Bighill Spring Park – Please Defend Alberta Parks – Update Here is an interesting and timely article that was in this morning’s Herald.
Letters to the Editor
March 11, 2021
Is Calgary’s Growth Founded on Ethical Gravel?
No matter the development, be it residential, high rise, ring road or LRT extension, Calgary’s growth is gravel dependent. But, is this gravel ethically sourced? Much of it comes short haul and therefore dirt cheap from neighbouring Rocky View County where 20 pits supply Calgary. Soon Pit 21 will be added, but at a terrible cost.
At a recent “virtual” hearing where Rocky View Council dismissed over 100 opposing submissions, hearing only from the proponent, the first of four new mines was approved that stand to kill the springs that have created one of the Calgary area’s oldest, most iconic parks at Big Hill Springs. Springs destruction could affect half the flow into Big Hill Creek, threatening trout habitat, a lovely Cochrane stream and Calgary’s drinking water. Soon Calgary could be building with gravel from the Mountain Ash mine, situated on the park’s boundary and on the spring’s aquifer. A pit producing unethical gravel.
Big Hill’s springs are ranked by Parks Canada as one of the top four mineral springs in Canada. They will be forever altered by a gravel mine virtually on top of them. Over thousands of years the springs have released minerals forming the rare tufa rock that water so prettily flows over and makes this small park such a local attraction. To destroy a park for common gravel is unconscionable and Calgarians should be appalled. They should also take action by making their views known to Alberta Environment Minister, Jason Nixon.
V.P. Bighill Creek Preservation Society
Cochrane, AB, T4C 1A7
- 403 932 2124
Submission to Bylaw C-8051-2020, PL 20200031, Application by Mt. Ash LP to redesignate agricultural land to industrial for purposes of gravel mining.
This submission is designed to show the importance of maintaining Bighill Creek, its critical springs and the provincial park that depend on the valley and the springs, as significant and rare intact habitat for the free-flow of biological organisms within Rocky View County.
Biological corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of organisms and the continuation of viable populations. By providing landscape connections between larger areas of habitat, corridors enable migration, colonisation and interbreeding of plants and animals.
The map below is taken from RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan, which was based on earlier work done by the provincial Environmentally Significant Areas program. It indicates the presence of a significant inter-connected environmentally sensitive corridor connecting the Bow River, up through Bighill Springs Valley and on to Nose Hill and Dog Pound drainages and interspersed natural sites amongst agricultural land.
The “Grand Valley Foothills” stand out amongst RVC’s five geographic regions as the only region with an opportunity for interconnecting wildlife and all local biological organisms with important natural landscapes. Nowhere else in RVC is there a similar critical corridor – this one is unique and precious and not the place for industrial developments.RVC in the Global Biodiversity Context According to the 2019 Global Risks Report, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are amongst the greatest risks facing society. Biodiversity underpins human life and is responsible for ecosystem services that we fully depend upon, including food production, crop pollination, clean water, nutrient and waste recycling and regulating climate change. Humans depend on ecosystems for our economic sustainability as well as sustaining our physical and mental health. The United Nations is calling on all countries to protect 30% of their natural landscapes by 2030 and Canada has committed to protecting 25% by 2025. Such protection has to include responsibilities at the municipalities level or it will fail. Failure means disaster for ALL life on this planet. RVC needs to develop policy addressing biodiversity health.
RVC Wildlife ObligationsCorridors for biodiversity serve a number of purposes including protecting wildlife and helping animal populations thrive. They function as means to decrease human-animal conflict in the form of vehicle-animal collisions and help combat the negative effects of habitat fragmentation.
There are possibilities for identifying and establishing key interconnecting corridors linking the two biologically active valleys of the Bow River and Bighill Creek. Highway 1A between Calgary and Cochrane is recognized as the most notorious large animal killing route in Alberta, because it is such an important connector between these two valleys. It is incumbent upon RVC to stop this highway slaughter and conserve wildlife through identifying, establishing and maintaining movement corridors between the two valleys and across the highway. These north-south corridors go on to connect with those identified as significant, through the length of Bighill Creek and beyond.Threats to Bighill Creek Key Biodiversity Corridor .
Today 4 gravel mines are proposed on lands immediately NW of the nationally significant springs that are the crux of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. These springs contribute 50% of the water that flows through the creek that enriches the steep-sided coulee with its rich habitats on either side, all the way to Cochrane and the Bow River. Industrialization of an important component of the Bighill Creek Biodiversity Corridor not only threatens the viability of the unique springs and the provincial park that depends upon them, but of critical habitat for the endangered Bull Trout, the enjoyment of thousands of park visitors and a key connection route for many wildlife and plant species that depend on the area to move through. Rocky View County has to date neglected both its remaining natural landscapes and its residents who move to the county looking for natural spaces, interconnecting nature trails and park provisions. Four new gravel mines covering 2 square miles located on the aquifer of the springs that feed the park, could not be in a more environmentally sensitive place in all of RVC.
Conclusion There is no doubt in my mind and likely the minds of most RVC residents that gravel mines on rare aquifers and on the most environmentally sensitive biodiversity corridor in all of RVC, are truly inappropriate. RVC is underlain by a great deal of gravel. There have to be less sensitive sites for the mining of gravel, certainly sites that are not atop ancient aquifers or within critical wildlife corridors.
Submitted by Vivian Pharis
Here is an example of a submission made to Rocky View County regarding the proposed gravel pits. You could choose part of it to submit your own. There is background information and an explanation of the real challenges.
We do hope to inspire you and motivate you to express your opinion. It is a very important matter.
Big Hill Springs – Not Gravel, but
An Oasis on the Prairie
Submitted (PL 20200031) February 2021 by RVC resident, Vivian Pharis
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is no ordinary park. This tiny gem was set aside in the 1950’s as one of Alberta’s first parks, apparently on land donated by Senator Patrick Burns. Since the 1920’s people have been drawn to the prairie oasis at Big Hill Springs for picnics, fishing and camping. The attractive tumbling waters, where Grasslands meet Foothills and Parkland ecological regions, has drawn many admirers who have, between the 1950’s and 2020, repeatedly called to better protect the springs and expand the park.
Over thousands of years, Big Hill’s high-volume mineral springs laid down unusual tufa formations which are the foundation for uncommonly beautiful falling waters that flow on to form the main volume of Bighill Creek. Today this 70 acre park draws 1/4 million annual visitors and overuse is a constant threat. But, as the centre of a larger interpretive park and conservation area, Big Hill Springs could become a tourist attraction unique in southern Alberta.
Rare opportunities exist to expand the park north to connect to a larger conservation area, east to incorporate a picturesque buffalo jump with high interpretive value, west to properly protect and interpret the springs that rank among the top four mineral springs in Canada, and south-west for 6 km along a pathway through a sandstone-studded, steep-sided glacial coulee, leading all the way to Cochrane. Interconnecting pathways could join Big Hill and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Parks. Recreation, nature appreciation and tourism opportunities abound.
RVC’s Need for Parks:
- RVC is the most populous county in Alberta; people are attracted to it for “a country lifestyle” based on proximity to nature.
- RVC reports and plans recognize that the primary recreational needs of residents are walking paths, interconnected trails and nature appreciation, including: 2018 County Plan, 2020 Rocky View Recreation Needs Assessment Study, 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan and draft 2021 Rocky View Municipal Development Plan.
- Provincial parks make up 0.4% of RVC’s 1481 sq mi land base, with the 0.15 sq mi Big Hill Springs Provincial Park being the smallest, yet supporting 1/4 million annual visitors.
- The demographics of RVC are older, with almost half being 45+ years and this trend is expected to increase; older people especially recreate by walking and nature appreciation.
Big Hill’s Unique Attributes:
- Big Hill Springs Provincial Park has attributes of national significance, including springs that rank amongst the “top four mineral springs in Canada”, yet today they are unrecognized and neglected.
- The spring’s high water volume (84 L/s), their constancy of volume, their year-around temperature constancy and the rare tufa formations that have built up over 1000’s of years, bestow national and provincial significance.
- The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has ranked the springs and park area as critical habitat for threatened Bull Trout under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
- Bighill Creek Protection Society, a local watershed group working to develop a watershed plan for the Bighill Creek Basin, has conducted six different scientific assessments of the creek in the past 5 years, that support the goal of reintroducing endangered native Bull Trout and West Slope Cutthroat to the creek.
- The park is provincially unique because it is one of Alberta’s only sites protecting an example of the Foothills-Parkland Subregion and supports a broad assembly of plants and animals associated with Grasslands, Foothills and Parklands.
- Bighill’s steep-sided valley and open landscapes to the north, support surprising numbers of wildlife, including moose, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, black and grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, mink, weasels, skunks, porcupines, red squirrels, ground squirrels, and in the bird world, rare piping plovers, a blue heron colony that is over 100 years old, peregrine and prairie falcon nesting sites, sharp tail grouse leks and many raptor and song bird species. Even raccoons and bob cats have been caught recently on area wildlife cameras.
- Buffalo jumps, bone piles, pictographs and lithic tools are all found in the immediate area. The area has great potential for further archaeological examination and interpretation.
- Historically, Alberta’s first creamery was sited near the springs in 1891, and operated 19 years, supplying Calgary, rail lines, forestry operations and local residents.
- An early fish hatchery was built to take advantage of the reliable waters that flowed year-around and maintained a constant temperature.
- The glacial coulee that stretches about 6 km from Bighill Springs Provincial Park to Cochrane, passes through dramatic scenery where wildlife is varied and abundant. The decommissioned roadway through the coulee remains a public asset that would require little monetary outlay to open it as a walking/cycling trail. Indeed, this is a stated goal in RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan.
Advantages of Park Expansion:
- Provincial parks contribute to the environmental, social and economic well being of Albertans, including RVC residents wanting more local recreational opportunities.
- 2017 figures indicate provincial parks contribute $1.2 billion into Alberta’s annual economy and provide 23,480 years of employment.
- Bighill Springs Provincial Park, with no advertising, draws 1/4 million visitors annually. Its proximity to Airdrie, Cochrane and Calgary put it within easy reach of over 1.5 million.
- With expansion, more trails and picnic sites, interpretive facilities for natural, historical and archaeological features, and major trails linking the park to Cochrane and to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Big Hill has enormous long-term recreational, educational and tourism potential.
- The proximity of the site to three population centres and its gentle topography mean the park could operate on a year-around basis.
- The spin-off potential for local businesses due to increased tourism is substantial.
- Four gravel operators have acquired eight quarter sections or two square miles of land in the immediate vicinity of Big Hill’s springs and park that threaten to destroy the ancient aquifer the springs rely upon. For certain, they will impact the water to the springs. The first of these potential mines will be considered for approval at an RVC hearing March 2, 2021. RVC has a history of approving gravel operations with minimal examination of their environmental and social impacts. Gravel deposits underly much of RVC, many not associated with critical water ways.
- The public has only one opportunity to influence a county decision on a gravel operation. This comes early, at the land designation stage. If this opportunity is missed, the public has no further recourse to the remaining steps in approving new mines. The public is then left to challenge problems only if they arise during operations. In the situation where a very vulnerable and rare aquifer is concerned, where endangered species are at stake in the waters, and where clean, reliable drinking water could be impacted, there is every reason for sober second consideration of an impacting development.
- Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is right now raising the alarm about declining water availability as populations increase and climate change takes a toll. He describes the need to shorten water supply lines, concentrate community living and redouble conservation efforts. There are implications for RVC. There are also obligations on counties to maintain tributary water quality and flow rates wherever possible. Putting these in jeopardy through gravel mining would be a questionable trade-off, needing thorough examination.
Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan:
- Two Management Plans have guided operations of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, one from 1976 and one from 1998. These and older documented evidence have described this small park as “overused”, suffering from erosion and needing expansion. Indeed, in 2011, the public again made this point through input to RVC’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan, where there is a call to: “Identify and protect Big Hill Springs Creek and the creek valley north of Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks as a conservation area; and Secure the road allowance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks for public access.”
- As part of the plan’s Grand Valley Foothills Concept Plan, is a trail proposal: “A pathway follows Big Hill Springs Road from Range Road 34 to Highway 22; a pathway starts from the City of Calgary at Nose Hill Parkway to Camden Lane and continues west to Big Hill Creek to Cochrane. A branch of this pathway follows Big Hill Creek to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and continues north to Big Hill Springs Road.
Rocky View County has a clear need to provide greater trail and park facilities for its residents, many of whom moved here for these very amenities. County plans and various reports recommend that natural spaces be protected, interconnecting trails be developed and new parks be designated. But, despite planning exercises, reports and recommendations for action, so far little has been accomplished in the 50 years I have lived in RVC. Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks has just undergone a $1.2 million renovation that did not include expansion or protection for the vital springs. The 1998 management plan for the park contains a commitment that the park will work cooperatively with RVC for park area improvement. Expansion of this park and trail system would be a cost-effective and very responsible undertaking that could trigger a range of environmental, social and economic benefits for RVC. But, all this will be lost if gravel pits destroy the springs, which are the golden goose, and dust and noise and truck traffic drive park visitors away.
Armstrong D, Gow and Meikle W. 1998. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Management Plan. 25 pages.
Blogorodow P. 1976. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Mini Master Plan. 55 pages.
Hargroup Management Consultants, 2011. Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan. 111 pages.
Sutherland I. 1998. Ecological Land Classification of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. 35 pages.
Subject:GRAVEL MINES COULD RUIN BIG HILL SPRINGS AND PARK – HEARING INPUT NEEDED BY FEB 17.
Dear Members of Bighill Creek Preservation Society:
We Need Your Help!!!
Open pit gravel mines planned for the area immediately northwest of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park risk the health of the Park and Bighill Creek. The most recent application to Rocky View County is for the Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, Summit mine. If these and the other lands in the immediate vicinity owned by gravel companies are allowed to be developed, they would create a basin over two square miles in size. The open pit mines would be located in the sensitive headwaters of the aquifer which feeds the springs in the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and almost half of the flow in Bighill Creek. This aquifer is provincially significant due to the rarity of it having spent thousands of years depositing an unusual calcium formation in the creek bed, known as tufa. The County has opposed any assessment of the cumulative effects of these mines.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique, much loved and heavily used ecological and recreational asset for our region. Although only about 70 acres in size, it receives almost one quarter million visitors each year. Asa result, it is currently under renovation to upgrade its facilities. Bighill Creek, and the valley it inhabits provide diverse habitat for a broad array of species ranging from birds and fish to moose, bears and cougars. It provides opportunities for recreational and natural respite for the region and the Town of Cochrane.
Gravel mines would remove the protective layers which guard the aquifer from contamination. Planned gravel excavation would remove these protective layers, leaving only one meter of gravel to filter out contaminants like spilled fuel, herbicides and contaminants released by the mining process. The water level in the aquifer fluctuates over time, raising concerns about the adequacy of the narrow remaining filter and the potential need pump water from the pit directly into the Creek.
Mining operations and the craters left behind would force the recharge of the springs through a dramatically reduced protective filter, funneling groundwater contaminants into the springs and eventually Bighill Creek. This could cause serious ramifications for the fish and aquatic species supporting them. Proposed observation wells in the mines would only identify harmful contaminants in the aquifer after they have already entered the groundwater and traveled towards the Park, making recovery and any possible mitigation far more difficult.
Bighill Springs Preservation Society is extremely concerned that open pit gravel mines adjacent the Park will do irreparable harm to these valuable assets. Significant gravel deposits exist in innumerable other locations in the region which could supply gravel without imposing significant risks to the ongoing viability of Big Hill Springs aquifer, the Park and the Creek.
We encourage people who share our concerns to voice their opposition to the Mountain Ash proposal and to open pit gravel mining in this area to the Rocky View County Council for the upcoming public hearing. Emails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and should reference Bylaw C-8051-2020 (Mountain Ash Application PL 20200031) in the subject line. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday, February 17th. More information can be viewed on our website (bighillcreek.ca).
Thank you for acting now!
|Thank you for acting now!|
It is urgent!
Public, written comments about gravel pit proposal can be submitted until Feb. 17.
By Gerry Bietz
President, Bighill Creek Preservation Society
Open pit gravel mines planned for the area immediately northwest of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park risk the health of the Park and Bighill Creek.
The most recent application to Rocky View County is for the 163-acre Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, Summit mine. If these and the other lands in the immediate vicinity owned by gravel companies are allowed to be developed, they would create a basin almost two square miles in size.
The open pit mines would excavate to within one meter of the water table in the aquifer which feeds the springs in the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and almost half of the flow in Bighill Creek. The County has opposed any assessment of the cumulative effects of these mines.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique, much loved and heavily used ecological and recreational asset for our region. Over thousands of years, the aquifer has created nationally significant calcium formations known as tufa—a focal point of the park. Although only about 70 acres in size, the park receives almost one quarter million visitors each year. As a result, it is currently under renovation to upgrade its facilities. Bighill Creek and the valley it inhabits provide diverse habitat for a broad array of species ranging from birds and fish to moose, bears and cougars. It provides opportunities for recreational and natural respite for the region and the Town of Cochrane, and has been identified as critical habitat for species at risk.
“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique ecological and recreational asset for our region.” Gerry Bietz
Gravel mines would remove the protective layers which guard the aquifer from contamination. Excavation would leave only one meter of gravel to filter out contaminants like spilled fuel, herbicides and contaminants released by the mining process. The water level in the aquifer fluctuates over time, raising concerns about the adequacy of the narrow remaining filter and the potential need to pump water from the pit directly into Bighill Creek.
Mining operations and the craters left behind would force the recharge of the springs through a dramatically reduced protective filter, funneling groundwater contaminants into the springs and eventually Bighill Creek. This could cause serious ramifications for the fish and aquatic species supporting them. Proposed observation wells in the mines would only identify harmful contaminants in the aquifer after they have already entered the groundwater and traveled towards the Park, making recovery and any possible mitigation extremely difficult.
Based on studies of the aquifer, Bighill Springs Preservation Society is extremely concerned that open pit gravel mines adjacent to the park will do irreparable harm to these valuable assets. Significant gravel deposits exist in innumerable other locations in the region which could supply gravel without imposing significant risks to the ongoing viability of Big Hill Springs aquifer, the park and the creek.
We encourage people who share our concerns to voice their opposition to the Mountain Ash proposal and to open pit gravel mining in this area to the Rocky View County Council for the upcoming public hearing. Emails should be sent to email@example.com and should reference Bylaw C-8051-2020 (Mountain Ash Application PL 20200031) in the subject line. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday, Feb. 17.