gold. We need to embrace its fragile and treasured existence, and protect it at its critical, life-sustaining source.

David McIntyre
April 11th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 15
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