AB Environment and Parks Statements of Concern provision

Alberta Environment and Parks had made provision for Statements of Concern to be submitted under the Water Act regarding the Mountain Ash LP gravel mine proposed very near to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and its critical thermal spring. The deadline for submissions was the last day of January. Apparently now AEP will make decisions on which SoC’s they will accept and then they are all sent to the mine proponent for their scrutiny. Beyond this, we are not yet aware of the procedure entailed but will inform people once we know. Statements of Concern over environmental matters like gravel mines are uncommon, so the procedure is not something common to the public.

To understand what’s involved, BCPS has made its own submission available (here), and we have included a sampling of other submissions that we think are informative of the range of issues explored. These can be found in the “Threats” section of our web site.

Sediment Article by Elliot Lindsay

The nit and grit of sediment and streams

Sediment (soils, rocks, and other particles moving from the land into streams) is the focus of much discussion in the freshwater conservation world. How much is too much? When is sediment entering into streams a bad thing, or a good thing? There are a few important aspects of the sediment/water relationship that can help us better understand what is healthy or not, including:

Timing: when sediments are entering the stream, and how frequently they are entering the stream can shed light on whether it is a “natural” occurrence or not. Typically, sediment delivery is highest during the times of year when stream flows are highest. In SW Alberta, where this article was written, that’s usually spring and early summer. Our native fish evolved to deal with this by timing their spawning in the fall (like our chars – Bull Trout, Lake Trout) or in the spring (Westslope Cutthroat Trout) or summer (most minnow species) following high water, when the rate and volume of sediments ending up in the stream is low, or declining. Salmonids are particularly susceptible to sedimentation as their eggs are buried or settle into stream substrates (gravel etc.) and are prone to being “smothered” if there is too many fine sediments settling over these areas. Sedimentation outside the typical natural timing could be more impactful than during the usual high flow season for this reason.

The other aspect of timing is duration, “natural” sediment releases can be abrupt and can be quite extreme (e.g. landslides, bank failure, mass wasting, etc.), but they are also short term events that happen when streams are most able to manage this volume of material as flows are high and the sheer volume of water is able to transport this material onto floodplains or to downstream reaches where it becomes essential to the formation and maintenance of habitats. The other side of the sediment coin is that many watercourses, especially those which are heavily managed by dams, are actually sediment starved, cutting downward into the valley floor, experiencing significant erosion and disconnection with their floodplains which causes all sorts of ecological problems and loss of fish habitat. This is a common problem in urbanized watersheds, which can have a reduced supply of coarse sediments (gravels, cobbles) as streams are prevented from shifting sideways about their floodplain and eroding their banks (a natural process), and an increased supply of fine and very fine sediments (sand, silt) from roads, gravel lanes, construction sites, etc.

Quantity: the volume of sediment entering the stream is an important factor in how the stream deals with this material and whether it will have negative impacts. So many factors are interrelated – a little bit of sediment in the wrong place at the wrong time can be more impactful for some species than a large amount of sediment during the right time.

Type: sediment refers to a wide variety of materials from boulders all the way down to silts. When we see the brown rushing water in springtime, it’s usually because it’s full of fine sediments which are small particles able to be suspended in the current. Only during the highest flows can the largest streambed materials be moved; these are often referred to as channel-forming flows because the channel can shift and change as banks erode, while new banks are formed by deposited sediments.

Sediments are simultaneously responsible for spawning habitat creation (deposition of gravels and cobbles) and loss (deposition of fine sediments). Chronic delivery of fine sediments from human disturbances and landscapes is usually what we are concerned with when we are talking about sediment pollution, or sedimentation. This kind of sediment is usually from runoff during rainfall or snowmelt. This brings together timing, quantity, and type: these events are chronic, can deliver large quantities of fine sediment, and can occur all throughout the year.

This is a very complicated and extensively researched topic, but we hope this helps makes sense of the some of the nuances around sediment. It’s important to understand that some level of erosion and deposition, and the delivery of sediment to, and by, watercourses is natural and critical to the health of rivers and stream corridors while also acknowledging that sediment is one of the most pervasive pollutants of freshwater habitats. When things are shifted out of the natural range of variability, we can find ourselves in unhealthy situations.

Much of the sediment transport processes and problems can be observed in real time using a stream table, like the one on display in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuIYh17daSs

Here is another great YouTube video from MinuteEarth on why rivers meander, that does a great job explaining some of these ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3r-cG8Wic

The nit and grit of sediment and streams

Sediment (soils, rocks, and other particles moving from the land into streams) is the focus of much discussion in the freshwater conservation world. How much is too much? When is sediment entering into streams a bad thing, or a good thing? There are a few important aspects of the sediment/water relationship that can help us better understand what is healthy or not, including:

Timing: when sediments are entering the stream, and how frequently they are entering the stream can shed light on whether it is a “natural” occurrence or not. Typically, sediment delivery is highest during the times of year when stream flows are highest. In SW Alberta, where this article was written, that’s usually spring and early summer. Our native fish evolved to deal with this by timing their spawning in the fall (like our chars – Bull Trout, Lake Trout) or in the spring (Westslope Cutthroat Trout) or summer (most minnow species) following high water, when the rate and volume of sediments ending up in the stream is low, or declining. Salmonids are particularly susceptible to sedimentation as their eggs are buried or settle into stream substrates (gravel etc.) and are prone to being “smothered” if there is too many fine sediments settling over these areas. Sedimentation outside the typical natural timing could be more impactful than during the usual high flow season for this reason.

The other aspect of timing is duration, “natural” sediment releases can be abrupt and can be quite extreme (e.g. landslides, bank failure, mass wasting, etc.), but they are also short term events that happen when streams are most able to manage this volume of material as flows are high and the sheer volume of water is able to transport this material onto floodplains or to downstream reaches where it becomes essential to the formation and maintenance of habitats. The other side of the sediment coin is that many watercourses, especially those which are heavily managed by dams, are actually sediment starved, cutting downward into the valley floor, experiencing significant erosion and disconnection with their floodplains which causes all sorts of ecological problems and loss of fish habitat. This is a common problem in urbanized watersheds, which can have a reduced supply of coarse sediments (gravels, cobbles) as streams are prevented from shifting sideways about their floodplain and eroding their banks (a natural process), and an increased supply of fine and very fine sediments (sand, silt) from roads, gravel lanes, construction sites, etc.

Quantity: the volume of sediment entering the stream is an important factor in how the stream deals with this material and whether it will have negative impacts. So many factors are interrelated – a little bit of sediment in the wrong place at the wrong time can be more impactful for some species than a large amount of sediment during the right time.

Type: sediment refers to a wide variety of materials from boulders all the way down to silts. When we see the brown rushing water in springtime, it’s usually because it’s full of fine sediments which are small particles able to be suspended in the current. Only during the highest flows can the largest streambed materials be moved; these are often referred to as channel-forming flows because the channel can shift and change as banks erode, while new banks are formed by deposited sediments.

Sediments are simultaneously responsible for spawning habitat creation (deposition of gravels and cobbles) and loss (deposition of fine sediments). Chronic delivery of fine sediments from human disturbances and landscapes is usually what we are concerned with when we are talking about sediment pollution, or sedimentation. This kind of sediment is usually from runoff during rainfall or snowmelt. This brings together timing, quantity, and type: these events are chronic, can deliver large quantities of fine sediment, and can occur all throughout the year.

This is a very complicated and extensively researched topic, but we hope this helps makes sense of the some of the nuances around sediment. It’s important to understand that some level of erosion and deposition, and the delivery of sediment to, and by, watercourses is natural and critical to the health of rivers and stream corridors while also acknowledging that sediment is one of the most pervasive pollutants of freshwater habitats. When things are shifted out of the natural range of variability, we can find ourselves in unhealthy situations.

Much of the sediment transport processes and problems can be observed in real time using a stream table, like the one on display in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuIYh17daSs

Here is another great YouTube video from MinuteEarth on why rivers meander, that does a great job explaining some of these ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3r-cG8Wic

The nit and grit of sediment and streams

Sediment (soils, rocks, and other particles moving from the land into streams) is the focus of much discussion in the freshwater conservation world. How much is too much? When is sediment entering into streams a bad thing, or a good thing? There are a few important aspects of the sediment/water relationship that can help us better understand what is healthy or not, including:

Timing: when sediments are entering the stream, and how frequently they are entering the stream can shed light on whether it is a “natural” occurrence or not. Typically, sediment delivery is highest during the times of year when stream flows are highest. In SW Alberta, where this article was written, that’s usually spring and early summer. Our native fish evolved to deal with this by timing their spawning in the fall (like our chars – Bull Trout, Lake Trout) or in the spring (Westslope Cutthroat Trout) or summer (most minnow species) following high water, when the rate and volume of sediments ending up in the stream is low, or declining. Salmonids are particularly susceptible to sedimentation as their eggs are buried or settle into stream substrates (gravel etc.) and are prone to being “smothered” if there is too many fine sediments settling over these areas. Sedimentation outside the typical natural timing could be more impactful than during the usual high flow season for this reason.

The other aspect of timing is duration, “natural” sediment releases can be abrupt and can be quite extreme (e.g. landslides, bank failure, mass wasting, etc.), but they are also short term events that happen when streams are most able to manage this volume of material as flows are high and the sheer volume of water is able to transport this material onto floodplains or to downstream reaches where it becomes essential to the formation and maintenance of habitats. The other side of the sediment coin is that many watercourses, especially those which are heavily managed by dams, are actually sediment starved, cutting downward into the valley floor, experiencing significant erosion and disconnection with their floodplains which causes all sorts of ecological problems and loss of fish habitat. This is a common problem in urbanized watersheds, which can have a reduced supply of coarse sediments (gravels, cobbles) as streams are prevented from shifting sideways about their floodplain and eroding their banks (a natural process), and an increased supply of fine and very fine sediments (sand, silt) from roads, gravel lanes, construction sites, etc.

Quantity: the volume of sediment entering the stream is an important factor in how the stream deals with this material and whether it will have negative impacts. So many factors are interrelated – a little bit of sediment in the wrong place at the wrong time can be more impactful for some species than a large amount of sediment during the right time.

Type: sediment refers to a wide variety of materials from boulders all the way down to silts. When we see the brown rushing water in springtime, it’s usually because it’s full of fine sediments which are small particles able to be suspended in the current. Only during the highest flows can the largest streambed materials be moved; these are often referred to as channel-forming flows because the channel can shift and change as banks erode, while new banks are formed by deposited sediments.

Sediments are simultaneously responsible for spawning habitat creation (deposition of gravels and cobbles) and loss (deposition of fine sediments). Chronic delivery of fine sediments from human disturbances and landscapes is usually what we are concerned with when we are talking about sediment pollution, or sedimentation. This kind of sediment is usually from runoff during rainfall or snowmelt. This brings together timing, quantity, and type: these events are chronic, can deliver large quantities of fine sediment, and can occur all throughout the year.

This is a very complicated and extensively researched topic, but we hope this helps makes sense of the some of the nuances around sediment. It’s important to understand that some level of erosion and deposition, and the delivery of sediment to, and by, watercourses is natural and critical to the health of rivers and stream corridors while also acknowledging that sediment is one of the most pervasive pollutants of freshwater habitats. When things are shifted out of the natural range of variability, we can find ourselves in unhealthy situations.

Much of the sediment transport processes and problems can be observed in real time using a stream table, like the one on display in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuIYh17daSs

Here is another great YouTube video from MinuteEarth on why rivers meander, that does a great job explaining some of these ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a3r-cG8Wic

UPDATE-from gravel pit mining

Update: Gravel Mine at Big Hills Springs Provincial Park

Earlier this year, Alberta Environment and Parks requested Statements of Concern regarding the application by Mountain Ash Limited Partnership gravel mine near the Park.

Normally, Statements would be accepted by AEP if provided by a person defined as a “directly affected party”. The understanding of BCPS is that historically, AEP has used a very narrow definition as to whom this may apply. Historically, almost invariably these would be landowners in close proximity to the project site and able to identify direct risk of harm.  Under the normal restrictions BCPS would most likely not qualify. However, AEP has advised us that our SoC has been accepted. No further information was provided in the notice.

AEP received 257 SoCs. BCPS is aware of at least a dozen Statements which were “accepted”.  These were authored by an apparently diverse group of individuals; some not normally recognised as “directly affected”.  In at least one of those acceptances, AEP provided a list of issues raised in the Statement which AEP would investigate.

BCPS would like to know AEP’s responses to as many of the 257 submissions as possible. We’d be very appreciative if you would send a note to info@bighillcreek.ca indicating;

  1. If your SoC accepted or rejected.
  2. If rejected, the reason given.
  3. If accepted, was there any undertaking by AEP to investigate specific concerns you raised. (If you could take a minute to outline your concerns, we’d like to know those too.)

(Please pass this request along to anyone you know who may have sent an SoC.)

In the next phase of the AEP process, MAPL will be given the list of accepted CoS. MAPL will contact the author to arrange a discussion of concerns and if any, means to mitigate those concerns. We don’t know when these communications will commence. We are also interested to know if you’ve been contacted by MAPL.

In addition to an opportunity to converse with MAPL about their application, parties who’s SoC have been accepted would also be able to file an appeal of any subsequent approval.

Thank you very much for your efforts in defence of our Park and Bighill Creek. If we can provide anything further please drop us a note at the email above. We’ll respond.

Gerry Bietz

 

 

 

 

AWA Field Trips: The Bighill Creek Drainage- Ice, Glaciers, Gravel and Oil!

The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has a program called “Adventures for Wilderness” which consists of nature-focused field trips led by knowledgeable botanists, biologists, water experts, geologists, paleontologists, birders, etc.

If you scroll down, you will see I am leading a field trip; Ice, Glaciers, Gravel and Oil on Saturday, June 4 looking at some spectacular, little-known glacial geology just north of Cochrane (deeply incised glacial meltwater channels), the impact of hydraulic fracturing for oil in the area, and also we will be looking at the site of the proposed Mountain Ash mega-gravel mine almost next door to Big Hill Spring Provincial Park.

It’s a six-hour field trip.  Cost is only $50.00 per person, tax deductible, it is a fundraiser for the AWA.  Information on this is on the website of the AWA.  Or they can just phone, Tako Koning anytime at 587-284-3411.

YOU ARE WELCOME!

Volunteers at Bighill Creek Preservation Society look out for Cochrane’s unique ecosystem, Patrick Gibson, May 03, 2022

While the Cochrane Lakes and the Big Hill Springs are not ‘topographically linked’ they are thought to be ‘hydrologically linked’. A member of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society said two U of C studies have confirmed their theory that water from the lakes drains through the overburden and gravel filter onto bedrock before running in various directions, including toward the spring.

The area residents working on the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) have already had a busy 2022, even before summertime initiatives begin.

The volunteer organization’s stated mission is to protect the health of the Bighill Creek watershed, an area covering several miles north and east of Cochrane that feeds water into the creek winding through Cochrane Ranche and the Glenbow before meeting the Bow River.

Much of the group’s work over the last couple of years has involved raising public awareness and liaising with government on current or proposed gravel operations in the area. In a presentation to town council last month, they outlined certain projects they say could potentially leach an unacceptable amount of contaminants into groundwater feeding the springs, creek and local ecosystem.

They’re particularly focused on the ‘Summit’ operation, planned by Mountain Ash LP on a site roughly a kilometre away from Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. The project received the necessary approvals from Rocky View County last year, and is now undergoing environmental review by the province.

“It sits too close to the main spring of the park too close to the park itself,” said society president Gerry Bietz.

“We are hopeful that Alberta Environment and Parks will look at the science, that is their responsibility, and make a considered decision and we’re hopeful that the application will be denied.”

In the coming weeks, BCPS is hoping Alberta Environment and Parks will approve the society as an ‘affected party’, meaning the development applicant would have to respond to concerns outlined in the society’s formal ‘statement of concern.’

“If this application is approved, those properties even closer to the main spring might be enhanced as far as potential approval is concerned,” he added.

“It could set a precedent that would be even more hazardous for the park and the groundwater.”

“There are lots of other (gravel or aggregate) reserves that are available that are not in environmentally-sensitive areas.”

As they wait to hear from the province, the group has partnered with a University of Calgary research student who will collect samples from springs in the area over the summer.

“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park contributes fifty per cent of the flow into Bighill Creek, but there are numerous other springs that erupt along the edges of the coulee that supply water into the creek and each of those needs to be identified as a location and then they need to be tested for volume and for quality,” Bietz explained.

“All the information has to go into a database, and these studies create a baseline of information. Three or four years down the pike, we can go back and look at it again and say ‘Is it better or is it worse?’”

Back in town, the BCPS has lots of ‘hands-on’ work planned for the summer as well.

They’ll continue their regular program of water and sediment sampling, tending to the trails running through the watershed on Mount St. Francis land, and conduct analyses of the insect and fish populations as well.

The society president said the board and membership included several individuals with career expertise in environmental science. They also work with student and contracted researchers, and other environmental stewardship organizations.

“Some have science degrees, and some are volunteers who come out and help us with, for example, trail maintenance,” he said of the membership.

“I am much indebted to those people for their scientific backgrounds and knowledge in regard to all these aspects of the ecology.”

Membership to the BCPS is free. For more information, to donate or to subscribe to their mailing list with updates on their activities, email info@bighillcreek.ca.

“If it the (watershed) isn’t recognized as valuable and protected with some overarching protection, then little by little development will take place whether it’s industrial, gravel pits, residential or oil and gas, little by little they encroach on it and they disturb the ecology,” said Bietz.

“Wildlife has a harder and harder time dodging the human-made obstacles, and it becomes death by a thousand cuts if there isn’t a plan and that plan isn’t activated and quite candidly, we’re getting older. We’ve only got so much time left to see what we can do to get a plan in place.”

BCPS/Mountain Ash Limited Partnership (MAPL) Gravel Application Background and update

Background

The MAPL lands (320 acres) were approved for gravel extraction by Rocky View County. The Mine would remove up to 25 meters of gravel, leaving only one meter to protect the groundwater. Our science says that this mines and the others would harm the aquifer which sustains Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. It will catalyse chemical leaching, releasing some of the same toxic compounds caused by open pit coal mines. It will increase the variability of recharge to the aquifer and risk an increase in turbidity in the spring water.

MAPL has now submitted its application the Alberta Environment and Parks for removal of the sloughs on the property. MAPL’s hydrogeological studies admitted their project would alter recharge of the groundwater which would require a further application for such impact. However MAPL is on record that they not make this application.  BCPS and others have implored AEP to investigate the potential harm to the aquifer and the Park by forcing MAPL to apply.

Update

AEP provided an opportunity for concerned citizens to submit “Statements of Concern” from “Directly Affected Parties” in response to the MAPL application. The window for submissions closed on XXXX. AEP received about 270 Statements of Concern. AEP has since been processing the submissions to determine which, by their definition are from those “directly affected”. This process may take a couple of more weeks.

(Normally this would only include immediate neighbours.) BCPS assumes we will be included as an AP due to our activities preserving the watershed, and an initiation to participate.

The approved Statements of Concern authored by Directly Affected Parties will be provided to MAPL.  Then…. “The Applicant has the ability/responsibility to consider the concerns and provide a response to the Directly Affected individuals. AEP receives and reviews the Applicant’s response and determines if it is adequate or not, but please note that AEP is not directly involved with the communication between the Applicant and the Directly Affected Individuals, but does receive copies of the Applicant’s responses.” There is no further opportunity for input from opposing parties.

The AEP will review the Applicants response to Statements of Concern. AEP experts provide their own analysis which will further informal a decision to approve or deny. Either the Applicant or an Affected Party may appeal the decision to the Environmental Appeal Board, with the final result determined by the Minister -currently Jason Nixon.

BCPS in its Statement of Concern requested that the application be denied. In brief; the science says the MAPL mine would harm the aquifer, and place the Park and it nationally recognized Tufa formation and Bighill Creek at risk. It will provide no net economic benefit given widely available gravel resources in dramatically less ecologically sensitive areas. Development of the other lands totalling almost two square miles held by gravel interest will magnify the negative impacts.

While we await a decision from AEP, BCPS will continue our work in creating a State of the Watershed plan. And we’ll keep you updated.

 

 

 

A Prairie Oasis A Plan for Bighill Creek

AWA Article – A Prairie Oasis A Plan for Bighill Creek – APRIL 13, 2022
Wild Lands Advocate article by: Vivian Pharis, Vice President of Bighill Creek Preservation Society

When our little band of mostly retirees undertook a watershed plan for Bighill Creek in 2015, eager to be its proponents and advocates, we did not anticipate becoming its defenders. Our group of seven was thinking in positive terms, like “needed”, “doable” and “challenging.” Something worthwhile that we could sink our teeth into and enjoy doing. Far from our minds were the words “adversarial”, “combative” and “controversial.” We had retired from all of that and who wouldn’t support a watershed plan? Especially so, when such plans had been identified as needed for all three creeks feeding the Bow River at Cochrane. By 2015, Jumping Pound Creek already had a citizen-developed plan and one was underway for Horse Creek. Only Bighill Creek lacked a group of proponents. But we had no idea how gravel and its politics would come to dominate our efforts…

Visit the AWA article page to view the full 5 page article (PDF).

Field Monitoring Program, Bighill Creek Watershed, January, 2022

Report prepared by: Wendell Koning, MSc., P.Biol. Limnologist/ Water Quality Specialist, and Ken Stevenson, PhD. February 7, 2022. Prepared for: the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS). 14 pgs.

Water Quality Monitoring Activities, January 29-30, 2022

Introduction
On Jan 29 and 30, 2022, supporters and members of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) carried out a limited water quality sampling program. Four sites were sampled as per described in Table 1 (also see photos, 1-18). In short, we sampled, from upstream (u/s) to downstream (d/s): Big Hill Springs (BH Springs); two sites in Bighill Creek (Bh Creek); and one site in Millennium Creek. Millennium Creek discharges into Bighill Creek just upstream of the Bighill Creek confluence with the Bow River.
The springs in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park have been rated as one of the top 4 in all of Canada, when compared to 62 mineral springs across Canada, as reported in a study funded by Parks Canada (Housekneckt 1984).
As well, Bighill Creek is recognized by the Government of Alberta (1997, 2001) as an “Environmentally Significant Area of Alberta”.
Both the springs (nationally significant) and the creek (provincially significant) are therefore worthy of the attention, care and protection, that is the focus of the BCPS, a nonprofit society, and the work of the Society is therefore well-grounded, in science-based field monitoring initiatives. Field data, empirical data provides the background upon which wise sustainable environmental management decisions can be made by those in the province of Alberta who regulate such decisions.

Read more: Bighill Cr watershed, water quality report of Jan 29, 30 2022 (pdf)

Hydrology of Prairie Wetlands

Hayashi et al 2016 hydrology of prairie wetlands

This article presents an overview of the hydrology of prairie wetlands
intended for managers, policy makers, and researchers new
to this field (e.g., graduate students), and a quantitative con-
ceptual framework for understanding the hydrological func-
tions of prairie wetlands and their responses to changes in
climate and land use.

Dr. Hayashi is the head of the Hydrology Department at University of Calgary.

An Important Message

Let’s unite for our future.