We are the voice of our rivers.

Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 “Garden Tour”

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On August 22, 2019 we had a successful open house style tour of the riparian (riverbank) area on the Elbow River that we restored to fuller function in fall 2018. The wide variety of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are doing very well & growing nicely since the spring this year.

Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 "Garden Tour" Guests Surveying the Riparian Plants, August 22, 2019

Approximately 20 visitors dropped by to learn about the project, why we removed the Kentucky Bluegrass from part of this section of riverbank, and planted riparian plants there instead. We also discussed our plans for Phase 2 for this year, to replant another site on the Elbow River. For more information on this project, click here.

Phase 1 Riverbank Makeover Site

This site was chosen based on three main conditions: 1) the suitability of the riparian zone (low slope, area in need of more varied, deep-rooted vegetation, 2) willingness of the homeowner to participate, 3) accessibility of the site for monitoring over a 3 year period. See below for the "before" and "after" pictures & graphic of the design.

Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 - "Before" and "After" photos, top photos from across the Elbow River, and bottom photos on site, looking upstream
"Before" condition of Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 property on Elbow River
"After" condition of Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 property on Elbow River
Legend for Riverbank Makeover Phase 1 plants in "After" condition

Fortunately the rain held off for most of the evening, but a downpour started about 20 minutes before we were due to pack up. Luckily we had our event tent set up to shelter the last 8 guests (and 3 dogs) from the rain until it tapered off to some degree.

Awaiting the end of the downpour under the tent

Phase 2 Riverbank Makeover Site

The riparian restoration site for the Riverbank Makeover Phase 2 in 2019 has been selected and we have tentatively set a planting date for September 17. If you are interested in helping out as a volunteer gardener, please contact us as you would more than welcome to join us! Email us at: [email protected] for more details. See below for the current "before" condition of the Phase 2 site, and the planned layout for re-planting it in September this year.

Riverbank Makeover Phase 2 - 2019 Site "Before" Restoration
Riverbank Makeover Phase 2 - 2019 Planting Design

Riverbank Makeover Phase 2 - 2019 Planting Design Legend

Big news! QB Court overturns City of Calgary Area Structure Plan

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There was some big news in Calgary recently that you may not have heard about.  In a decision published on February 22, 2019, the Court of Queen's Bench overturned the December 2015 approval of the Providence Area Structure Plan (ASP), since it did not include a Master Drainage Plan, a Staged Master Drainage Plan, or a description of the general location of the drainage patterns as was required in the Municipal Government Act (MGA), section 633(2)(a). That section of the MGA states that an ASP must describe the general location of public utilities (among other requirements), which includes the drainage (i.e. for moving streams, seeps, and storm water from the area). The judge ruled the approval of the ASP by City Council was therefore "patently unreasonable" and the judge has overturned the approval of the ASP.

Map of December 2015 Approved Providence ASP

What exactly is an Area Structure Plan you ask? It is a general, high level plan to outline the land uses for a large parcel of bare land generally at the current outskirts of Calgary that will contain multiple future neighbourhoods. It identifies the spots within those neighbourhoods that should be set aside for schools & community centres, major transportation corridors & connections to existing neighbourhoods, environmentally sensitive areas to be protected, other open spaces & pathways, major commercial activities, and the locations for residential developments of varying densities, etc. These high level plans, after approval by City Council, are then used by neighbourhood developers to build the neighbourhoods within the ASP with a more detailed plan for community layout, and using the Municipal Development Plan as a guide.

Providence Approved ASP Neighbourhood Plans

It should be noted that prior to the approval of the Providence ASP in December 2015, Calgary River Valleys sent a letter to Calgary Planning Commission, and another letter to City Council, to outline our concerns regarding the Providence ASP as was proposed. However, these concerns were not deemed to be of sufficient significance to alter the ASP as proposed. These concerns included (among others):

  • A Master Drainage Plan should be submitted during the ASP preparation stage, but was not available
  • Stormwater management -- that hydrological modelling was required to determine how to best manage the stormwater for the area,
  • Wetlands -- that a geophysical & hydrological study was required to determine how these are contributing to recharge of the aquifer and how they are connected to the streams in the area,
  • Environmental Open Space -- did not include the high value wetlands on the lands, or other environmentally sensitive areas that were identified, as we believed they should, and did not adequately accommodate wildlife movement to Fish Creek Provincial Park, which is close by.

Unfortunately, due the delay between filing for the judicial review in February 2016, and the decision being made in February 2019, many of the neighbourhoods within the Providence ASP are already nearing completion in the planning & development process. We believe this court decision will have an impact on the Water Act application by one of the developers (Qualico) to destroy all 24 of the wetlands on their site. It should be noted that another developer, slated to develop another neighbourhood within the Providence ASP boundaries (Dream Developments), hasn't yet applied for any Water Act approvals to destroy / alter the wetlands & watercourses on their parcel. We also believe this decision will have impacts on other ASPs that are currently in the process for approval by City Council, and should inform City Administration & Council regarding the risks of approving land use before the drainage issues in an area are known, including in the Highland Valley, with the approval in March 2017 for between 2000 and 4000 condos on the former Highland Golf Course lands.
It is not completely clear how the City and Province will proceed with the Providence ASP neighbourhood development applications, and how this court decision will affect other land use & planning decisions going forward, but we are working to find out more information.

Calgarians Dipped Their Toes in Some Citizen Science to Count Redds

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This November, Calgary River Valleys offered Calgarians two opportunities for citizen science, participating in our annual Brown Trout Redd Count in the Lower Elbow River, as well as a count in the Upper Elbow River for the first time. Both events involved counting and locating the spawning nests, also called “redds”, of Brown Trout, which required walking in the river to get visual confirmation of each redd. Funding support for this year’s counts was provided by City of Calgary Water Resources and the Land Stewardship Centre. On Friday November 9th, university students, members of the public, and environmental experts rafted and walked in the Lower Elbow River to count the number of Brown Trout spawning nests. This annual count, sponsored by Calgary River Valleys (CRV) since 2009, added to the data on the numbers and locations of Brown Trout redds in the Lower Elbow between the Glenmore Dam and Fort Calgary.

Lower Elbow: hunting for redds

Lower Elbow: spread out, looking for redds

The count was conducted with the expertise of Senior Biologist Chris Bjornson from Golder Associates. It is his opinion that the majority of the Brown Trout spawning in the Elbow River spend most of their time in the Bow River, and swim up the Elbow to spawn each November. Unlike salmon, trout do not die after spawning, and can return the following year. The spawning of Elbow River Brown Trout supports a world class sport fishery in Calgary and area and redds are also one indicator of the overall health of the river.  In other locations, redd counts are often completed every five years, but CRV recognizes that the Elbow is a heavily managed river within City limits, and we understand the importance of annual data for the City to use when they make decisions about how to manage it. We were aware that lower water levels were maintained this year during the Glenmore Dam infrastructure upgrades, and low water levels can have an effect on a fishery.  We were concerned that lower water levels would have meant that sediments that ordinarily would be swept downstream may have settled and might have had an effect on the number of redds we found, as trout prefer to spawn in areas with minimal silt or sediment. However, this did not appear to be the case, since the number of recorded redds continued its post-flood increase to 257 from 231 in 2017. For the first time, Calgary River Valleys also completed a count of Brown Trout redds on Sunday November 18 in a section of the Upper Elbow River, between the Glencoe Golf and Country Club and the eastern end of the Elbow Springs Golf Club. For this Upper Elbow count, CRV recruited almost all the volunteer counters through articles placed in community association newsletters, asking who wanted to go for a guided hike in the Elbow River.  The Upper Elbow count was completed under the direction of Elliot Lindsay, Project Biologist at Trout Unlimited Canada.

Upper Elbow: Recording a redd

Upper Elbow: On thin ice

By the date of the count on November 18th, the river had already begun to ice over in many sections, so the counters had to be careful where they stepped to avoid falling into the water when the ice invariably broke at the transition from river’s edge covered in ice to faster-flowing open river. This count was completed without raft support as that section of the river is generally shallower, and would have been difficult for rafts to navigate. This section of the river also contains several side channels, which required our crew to break into groups to ensure no potential spawning habitat was omitted from being surveyed. The results from the Upper Elbow survey provided a baseline of a total of only 11 redds counted in this approximately 6 km stretch of river. In this count the redds were classified as to whether they were “definite” redds, as indicated by a recognizable pit and tail spill with clean substrate, “probable” redds, as indicated by a recognizable pit and tail spill with dirty substrate, or “possible” redds, with no recognizable pit or tail spill area. Of the 11 redds counted, 7 were definite redds although one may have been a Brook Trout redd rather than a Brown Trout redd (as Brook Trout create redds that are smaller in size), 1 was a probable redd, and 3 were classified only as possible redds.   Unlike Brown Trout that spawn in the Lower Elbow, which are limited to the approximately 12 km section between the Glenmore Dam and Fort Calgary at the confluence with the Bow River, Brown Trout in the Upper Elbow have approximately 65 km of river in which to spawn, between Elbow Falls and the Glenmore Reservoir. It is perhaps not surprising then that few redds were located in the approximately 6 km section of the Upper Elbow River that was surveyed. As it turned out, this section of the river also had relatively few sections with suitable spawning habitat, including small enough rocks and gravel for the female trout to move with her tail, and water with low amplitude rapids or riffles. Provided funding is available, CRV would like to repeat the Upper Elbow Redd Count in 2019, to compare this same stretch of river in subsequent years, and we hope to provide another year of data for the Lower Elbow Redd Count as well.

From Surprise Snowbank to Restored Riverbank

Posted by Admin in Educational Opportunity, Feedback Opportunity, News, Opportunity for Public Input, Projects, Riparian Restoration | 0 comments

Volunteers, including MLA Greg Clark, planting native vegetation on pilot project riparian restoration site on Elbow River

On October 6, Calgary River Valleys staff, Leaf Ninjas, and volunteers including MLA Greg Clark, got dirty to help keep the Elbow River clean and healthy. It was planting day for their pilot riparian restoration “Riverbank Makeover” project on the Elbow River. Calgary’s record-breaking snowfall earlier in the week covered the planting bed sites with nearly two feet of snow but also provided a beautiful setting for the finished result.   Calgary River Valleys (CRV) is an independent, not-for-profit organization led by volunteers dedicated to building a strong and effective voice for river valley protection and water quality in Calgary. They work to provide informed input to the planning process regarding managing water and wetlands, and conduct an annual Brown Trout egg bed (Redd) count on the Elbow River. This was their first foray into restoring riverbank health.   This year CRV received funding from the City of Calgary to help complete a pilot project so Calgarians can better understand the role and function of riverbanks, and how to take actions to restore them to a more natural state. Riverbank (riparian) restoration improves and maintains the health of river-adjacent areas as well as the quality and quantity of water flowing through Calgary’s rivers and creeks.   Part of the project involved a door-to-door survey of Elbow River adjacent homeowners regarding their knowledge of riparian issues and how the riparian zone affects water quality. CRV learned that, in general, Calgary homeowners who live next to the river are not only aware of the problems facing river and riparian health and are learning more about what sorts of actions they can take to protect the river and their own property from flood damage. Indeed, while some homeowners use engineering solutions such as tiered yards and retaining walls, they also recognize the value and importance of keeping a variety of vegetation in their riparian zone. The project now is focused on how to spread the word to more Calgarians.   Key to this effort is the underlying goal of raising our collective understanding of the City’s riparian resources and improving decisions, both private and public, that impact the health of our wetlands, creek and rivers. If you are interested in taking CRV’s short survey for the general public about riverbank (riparian) health, please visit: www.surveymonkey.com/r/HW6PJKZ   Riverbanks are a special zone. This is land where the vegetation and soils are strongly influenced by water. As a result, different types of plants can grow in the riparian zone as compared to the surrounding lands or uplands.

Project site before restoration

The pilot riverbank site for this project was selected for conformation to specifications required by the City of Calgary, and because the homeowner agreed to three years of monitoring by CRV. The volunteer group planted a variety of native plants – including shrubs like willows, gooseberries, roses, and dogwood. Native plants, rather than Kentucky Blue Grass monoculture, help encourage birds, beasts and pollinators. In fact, these native plants will encourage more wildlife to visit this yard. The gardeners planted in “guilds” or bunches to ensure safe passage of wildlife.   Willows, in particular, will also reduce water energy, and help protect the riverbank downstream. Their deep and highly meshed roots will hold the riverbank in place during high water events. Other plants included smaller riparian native perennials chosen for varied bloom periods over the seasons; like Blue Flag Iris, Yellow Avens and Purple-Stemmed Aster to ensure the beauty of the riverbank over Calgary’s growing season.

Final re-planted riverbank

A silt sock protected the bank’s edge, and ensured none of the dirt or other materials would enter the waterway while the plants are establishing. In spite of the snow, the day’s work was a great success. So much so, CRV would like to continue to do more restorations.   We are seeking funding for more projects within Calgary. If you are interested in finding out more, and supporting our efforts, please drop a line to [email protected]

Input to City Planning Decisions – Updated 2018-04

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Calgary River Valleys has been very active recently in providing input to the City of Calgary's planning process for multiple projects.  These are in various stages of the decision-making process. Highland Valley (former Highland Park golf course) At the City Council hearing on March 20, 2017, Council approved the land use change proposal for the Highland valley, with some minor changes made on the floor of Council to the municipal reserve (park) land allocated. This approval was made subject to the results from the pending Confederation Drainage study, which was investigating what was going to be required to address stormwater drainage for the Confederation Creek watershed, which covers a 17 square km section of north central Calgary, from Nose Hill to Nose Creek. In January 2018, the early findings of the Confederation Drainage study were presented in private to Council, but Council voted to release the PowerPoint slides showing the Highland Park valley (previously known as the North Hill coulee) was indeed the final drainage course for multiple streams, springs, and Confederation Creek, before it joins to Nose Creek, and these watercourses are considered Crown claimed.   Current status:  Calgary's Water Resources Department is negotiating with the landowner regarding options for managing stormwater on the Highland Valley site, as well as elsewhere within the Confederation Creek drainage area. City Administration will be preparing a written interim report by the end of May 2018 for presentation to Council and to the public regarding the recommended options for managing stormwater in the area. See below for more background on this land parcel & CRV's concerns expressed about developing it as was eventually approved.    

City of Calgary Planning & Development Map

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The City of Calgary has created an online map of current Planning & Development applications that is available to the public.  The information is provided by the City for anyone to research individual applications and participate in the development and planning process.  The website shows Re-designation (or Re-zoning) Applications and Development Permit Applications.  We have been advised that the City plans in the near future to also upload information about Subdivision Applications. To navigate the map, in the upper left hand side, you can search by (see graphic below):

  • the application file number, if you know it,
  • the address of the location
  • the community or neighbourhood of the location
  • the Ward of the location, or you can also just zoom in on a location on the map

Report on CRV’s Riparian Restoration Bus Tour

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We have posted the report on the Riparian Restoration Bus Tour that Calgary River Valleys hosted on May 29th, 2015.  To read the report, click here.  There are some interesting pictures of the different projects at the 4 stops on the tour:  root wads, willows, rip rap, and a crib wall.  Have a look!

CRV group shot 2 2015

City of Calgary’s 10-Year Biodiversity Strategic Plan

Posted by Admin in City of Calgary Biodiversity Plan, News | 0 comments

Biodiversity Strategy

The City of Calgary has now approved the proposed long-term biodiversity strategy.  The BiodiverCity document outlines a vision for the future of an ecological network that is healthy, connected, and well-managed.  The key indicator of success is proposed to be a 20% increase in naturalized open space by the year 2025.

Calgary River Valleys was a supporter of this strategy and provided input to City Council recommending it be approved.  For more information, the BiodiverCity Strategy document is posted with a link below.

Click here (6.1 MB PDF) to download the BiodiverCity document.

See the Get Involved > Watershed Policy and Planning menu above for more information on other Planning issues that may be of interest to you.